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Borders of Israel - where should they be?

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The decision of Ariel Sharon to hand over control of Gaza has divided Israelis. Ariel Sharon’s justification for the withdrawal was that Jews and Palestinians have to be separated and therefore Israel has to pull out of densely populated Arab areas in order to make sure that Israel can maintain its permanent majority in the State of Israel. Those who disagree with him considered this as a betrayal of the settlements and a surrender to the demands of Palestinian terrorism.

 

The withdrawal raises the question of where the borders of Israel should be. Shaul Mofaz, Israeli Minister of Defence stated in the Jerusalem Post (9/5/05): ‘Gaza is not our birthright, nor the land of our forefathers. Under any final status agreement it is clear that Gaza will remain outside the borders of Israel.’ Opponents of the planned withdrawal disagree pointing out that Gaza was part of the inheritance given to the children of Israel in the past (Numbers 34:2-6), and promised to them for the future (Ezekiel 47:19-20).

 

For those who lived in Gaza the process has been one of extreme pain at losing their homes and livelihoods. In Gush Katif the Jewish settlers had turned a piece of land which the Arabs considered God forsaken and impossible to cultivate into a fruitful place producing fruit and vegetables in abundance and providing employment for 10,000 people, including 5000 Palestinian Arabs. Israel is leaving behind almost 1000 acres of greenhouses.

 

The London Jewish Tribune (4/8/05) carried an article about prayer sessions organised by Orthodox Jews, imploring ‘the Creator to reverse the expulsion decree’ and asking Him to ‘have mercy on the remnant of His people. We have no one on whom we can lean apart from Our Father in Heaven.’ Despite their prayers the withdrawal went ahead.

 

As far as the Palestinians and most of the world are concerned this withdrawal is only the beginning of a process whose minimum demand is the return of all the territories occupied by Israel since 1967. Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas said on August 13th ‘The Palestinians are celebrating today liberating Gaza Strip, and will tomorrow, by God willing, celebrate the liberation of Jerusalem. Here is the springboard from which our public will start to build the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.’ He added further, that the motto of the campaign is ‘Today Gaza and Tomorrow the West Bank and Jerusalem’. Israelis were infuriated to find that the UN Development Programme has funded the making of thousands of banners, bumper stickers, mugs, and T-shirts bearing this slogan being widely distributed to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

 

The issue of the where the borders of Israel should be is a hotly disputed one which has both political and religious dimensions. In this article we will look at the issues involved.

 

A brief history of the region

 

How did Israel come into possession of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, and the eastern half of Jerusalem, including the Old City? Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 these territories were governed by Jordan, Egypt and Syria. In May 1967 Egyptian President Nasser demanded the withdrawal of UN peace keeping troops which had been stationed in Gaza and Sharm el Sheikh since 1957. The UN withdrew and Nasser blocked the Straits of Tiran preventing ships reaching Israel’s southern port of Eilat. His intention in this hostile act was clear. On May 27th 1967 he said, ‘Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel’. King Hussein of Jordan put his army under Egyptian control and Iraq and Syria joined in calls for an Islamic holy war aimed at wiping Israel off the map. On June 5th, Israel, surrounded by Arab forces likely to attack at any moment, launched a pre-emptive strike. Within six days, Israel had defeated its adversaries and, in the process, captured land on the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian fronts.

 

Israel then offered to negotiate a peace settlement exchanging the captured lands for peace with its Arab neighbours but the response came from Khartoum, Sudan, where Arab leaders met to discuss the outcome of the Six Day War. On September 1st they issued a resolution announcing the three ‘No’s’: ‘No peace, no recognition, and no negotiation.’ The UN then passed Resolution 242 which stressed ‘the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security.’ It also called for ‘withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.’ (NB The resolution deliberately says ‘territories’ not ‘the territories’ meaning that it did not require Israel to return exactly to the pre 1967 borders).

