The follwing essay was first published in 1978
What right do we have to the Holy Land?
"In the beginning G-d Created Heaven and Earth..." (Genesis 1:1).
Rashi's commentary on this very first statement of the Torah follows:
It was not necessary to begin the Torah (whose main objective is to teach commandments) with this verse. And what is, therefore, the reason that it begins with Creation? Because if the nations of the world will say to Israel: "You are robbers because you have conquered with force the lands of the seven nations (of Canaan)" they (Israel) can answer: "He created it (as described in Genesis) and gave it to whomever was proper in His eyes. Of His own will He gave it to them (the non-Jews) and of his own will He took it from them and gave it to us!"
Actually it is not necessary to use this quotation from the Torah to establish the tenure rights of the People of Israel for the land of Israel. This point is made strongly and continually elsewhere in the Torah, even to the extent of identifying the people and the land as one. The accomplishment of Rashi's explanation, quoted above, is to publicize the fact to all people, and to emphasize that the giving of the land is nothing less than an expression of the Divine will.
No one denies that the land of Israel was once in gentile hands. Indeed, this fact is conceded in Psalms: "The power of His work He has declared to His people in giving them the heritage of the nations." (Psalms 111:6). By the will of G-d, the land was once the heritage of the nations, and by the will of G-d it was given to His people.
What should be the overall outlook and attitude for the Jewish statesman or diplomat in representing Israel's case before the members of any other nation?
The Right Way: The Jew chosen to represent his people must be aware that we must not adopt a servile attitude before others. On the contrary, our representative's attitude must imply: "Listen, I am a Jew. I am a representative of the Jewish people, and the following are my rightful demands."
True, we are in exile amongst the nations of the world. It is therefore necessary to speak their language and to address them diplomatically. But the Jewish representative does not have to ask for the Holy Land; he must declare clearly that the Land belongs to us by Divine Right.
This uniquely Jewish combination of openness, firmness, and diplomacy is an ancient heritage of Israel from our forefather Abraham. Abraham asked the Hittites politely to give him a burying-place for his wife in Hebron. Avraham declared, "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you." (Genesis 23:4). Rashi writes: "If you agree to my request, you can regard me as a stranger (who is entirely dependent upon your good will). But if not, I am a sojourner (settler and citizen) and can take what I desire by right, since G-d has promised this land to me and my children."
Abraham's diplomacy was to be polite and to imply to the Hittites that the conditions could be discussed. If money was an issue, he was ready to pay 400 full shekels of silver. But the actual granting of the land could not be argued, for his right to the Holy Land was a Divine Mandate.
The Wrong Way: Instead of declaring firmly that the Holy Land is ours by Divine decree, some approach the representatives of other nations in an entirely different manner. They say that there was a certain non-Jew, Lord Balfour by name, who lived in London and who issued a "paper" in 1917, declaring that the Jews should have the Holy Land as a "national home".
One who presents such a claim based on non-Jewish sources automatically implies that he has no proof from Jewish sources! The statesmen from the other nation can retort, "Very well, one non-Jew indeed issued such a paper, but 140 non-Jews now say the reverse. That person (Lord Balfour) had no right to make such a declaration over the Holy Land."
The statesman does not know how right he is. "That person," indeed had no rights over the Holy Land! For it was G-d's desire to give the Holy Land originally as "a heritage to the nations" and it was His Divine will to take it away from them and give it to his people Israel.
The above wrong approach (which, tragically, has been used in presenting our case for the Holy Land during all these years) has led to the current situation, in which the whole basis for our claim to the Holy Land vacillates. This is not all surprising, for it was built on a shaky foundation, built on a "paper" issued by a non-Jew who dwelt in London.
What kind of an overlord was he over the Jews? What kind of authority did he have over "the land upon which the eyes of G-d your Lord, gaze from the beginning of the year till year's end"? (Deuteronomy 11:12).
Our representatives pursuing this false approach inquire of other non-Jews: "Where are the borders of our Holy Land? Up to which geographical boundary does the inheritance of the Jews extend? What are the inner allusions of the "paper" issued by the non-Jew in London?" Why follow such a weak path? We have an ironclad claim: "The power of His work he has declared to His people in giving them the heritage of the nations." (Psalms 111:6).
Why rely on diplomatic counseling? Why make compromises, plots, conspiracies? Why "Wheel and Deal" and make business transactions as regards what belongs to other nations and what belongs to Israel? G-d in His Torah has clearly indicated the borders of the Land of Israel, "This is the land within the borders..." (Numbers 34:2).
