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August 24, 2020 4:51 am

This West Bank Land Is Not ‘Palestinian’

avatar by Sean Durns

Opinion

The community of Beit El in Judea and Samaria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“Who can challenge the rights of the Jews in Palestine?” Yusuf al-Khalidi wrote to the chief rabbi of France on March 1, 1899. “Good Lord, historically it really is your country.” Yet, more than a century after Khalidi’s admission, the Jewish people’s connection to their ancestral homeland is often forgotten. Indeed, many news outlets and analysts not only ignore it — but often attempt to erase it.

Take, for example, The Washington Post. The newspaper’s August 13, 2020 report, “Trump announces historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates,” asserted that “Arab leaders had privately warned Trump that they could not agree to future economic or diplomatic ties with Israel if Israel took over land now considered Palestinian.” But the article, by reporter Anne Gearan and Jerusalem bureau chief Steve Hendrix, doesn’t say why the land is “now considered Palestinian.”

In fact, a sovereign Palestinian Arab state has never existed. Rather, the status of the territory is, at best, disputed. Its status is to be resolved by negotiations anticipated by UN Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian interim accords, the 2003 international “road map,” and related diplomatic efforts. Indeed, the co-authors of Resolution 242, US Under Secretary of State Eugene Rostow, US Ambassador to the United Nations Arthur Goldberg, and British ambassador Lord Caradon made clear, both then and later, that Jews and Arabs both had claims in the territories, and that no national sovereignty over them had been recognized since the end of Ottoman rule.

The Washington Post itself, in a September 4, 2014 correction prompted by CAMERA, noted that “the Israeli-occupied territories are disputed lands that Palestinians want for a future state.” In another recent CAMERA-prompted correction, The Wall Street Journal acknowledged on May 16, 2020, that “under the Oslo accords, sovereignty over the West Bank is disputed, pending a final settlement.”

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Further, there is a legal basis for Jewish claims to the land. As CAMERA has documented (see, for example, “The West Bank—Jewish Territory Under International Law”), Israel has a foundation for asserting sovereignty over the area. Additionally, the League of Nations Palestine Mandate, adopted later by the United Nations, calls for “close Jewish settlement on the land” west of the Jordan River in Article 6. The UN Charter, Chapter XII, Article 80, upholds the Mandate’s provisions. The 1920 San Remo Treaty and the 1924 Anglo-American Convention also enshrined Jewish territorial claims in international law.

Yet the Post isn’t alone in de facto deciding in favor of Palestinian claims. An August 14, 2020 Vox article by Alex Ward (“Kamala Harris’s foreign policy, explained”) incorrectly asserted that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) “played a major role in pushing Palestinians out of their lands to make way for the State of Israel.” This is, in every sense, ahistorical.

In fact, Jews are from Judea and Samaria, an area that only in the last half-century or so has been referred to as the “West Bank.” The Jewish presence in the land of Israel predates that of the Arab and Islamic conquests in the 7th century — by thousands of years. Further, that presence has been continuous. Indeed, in Jerusalem, for example, Jews constituted a majority of the inhabitants since the 1840s — long before the 1901 creation of the JNF.

Another important but omitted fact: much of the land that Jews acquired was purchased from Arabs, including from several notable Palestinian Arab families. As the historian Benny Morris noted in his 2008 book 1948: “A giant question mark hangs over the ethos of the Palestinian Arab elite: Husseinis, as well as Nashashibis, Khalidis, Dajanis, and Tamimis … sold land to the Zionist institutions and/or served as Zionist agents or spies.” These families, many of whom would lead opposition to the existence of Israel and the right of Jewish self-determination, secretly sold land to the very movement that they denounced.

Indeed, as the historian Yehoshua Porath documented in The Palestinian Arab National Movement, 1929-1939, when British official John Hope Simpson met with Arabs in the northern part of what is today Israel some Arabs requested a meeting where they “expressed their views in support of Jewish immigration and land purchases.” “These people,” Porath noted, “were owners of large tracts of fallow land of which they wanted to sell part in order to reclaim the rest. Since they could not find any potential Arab buyer, they needed Jewish immigration and growing Jewish demand for land in order to sell it to them for as dearly as possible.”

To be sure, this was not a majority viewpoint, and those Arabs who were found to have publicly sold land to Zionists were — and still are — denounced as traitors. Yet, as noted above, prominent anti-Zionist Palestinian Arabs still sold land to Jews, albeit secretly.

Reviewing data from 1920-1939, Porath concludes that as much as 52.6% of the land acquired by Zionists was purchased from non-Palestinian Arab landowners, while 24.6% was purchased from Palestinian Arab landowners, and only 9.4% from the fellahins, or peasants, who rarely owned land under the Ottoman Empire. Beginning in 1928, “the amount of land bought by Jews from Palestinian landowners (both big and small) exceeded the amount bought from non-Palestinian landowners.”

Jews, then, are not only indigenous to Israel, but they also acquired much of the land that is today Israel by purchasing it — often from Palestinian Arabs themselves. To be sure, Palestinian Arabs could have had a state, with some of it constituted in Judea and Samaria — including in 1948 when they rejected the UN’s 1947 Partition Plan, choosing instead to make war on Jews. On a number of occasions, they’ve been offered a state, but they’ve consistently rejected statehood if it meant living in peace next to a Jewish state.

This raises the question: when and why do many in the media choose to refer to the land as “Palestinian”? Particularly when no Palestinian Arab state has ever existed and Jewish claims to the land, both historical and legal, exist? As the blogger Elder of Ziyon has documented, from 1948-1967, when Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria and part of Jerusalem after seizing them in the 1948 war, “the New York Times recognized Jerusalem and the entire West Bank as being part of Jordan, and the Israeli side of Jerusalem was merely an ‘Israeli sector,’ but not part of Israel.” For several years, The New York Times continued to refer to cities like Ramallah — today the seat of the Palestinian Authority — as being “Israeli-occupied Jordan.” The term “West Bank” was seldom used; the land, the Times claimed was Jordanian. “Slowly,” Elder notes, “the Times started to realize that calling it ‘Jordanian’ didn’t make sense as Jordan wanted less and less to do with it. Suddenly, Israel wasn’t occupying Jordanian land, but merely an area whose legal status had yet to be defined — the West Bank.”

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, usage of the term “West Bank” became more widespread at the Times and other outlets — and with it, the implied notion that “West Bank” means “Palestinian” and that the land was, and always had been, Arab.

But according to many in the press, the land could not — it must not — ever be held to be Jewish. It can be Jordanian. It can be Palestinian. But Jews’ claims to their ancestral homeland are to be erased or minimized.

Sean Durns is a Senior Research Analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis — where this article first appeared.

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