There Is No ‘Occupation’

Arab spokesmen regularly complain about what they call "the Israeli occupation" of the Judea-Samaria-Gaza territories. But the truth is that there is no such "Israeli occupation."

To begin with, nearly all Palestinian Arabs currently live under Yasser Arafat’s rule, not Israel’s. Following the signing of the Oslo accords, the Israelis withdrew from nearly half of the territories, including the cities where 98.5 percent of Palestinian Arabs reside. The notion that the Palestinian Arabs are living under Israeli occupation is false. The areas from which Israel has not withdrawn are virtually uninhabited, except for the two percent where Israelis reside.

The term "occupation" is also used to indicate that Israel has no right to any presence in Judea-Samaria-Gaza or the Old City section of Jerusalem, and that the Israeli presence in any of those areas constitutes illegal "occupation" of someone else’s land. In fact, Israel has the strongest religious, historical and legal claim to this land.

The territories of Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem were integral parts of the Jewish kingdoms throughout the biblical eras and are explicitly mandated by the Hebrew Bible as part of the land of Israel. These lands were Jewish thousands years ago under King David, King Solomon and other Jewish rulers.

Can anyone name a Palestinian Arab king who ever ruled over Palestine? No, because there never was one.

All of the most important Jewish religious sites are situated in those territories. The very name "Judea" — a term which was commonly used by the international community throughout all the centuries until the Jordanian occupation in 1949 — is derived from the same root as the word "Jew," testifying to the deep Jewish connection to the land.

The reason Jews are called "Jews" is because we come from Judea. This historical-religious right was the basis for the League of Nations decision in 1922 to endorse the Jewish people’s right to all of the Holy Land on both sides of the Jordan River.

From the standpoint of international law, it is important to note that prior to 1967, there was no other recognized sovereign power in the territories. Israel’s capture of Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967 did not constitute an illegal "occupation" of someone else’s land, because prior to 1967, there was no legal or recognized sovereign power there.

The Jordanian occupation of Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem during 1949-1967 was illegal, having been carried out in defiance of the United Nations Security Council. The only countries in the world to recognize it were Pakistan and (in part) England.

Furthermore, Israel captured the territories in self-defense. Israel took over Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem in self-defense, in response to aggression by Jordan and Egypt in June 1967. Had Jordan not invaded Israel — ignoring pleas by Israel to stay out of the war — Israel would not control Judea and Samaria today.

As Stephen Schwebel, a former U.S. State Department legal adviser and former head of the International Court of Justice in the Hague, has written: "Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has against that prior holder better title."

It is also significant that U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 does not require complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories. Resolution 242 requires Israel to withdraw "from territories" captured in 1967, but the authors of the resolution deliberately left out the word "the" before "territories" because it was their conviction — as articulated by then-British Foreign Secretary George Brown — "that Israel will not withdraw from all the territories." The Soviets tried to insert "the," but that effort was specifically rejected so as not to suggest that Israel is obliged to surrender all of the territories.

Finally, it should also be noted that the Oslo accords recognize Israel’s right to remain in the territories, at least until a final settlement is reached. The accords accept Israel’s presence in the territories, at least until an Israel-Palestinian Authority agreement on the final status of those areas is reached.

Chapter Two, Article X, Clause Four specifically recognizes that in the disputed territories, "Israel shall continue to carry the responsibility for external security, as well as the responsibility for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order" until a final accord is reached. Furthermore, the Oslo accords do not require Israel to dismantle any of the Israeli communities in Judea-Samaria-Gaza — in effect, an acknowledgment of Israel’s right to maintain those communities, at least until a final agreement is reached.

In short, the notion that there is an illegal Israeli "occupation" is a myth.

Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.