 

Once it became clear that the Arabs were not interested in negotiating peace, Israel, under a Labour-led coalition, began encouraging the construction of settlements, or new communities, in the captured lands, which include the heartland of biblical Israel, Judea and Samaria. This practice was accelerated under Likud-led governments after 1977. Israel justified this under the contention that the land was disputed – both Arabs and Jews laid claim to it – and since there was no sovereign authority, Israel had as much right to settle there as the Palestinians. There had also been Jewish communities in the West Bank long before 1948, for example, in Hebron and Gush Etzion, both sites of massacres by Arabs during the British Mandate time in which large numbers of Jews were killed. The West Bank or Judea Samaria, according to the Bible, is the cradle of Jewish civilization, and many Jews, driven by faith and history, believe it is theirs by divine covenant. The Israeli government also believed that certain settlements could serve a useful security purpose.

 

Today some Israelis believe that dismantling these settlements is necessary for the peace process, however others, in particular the settlers themselves, believe that this will not lead to peace because the Palestinians will use the areas evacuated as a base to attack Israel and try to gain more land by force. In the case of Gaza there is great concern that as Israel loses control of the area it will be taken over by militant Islamic groups committed to terrorism against Israel.

 

After withdrawing from Gaza, Israel will be under enormous pressure from the rest of the world to withdraw from the whole of the West Bank including the Old City of Jerusalem. Israeli politicians from the right wing political parties have rejected demands for a complete withdrawal to the 1967 lines and for any re division of Jerusalem. However the left wing Labour Party leader Shimon Peres who is now Vice Prime Minister of Israel has said that there is no chance of reaching a ‘conclusive agreement’ with the Palestinians unless Israel partitions Jerusalem and cedes the West Bank city of Hebron. What Mr Peres is saying is what the rest of the world demands, even those countries relatively sympathetic to Israel.

 

Today Jerusalem is ringed by Jewish suburbs with approximately 175,000 residents and another 224,000 Israelis live in towns and settlements in the West Bank. Above all the Old City of Jerusalem, site of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, is considered the holiest place on earth for Jewish people. Most Israelis agree with the words of General Dayan when the Old City was taken in 1967 ‘We have regained our holiest places never again to depart.’ Uprooting 9000 settlers from Gaza was traumatic enough for Israel. Attempting to remove all these people from the West Bank and Jerusalem could cause civil war in Israel.

 

Nevertheless the world powers led by the USA, EU, Russia and the UN are working to the plan known as ‘the Road Map’ which aims to see a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The Palestinians have made it clear that they would settle for nothing less than complete control of the territory gained by Israel in 1967.

 

What options for Israel’s borders?

 

From the Nile to the Euphrates

 

In Genesis 15.18 we read of the covenant which God made with Abraham: ‘To your descendants I have given this great land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates.’ The river of Egypt according to many commentators is not the Nile but the Wadi el Arish or the Brook of Egypt about 100 miles east of the Nile (i.e. in the Sinai Peninsula). Briefly in Solomon’s time Israel ruled over ‘all the kingdoms from the River (Euphrates) to the land of the Philistines as far as the border of Egypt’ (1 Kings 4.21). However Solomon’s empire quickly crumbled and the borders contracted again. In the days of his son Rehoboam Israel itself was divided into the northern kingdom called Israel and the southern kingdom called Judah. According to the Bible there was a connection between Israel’s faithfulness to God and the extent of its borders and its prosperity.

 

Today no Israeli would even dream of Israel having rule over such an area which would include modern Syria, Jordan, much of Iraq and part of Egypt. Despite this some anti-Israel propaganda in the Arab world puts forward the idea that this is Israel’s intention. The US led invasion and occupation of Iraq has fuelled this fear. An audio tape from Osama bin Laden in February 2003 stated: ‘The aim of the Crusaders’ campaign is to prepare the atmosphere for the establishment of the so-called greater Israel state, which includes great parts of Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and large portions of (Saudi Arabia).’

 

The Bible teaches that the Messiah will rule the world from Jerusalem. During that time the Middle East will know real peace with a highway from Egypt to Assyria. ‘In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the land.’ Isaiah 19.23-25. This blessed time will happen after the Messiah Jesus returns, when the conditions of the earth will be so changed that the promise given to Abraham will be fulfilled with total peace among all the peoples involved. Until that time it is foolish to even think about the borders of Israel going from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates.

