In the book of Shoftim (Judges. 11:1-33), we read a story that reminds us of the ‘Palestinian’ case against Israel. We saw this story last Shabbat (July 9, 2016), in the weekly Haftorah attached to the week’s Torah portion (in Israel), Chukat (Bamidbar, 19:-22:1). It’s about a man called, Yiftach.
Yiftah was a Jew who was banished by his family. He left Israel. He became famous for his reputation as a warrior.
One day, the leaders of Israel visited him. They needed him. The king of Ammon wanted to war against Israel. They asked him to lead them.
The king of Ammon claimed that the Jews had taken his land some 250 years earlier when they—the Jews—were on the verge of going into the land of Israel for the first time. Ammon’s king accused the Jews of having stolen his land. He wanted it back.
This is the story of modern Israel. The ‘Palestinian’ narrative says Jews stole their land from them (“Myth number 1: Israel is stolen land”, debatepolitics, May 14, 2009). The ‘Palestinian’ is deja vu-- Ammon-all-over-again.
Yiftach answered Ammon’s accusation with four responses (The book of Judges, Me’am Lo’ez, Rabbi Shmuel Yerushalmi, translated by Rabbi Nathan Bushwick, 1991, p 219). These responses also apply to ‘Palestinian’ claims and accusations.
Yiftah’s first response was, we stole nothing. The land we conquered didn’t belong to you. Yes, that land had once belonged to Ammon. But by the time the Jews got there, Ammon had already lost its land in war with the Emorites (ibid, p. 220). Yiftach said, because you had lost that war, you forfeited your rights to that land. Israel didn’t conquer Ammon. It conquered Emor.
In the Arab war against Israel, ‘Palestinians’ say Israel stole their lands both before and after 1948. But any so-called ‘Palestinian’ land supposedly stolen by Jews before 1948 wasn’t stolen. It had been sold to Jews—at exorbitant rates set by Arab sellers (“Was Israel carved out of stolen land?”, israeladvocacymovement, no date). The more important land ‘lost’ after 1948 was lost because Arabs had initiated wars (1948, 1967) against us—and lost (ibid). If they hadn’t started those wars, those lands would still be theirs.
We stole nothing. When Arabs lost their wars, they lost their claim to those lands.
That’s the traditional risk of starting a war: when you force a people to shed the blood of their children to defend themselves, the spilled blood of those children becomes the purchase price of land they win in that war.
The second response Yiftach gave to the king of Ammon was that when the Jews conquered the Emorites, the Jews were defending themselves. What happened was, the Jews went to the Emorites and asked permission to cross through their land to get to Israel (Me'am Lo'ez, p 222). The Jews fought the Emorites only after the Emorites answered the Jewish request by attacking the Jews (ibid, p223). The Jews won that war.
This is our story as well. Israel never agitated to go to war against any of its neighbours. Like the Jews in the story of Yiftach, the modern nation of Israel is not interested in aggressive war (ibid, p219). Israel goes to war only when attacked.
Yiftach’s third response was that the land the Jews won in battle had not come to them through their own strength. It had been given to them by G-d. Since G-d is the Creator of all and therefore the real owner of all, it is He who has the ultimate right to decide who gets what. Jews have no right to give land back for peace because to do so would be a rejection of the Divine gift (ibid, 224).
The same is true today. Israel has no right to surrender land because to do so would be a rejection of the Divine gift that brought it that land in the first place.
Yiftach’s fourth response was that Ammon’s predecessors had remained silent after their ancestors lost their land. If those generations had really owned that land, they’d have stood up for it. They didn’t (ibid, p 225). Their silence during those years, Yiftach said, was a tacit admission they didn’t own that land (ibid).
The same is true today with regard to Judea-Samaria, retaken by Israel in the 1967 six-day war and the diplomatic focus of most Arab claims. But if Judea-Samaria was truly theirs, the Arabs would have acted the instant Jordan had captured it in 1948 (Jordan had captured and then held onto Judea-Samaria until it was re-captured by Israel during the 1967 war).
But in fact, Jordan did nothing with Judea-Samaria. It didn’t annex it. It didn’t claim sovereignty over it. It didn’t give it to anyone. No one demanded it.
Jordan allowed Judea-Samaria to lay unowned. It was, literally, a no-man’s land (Richard Mather, “The legality of Israel’s ‘land grab’”, defenseoftheisraelipeople, September 21, 2014). The Arab silence during those 19 years is a tacit admission that the land didn’t belong to them.
This Jewish Tanach story teaches us how to stand up for our land. It teaches us how to answer those who claim we stole the land.
Of course, before we can stand up, we have to believe what our Tanach says. We have to believe that HaShem, our G-d, Promised us in the Bible to return us here from exile (Devarim, 30:1-5). We have to believe that it was HaShem who helped us recapture our modern land during our modern wars.
That takes courage. It takes courage to speak of HaShem. It takes even more courage to speak His name on the international stage.
Do we have that courage? Stay tuned.