view of Jerusalem, Old City 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Zionists stole Palestinian land: That’s the mantra both the Palestinian
Authority and Hamas teach their children and propagate in their media. This
claim has vast importance, as Palestinian Media Watch explains: “Presenting the
creation of the [Israeli] state as an act of theft, and its continued existence
as an historical injustice serves as the basis for the PA’s nonrecognition of
Israel’s right to exist.”
The accusation of theft also undermines
Israel’s position internationally. But is the accusation true? No, it is not.
Ironically, the building of Israel represents about the most peaceable
in-migration and state creation in history. To understand why requires seeing
Zionism in context. Simply put, conquest is the historic norm. Governments
everywhere were established through invasion; nearly all states came into being
at someone else’s expense. No one is permanently in charge, everyone’s roots
trace back to somewhere else.
Germanic tribes, Central Asian hordes,
Russian tsars, and Spanish/ Portuguese conquistadors remade the map. Modern
Greeks have only a tenuous connection to the Greeks of antiquity. Who can count
the number of times Belgium was overrun? The United States came into existence
by defeating Native Americans. Kings marauded in Africa, Aryans invaded India.
In Japan, Yamato-speakers eliminated all but tiny groups such as the
The Middle East, due to its centrality and geography, has
experienced more than its share of invasions, including the Greek, Roman,
Arabian, Crusader, Seljuk, Timurid, Mongolian, and modern European. Within the
region, dynastic froth has caused the same territory – Egypt, for example – to
be conquered and reconquered.
THE LAND that now makes up Israel was no
exception. In Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel, Eric H.
Cline writes of Jerusalem: “No other city has been more bitterly fought over
throughout its history.”
He backs up that claim, counting “at least 118
separate conflicts in and for Jerusalem during the past four
He calculates Jerusalem to have been destroyed completely at
least twice, besieged 23 times, captured 44 times, and attacked 52 times. The PA
fantasizes that today’s Palestinians are descended from a tribe of ancient
Canaan, the Jebusites; in fact, they are overwhelmingly the offspring of
invaders and immigrants seeking economic opportunities.
tableau of unceasing conquest, violence and overthrow, Zionist efforts to build
a presence in the Holy Land until 1948 stand out as astonishingly mild, as
mercantile rather than military. Two great empires, the Ottomans and the
British, ruled Eretz Yisrael; in contrast, Zionists lacked military power. They
could not possibly achieve statehood through conquest.
purchased land. Acquiring property dunam by dunam, farm by farm, house by house,
lay at the heart of the Zionist enterprise until 1948. The Jewish National Fund,
founded in 1901 to buy land in Palestine “to assist in the foundation of a new
community of free Jews engaged in active and peaceable industry,” was the key
institution – and not the Hagana, the clandestine defense organization founded
Zionists also focused on the rehabilitation of what was barren
and considered unusable. They not only made the desert bloom, but drained
swamps, cleared water channels, reclaimed wasteland, forested bare hills,
cleared rocks, and removed salt from the soil. Jewish reclamation and sanitation
work precipitously reduced the number of disease-related deaths.
when the British mandatory power gave up on Palestine in 1948, followed
immediately by an all-out attempt by Arab states to crush and expel the
Zionists, did the latter take up the sword in self-defense and go on to win land
through military conquest. Even then, as the historian Efraim Karsh demonstrates
in Palestine Betrayed, most Arabs fled their lands; exceedingly few were forced
This history contradicts the Palestinian account that “Zionist gangs
stole Palestine and expelled its people,” leading to a catastrophe
“unprecedented in history” (according to a PA 12th-grade textbook), or that
Zionists “plundered the Palestinian land and national interests, and established
their state upon the ruins of the Palestinian Arab people” (writes a columnist
in a PA daily). International organizations, newspaper editorials, and faculty
petitions reiterate this falsehood worldwide.
Israelis should hold their
heads high and point out that the building of their country was based on the
least violent and most civilized movement of any people in history.
did not steal Palestine; merchants purchased Israel.The writer
(www.DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum and Taube
distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.