This is the one single approach which has until now not even been tried. All other versions of diplomacy and statesmanship have been tried and have failed. We have tried behind the scenes diplomacy and financial transactions; we have sought the confidence of influential leaders, etc., and today we see to what state of affairs this has led. The only approach which the non-Jews deep down really understand is one based upon our Holy Torah which they also regard with reverence as "the Bible." When a Jewish representative abandons this approach, he abandons his own wealth; he abandons the source of his strength, he abandons his true claim.
What would a sincere, strong stand accomplish?
One example of what a strong stand could accomplish can be seen from the events of the recent past, when the Premier of Egypt, Mr. Sadat, suddenly suggested a proposal of peace and came on a mission of peace to visit Israel.
What was it that motivated him to suggest a peaceful approach? It was his observation that the Jews were beginning to speak with strength, and were not displaying any fear of the nations. He observed that the name of G-d was being invoked with ever-increasing frequency and intensity in statements issuing from the Holy Land. There were those in Israel who were beginning to adopt the ancient cry, "We encamp in the name of our G-d." (Psalms 20:6).
This had a profound effect upon Sadat. (Though his physical intelligence might not have perceived the importance of this renewal of attachment to G-dly values, his soul perceived it.) Sadat was aware, furthermore, that Jewish soldiers stood on the borders and had the capacity to destroy his armies. He was instilled with fear. An honest analysis of the situation told him that it would not pay for him to start a war with these Jews. This is the reason he came with a peace proposal.
From this episode, and many others, it is evident that only when we take a strong, fearless, and uncompromising stand that we can have any beneficial effect upon our relations with other nations.
What is it that instills fear into the hearts of our nation's compromisers?
We are told by the Torah that there might come a time in our bitter exile when some of our people will be possessed by an illogical fear, a faintness of heart. They will flee, imagining that they are under pursuit by an enemy, when in reality they are fleeing from the sound of a leaf driven by the wind. "They will fall with no one chasing them" (Leviticus 26:36).
Today we see the unfortunate fulfillment of this prophecy. There are some of us who allow themselves to be frightened by threats issued by other nations: they stand in fear and trembling. But who is it that they fear, a torn leaf driven by the wind! For when a member of another nation attempts to rob a Jew of something connected with Torah and Mitzvot, something which is his rightful property, the person is violatining one of the basic seven Noahide laws for all humanity (Maimonides Hilchos Melachim Chap. 9:9).
By this violation he severs the inner G-dly source of his own vitality. He is no longer a leaf connected to a tree, but a leaf torn from a tree, driven here and there by the wind. Yet these faint-hearted individuals are so terrified of the "torn leaf" that they attempt to instill their brother Jews with a similar fear.
Who qualifies as an "expert" to decide policies for defense of the Holy Land?
The answer to this question is crystal clear. According to the law of the Torah if a person is sick and must take advice regarding his therapy (for example whether or not he should undergo an operation) he can take into account neither the opinion of "good friends", nor of neighbors, relatives, plumbers, electricians, nor even of learned professors of philosophy, history, mathematics, etc. The one and only individual qualified to give an opinion on this matter is an expert in the field, a doctor.
In exactly the same way, the only person whose opinion is to be considered as regards retaining or returning parts of the Holy Land is a military expert, a general in the field. The opinion of all the politicians, diplomats and statesmen in the world carries no weight whatsoever in this question according to the Torah. At stake in the doctor's decision is the life of one individual; at stake in the expert's decision are the lives of hundreds and thousands of our people!
In the three wars that have been fought in the Middle East we have seen time and again that the military experts, the generals in the field, declared unequivocally that if such-and-such an area were given back to the enemy it would bring about loss of life. Along came the politicians and said that "because of political considerations we dare not anger other nations; we must listen to them and return this territory." Later, this dastardly action cost tens and hundreds of Jewish fatalities.
This distorted attitude reached a nadir of debasement in the Yom Kippur war, when our representatives, knowing of the impending invasion by their enemies, informed Washington (knowing that this information would immediately become known all over the world) that they would not start a war! Even more, they gave assurances that they would not even make an effective mobilization before being attacked. They did not deceive Washington either; they indeed kept their word. They did not make the necessary military preparations, an act which cost our nation hundreds of fatalities!