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July 16, 2012 7:21 pm

If the West Bank is ‘Occupied,’ Who Are the Occupiers?

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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Original territory assigned to the Jewish National Home in 1920. Image: Eli Hertz.

Today the area of Israel that is known to Jews as Judea and Samaria is often referred to by many in academia and in the media as the”occupied” West Bank. This term might lead one to assume that Israel is “occupying” the area which belonged to the Palestinians, right? The major problem with that concept however, is that the “Palestinians” never controlled the so-called “West Bank.” That being the case, one wonders how exactly these territories can be referred to as occupied?

I grew up as a member of the Betar youth movement which was founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the ideological leader of the Revisionist Zionism movement. Many of Israel’s most prominent politicians idolized Jabotinsky – including Prime Ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin. The father of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also an avid follower, as have been many past and present leaders of the Jewish people. Everyone who has been involved in a Betar group will be familiar with the famous Ze’ev Jabotinsky poem “Shtei Gadot L’Yarden – Zu Shelanu Zu Gam Ken.” Translation? There are two sides of the Jordan River – this is ours and that is also.

Jabotinsky wrote the poem seven years after the decision by the British Government to divide the territory of the British Mandate which was originally designated for the Jewish State, into two territories, and to establish on one of its sides, on the east of the Jordan River, the Jordanian Kingdom. Prior to that decision, Chaim Weizmann had raised historical and practical arguments in favor of establishing Israel on both sides of the river. Even after the World Zionist Organization accepted the borders that were outlined by the British government, and the territory east of the Jordan River was removed from the British Mandate’s boundaries, some members of the liberal “Ahdut Ha’voda”, continued to perceive the land east of the Jordan River as suitable for Jewish building, and as a territory that should be included within the future Jewish state.

Of course this area is also part and parcel of the Biblical Jewish homeland which we read about each week in the Torah – and the “West Bank” is the western side of the Jordan River. The Jordanian people (and the State of Jordan) didn’t exist until the British created the State. They were simply Arabs, – not “Jordanians”. So, who exactly was occupying whom?

Jabotinsky’s mantra was Shtei Gadot – both sides of the Jordan River. Today in realpolitik this concept is a non-starter and unrealistic – but perhaps for the interest of educating the public of Israel’s position, we can begin by stressing that there is in fact no ‘occupation’ of the western bank of the Jordan River.

Despite those realities, Israel was indeed content from 1948-1967 without ownership of these territories referred to as the “West Bank”, then the Arab world decided to start a war – and in doing so, they accepted responsibility for the consequences. Does anyone think that one can declare war, lose, and not pay a price? At the time, Nasser declared that they “will throw the Jews into the sea,” but then Israel won the war – so now Israel is the “occupier”?

If the Arabs would have won in 1967, I doubt if anyone would be crying for the Jews – but the fact is that Jews moved into Judea and Samaria as well as Gaza as a result of that war. The development of the “occupied” West Bank concept could perhaps be the biggest Public Relations misnomer to have ever fooled the world – because any student of politics or history would be hard-pressed to explain how the use of such a term is justified.

Menachem Begin was once asked about the Jewish claim to both sides of the Jordan – and he was angered when asked if it was a propaganda ploy. “The Jewish people must never give up the Zionist endeavor. We must never abandon the dream of a Jewish nation on the land given to Abraham by G-d. No Jew should ever agree that this land, on both sides of the Jordan, is not outs. We don’t know what history will bring. Today there’s a country called Jordan. They leave us alone, we leave them alone. But things change. Jordan wasn’t always there and in another generation, in another time, who knows where we could find ourselves?” By way of example he pointed to the former Soviet Union.

When one talks of attacking Israel, or of negotiations, it must be made clear that there are winners and losers in war. Even when the Jews win.

Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR Agency, and author of the PR book “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations” which is available for purchase here. MK Danny Danon (Likud) has said the book is “the best book I have ever seen on Israel PR.”

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  • Politically there is relevance in talking about “winners” and “losers.” But emphasis on victory in the 1967 war should never obscure the preexisting legal claims of the Jewish People to its aboriginal homeland which –at the very least– has always included all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Under the name “Yehudim,” the Jewish People was probably born in the 6th century BCE. And, ever since that time, there have always been some Jews living in the aboriginal homeland of the Jewish People. From the 6th century BCE, the Jewish People without a break kept real demographic and cultural links with its aboriginal homeland. These continuing demographic and cultural links must have had some real moral and political weight, because a series of declarations, resolutions and treaties from 1917 to 1922 explicitly recognized “the historical connection of the Jewish People to Palestine” and created “a national home for the Jewish People” specifically from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. This means that earlier Jewish aboriginal rights also became treaty rights — and treaties are the premier source of public international law. Good that Israel was able to successfully exercise its right of self-defense in 1967! And also wonderful that Israel gained control of all the land up to the Jordan River! However, the Jewish People already had preexisting aboriginal and treaty rights to that territory. In this regard, please see “Jewish Aboriginal Rights to Israel” which appears (inter alia) as an October 2011 posting at There it is explained how these prior Jewish rights legally interact with the subsequent rights of the newborn Palestinian People.