 

From the Jordan to the Mediterranean

 

The present situation is that as a result of the Six Day War Israel has control over the territory from the Jordan to the Mediterranean which happens to be the area which was occupied by the tribes of Israel in Bible times. This area is known as Eretz Israel, the land of Israel, as opposed to Medinat Israel, the state of Israel within the pre 1967 borders. The Jewish settler movement, Gush Emunim, founded in 1974, considers settling this land, especially places with biblical significance like Hebron, a sacred duty. They will never refer to the territory as ‘the West Bank’ but rather by its biblical name of Judea and Samaria. They consider Zionism to be the beginning of the process of the redemption of Israel, which will result in the coming of the Messiah who of course in their view is not Jesus, but a king ruling like David and bringing deliverance to the Jewish people from their enemies. According to the Gush the coming of the Messiah would be delayed if the land were returned to non-Jews.

 

The problem for Gush Emunim is that in the places where they have settled they are surrounded by a large and hostile Arab population, which does not accept their presence in their midst. As far as the international community is concerned their settlements are a barrier to peace and will have to be removed in a final settlement agreement with the Arab world.

 

Absolutely central to the whole question is the status of Jerusalem, divided between Israel and Jordan from 1948 to 1967, and now unified under Israeli rule. The minimum Arab demand is Israeli withdrawal from all territory occupied in 1967, including the Old City of Jerusalem.

 

From the Green Line (1967 border) to the Mediterranean

 

From the point of view of practical politics this is what the nations want Israel to accept right now. A two state solution of Israel and Palestine living side by side is seen by most world leaders including Tony Blair and George Bush as the ideal solution. The Israeli left agree that land should be given for peace and even Ariel Sharon, the former champion of the right, is now moving towards a position where he is seeking to preserve as much as possible of the West Bank in return for a settlement. There has been talk of exchanging the major settlement blocks around Ariel and Gush Etzion in return for giving the Palestinians more territory from Israel. The settlers who see occupying Judea and Samaria as their religious duty will fight this proposal and most Israelis would oppose handing over the Old City of Jerusalem.

 

The ‘land for peace’ deal requires Israel to abandon territories vital for its defence in the hostile Arab region where it is situated and re divide Jerusalem in return for a promise from the Palestinians ‘to fight’ (not to stop) terror. In view of the constant sowing of hatred for Israel in Palestinian schools, mosques, films and songs and the denial of any right of Israel to exist in the Palestinian National Covenant, the chances of this promise being fulfilled are slim indeed.

 

From a military point of view retired IDF General Dagan has stated, ‘The establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state, in the full sense of the word will be catastrophic for the state of Israel.’ With a high degree of militarization already in its society and with control of high places overlooking Israeli population centres the Palestinians could sabotage the infrastructure of Israeli society and terrorise the population with mortar and rocket attacks on their population which could provoke Israel into war with the Palestinians. This in turn could bring in the surrounding Arab nations and cause Israel once again to have to fight for its survival as it did in 1967.

 

From the Mediterranean to the Mediterranean

 

The fear of all Israelis is that the real aim of the Palestinians and the Arab world is not a two state solution, but a one state solution with an Arab Islamic state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean and the state of Israel pushed into the sea. While the world condemns Israel for its ‘Greater Israel’ policy it rarely criticises or even acknowledges the existence of the ‘Greater Palestine’ policy which means the elimination of Israel. From the point of view of radical Islam the area of the Middle East is the Dar al Islam (House of Islam) and should be ruled by Muslims. Nasser’s aim in 1967 to destroy Israel has never gone away and is still held by many in the Palestinian camp.

 

On August 19, Palestinian Clerics Association Deputy Director Sheikh Muhammad Ali was interviewed by Hizbullah’s Al-Manar TV. In the interview, he discussed Jihad as the duty of all Muslims, and the coming conquest of all of Palestine through Jihad, not negotiation. Here are extracts of what he said (Information from Memri).

 

‘Regarding any land, any piece of land, which at a certain point belonged to the Muslims - it is the duty of all Muslims to do what they can to liberate this land, wherever it may be. True, many precious Muslim lands are under occupation today. They have been forgotten, and Andalusia (Spain and Portugal) is one example. Nevertheless, it is the duty of the Muslims to liberate them. But since we are discussing Palestine, Gaza, and so on, let us focus on this precious piece of Muslim land, especially since Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque belong to all Muslims, and have become a part of the Muslim faith.

