Did Israel Steal Palestinian Land? – Part 1


By Sarah L, Staff Writer for Hope for Israel

The subject of Palestinian rights and peoplehood is a notoriously sensitive subject. Palestinians often claim to have lived in the Land before the people of Israel, while Jews base their claim on the Bible. Is the Jewish or the Palestinian/Muslim claim to the Land of Israel more legitimate? In order to answer this question, this article examines evidence from antiquity, including the Bible and the Qur’an.

The Jewish claim to the Land of Israel is established through God’s initial promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 (circa 2000 BC).  In Joshua 1:4 God reaffirms this promise, adding specific borders to the Land. He says, “From the wilderness and this Lebanon to the great river, the Euphrates River – all the land of the Hittites – to the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory.” In 2 Samuel 5:6-16, King David conquered the city of Jerusalem, one of the central bones of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An ever-expanding list of archaeological discoveries going back at least to the First Temple Period backs Biblical claims of Jewish presence in the Land of Israel throughout antiquity. For example, a stone record, discovered in 1998 in Tel Dan and written in Aramaic, describes the defeat of the “house of David” by the king of Aram. Nearly a thousand years after David, in 63 BC, Roman conquerors also called the area “Judea,” after the Hebrew name “Judah.”

At the end of the Great Revolt in 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple and changed the area’s name from “Judea” to “Palestina.” (This name is generally thought to refer to Israel’s traditional pagan enemy, the Philistines. Probably, however, the term was coined by a Greek historian who called the area “Palaistine,” the Greek word for “Wrestler," after the Jewish father Jacob, who is famed for wrestling an angel.) Changing the name of a region was a classic Roman tactic/punishment used to sever the connection between a people and their native country.

The Land of Israel was ruled by the (Eastern) Roman Empire until between 636-638 AD; many of Judaism’s most famous post-Exilic rabbis hailed from Byzantine Palestine, including the Rav Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi). Around 638, Jerusalem was conquered by the armies of the Rashidun caliphate, a change which Palestinian Jews generally supported, hoping for relief from Christian oppression.

The Palestinian claim to the Land is originally based on Islam, which emerged in Arabia around 610 AD. According to the Qur’an, the angel Gabriel designated Muhammad as the last in a long line of prophets which began with Ibrahim (Abraham). The Qur’an does not directly mention Jerusalem/Palestine, but does reference it indirectly 70 times, according to Islamic sources; Jerusalem is referred to as “al Masjid al-Aqsa,” “the Farthest Mosque,” the place from which Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Although Palestine is not referred to as Muslim land in the Qur’an, an interesting effect of the Muslim conquest of the Middle East was the migration of Arabic peoples from Arabia into other areas, including Syria and Palestine. Many of these immigrants, the ancestors of modern Palestinians, were driven from their ancestral lands by economic necessity and hoped to build a new life.

Today, Jews and Muslims both claim to have a religious mandate from God to possess the disputed area. Although Jewish sources (the Dead Sea scrolls, for example) are older than Muslim sources, Muslims believe that they are continuing the true revelation of the God of Abraham, which was meant for their forefather Ismail (Ishmael) and his descendants and not for Isaac.

However, Biblical history and archaeology agree that the socio-ethnic claim of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel holds more water than that of Islam; sources agree that the people of Israel were present in the Land as early as 1000 BC, while Arab population of the area did not begin until the middle of the 7th century AD. It is very hard to claim, based on ancient history at least, that Arab peoples have a more valid claim to the Land of Israel than the Jewish people.

The remaining controversy, then, is religious – were the Jewish people correct in inhabiting the Land? The Bible, of course, would say yes. Surprisingly, two European sheikhs – one British and the other Italian – say that the Qur’an supports this claim! Both are vocal in their belief that Muslim anti-Zionism is at odds with the Qur’an itself, which describes Musa’s (Moses’) charge to the people of Israel to conquer and possess the Land (Sura 5:21).

Additionally, early Muslims highly respected the Jewish faith and holy places, a fact which is reflected even in modern Arabic. The Arabic word for Jerusalem, Al-Quds, is short for “Bayt al-Makdis,” which comes from the same root as the Hebrew word for the holy Temple, “Beit ha-Mikdash.” The renowned 9th century Muslim historian al-Tabari described Umar, the caliph who conquered Jerusalem, as respecting the ruins of the Jewish Temple by building the al-Aqsa mosque on the opposite side of the Temple Mount compound.

In conclusion, according to the Bible, archaeological findings, and even some Muslim sources, the Land of Israel rightfully belongs to the Jewish people. Early leaders of Islam, including the caliph Umar and the renowned historian al-Tabari highly respected Judaism. Essentially, Muslim anti-Zionism (and anti-Semitism) is a recent phenomenon, which leads to another question: was Israel to blame for this shift in attitude?

**Sources  are available upon request.

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3 Comments on “Did Israel Steal Palestinian Land? – Part 1”

  1. What a great clarification of the source of contention between Arabs and Israel. Looking forward to part 2!!

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