 

‘Allah willing, we will enter [Palestine] as conquerors and liberators, not through negotiations, but through Jihad and resistance, because the hadith goes: ‘And the Muslims would kill the Jews’ - there is killing involved. This divine prophecy, which appears in the hadith and in the Koran, denies the legitimacy of normalization or any agreement, because it is only a matter of time, and the Muslims will eventually liberate Jerusalem and regain Palestine.’

 

Many see the ‘peace process’ as a trick designed to weaken Israel before moving to eliminate the Jewish state. A reason for this is to be found in the strategy, which was agreed on by the PLO in 1974. Known as the ‘10 Points Phased Doctrine’ this strategy aimed to set up a mini-state as the first step in ‘liberating Palestine’. The statement of the Palestine National Council said, amongst other things: ‘Once it is established, the Palestinian national authority will strive to achieve a union of the confrontation countries, with the aim of completing the liberation of all Palestinian territory and as a step along the road to comprehensive Arab unity.’ In other words this state would be a springboard for the final goal, which is the elimination of Israel.

 

It is interesting that in 1995 the Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdel Aziz Bin-Baz, handed down a religious ruling to the effect that Islamic law does not rule out peace with Israel. However he went on to explain that ‘peace with Israel is permissible only on condition that it is a temporary peace, until the Moslems build up the military strength needed to expel the Jews.’ By this logic the ‘peace plan’ is merely a trick to weaken Israel in order to deliver the final blow when the Islamic forces are strong enough.

 

In Psalm 83 we read that the countries which are seeking the destruction of Israel ‘have consulted together with one consent. They form a confederacy against you.’ In other words they have a hidden agenda. They may say words of peace to those who want to hear that message (primarily the leaders of the USA and EU) but their real aim is the opposite one. This was spelled out clearly by Abu Jihad, Arafat’s deputy, at the PLO’s Algiers summit in 1988: ‘What we are doing is carrying out a two-phase strategy. This is a policy that says first we get a Palestinian State next to Israel, then we use it as a base to destroy what remains of Israel. In order to get to the first step we must persuade the world of our bona fides, that we don’t intend to carry out the second phase.’

 

Conclusion

 

According to the prophecy of Zechariah Jerusalem will be the focal point of world attention in the last days of this age, leading to the final conflict when all nations gather against it to battle. ‘In that day I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it. … For I will gather all nations to battle against Jerusalem.’ Zechariah 12.3, 14.2. According to the prophecy of Joel the gathering of the nations will be for judgement ‘on account of my people Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; they have also divided up my land.’ Joel 3.2.

 

Jesus said ‘Jerusalem will be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke 21.24). While many Christians interested in prophecy believed the regaining of the Old City of Jerusalem by Israel in 1967 was a sign of the end of the ‘times of the Gentiles’ it is clear that this is not yet the case. (For further information on this subject send for the cassette tape by Tony Pearce on Jerusalem and the end of the times of the Gentiles - £3.50 including postage). The Gentile world powers, represented by the UN and the nations behind the ‘Road Map’ are now pushing Israel into a corner and preparing the way for the final conflict which will take place over this issue.

 

At that time those who have handed over Israel to those who seek her destruction will themselves be judged by God. Those nations which put pressure on Israel to give up land in exchange for false peace will themselves suffer the judgement of God upon their own lands. Hurricane Katrina hit the USA just one week after the Gaza withdrawal, which was largely the result of US pressure on Israel. Many years previously Britain began her decline as a great power after preventing Jewish refugees reaching Palestine during the British Mandate period and opposing the establishment of Israel in 1948. In the crucial UN vote in 1947 on the partition of Palestine, which led to Israel coming into being, Great Britain abstained, even after all that the Jewish people had been through in the Holocaust.

 

At the end of days something remarkable will happen to the remaining Jewish population. According to the prophecy of Zechariah 12.10 ‘God will pour upon the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.’ In the final time of distress Israel will implore the Creator that He should have mercy on the remnant of His people and will find that He answers when they pray in the name of the one who has been despised and rejected, upon whom the Lord has laid the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53) and who died by being pierced (crucifixion) before rising again from the dead to give new life to all believers by granting forgiveness of sins and the resurrection to eternal life. Yeshua – Jesus the Messiah.

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