The Arabs In Eretz Yisrael

It is a central tenet of Judaism that G-d wished the Jew to create a unique, total, pure and complete Jewish life, society and state in Eretz Yisrael. This being so, who can honestly believe that He then sanctioned the democratic right of a non-Jew, who is totally alien and outside the Jewish society and who is free of its religious obligation, to have the slightest say in its workings?

Eretz Yisrael means "the Land of Israel." Meaning the land of the people called Israel. Precisely as Moab was the land of the people of Moab and
Edom that of the Edomites. The concept, the logical concept of a land, is that it serves as the home and the receptacle for a people to lead their own unique and distinctive life style. It is not the geographical area that defines the person, it is the person who controls the land. No non-Edomite was ever a citizen of Edom just as no non-Philistine was a citizen of Philistia or had any say in its national concerns or character. So, too, with Israel - the Jewish people. The Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel. It is they who control it, define it. It is their vessel, their territory in which to create the society of Israel, the Torah society of G-d. Only Israel, only the Jew, has a proprietary interest in it.

And thus, Judaism lays down legal,
halachic, conditions for the privilege of a non-Jew being allowed to live in the Land of Israel, the Chosen Land of G-d, given to His Chosen People, Israel, to create a Chosen Torah society. And this is, of course, the heart of the matter. It is not merely that the land belongs to the Jewish people. It is that the land belongs to G-d and which He gave to the Jewish people for a specific reason and under a specific condition. It is the land that was indeed taken from other people - the Canaanite nations - because it is G-d who made the world for a specific purpose - goodness and holiness - who holds title to the entire universe, to all the land within it, and it is His to do with as He sees fit. And the rabbis, in asking why the Torah - a book of laws - begins with a story, the story of Creation, reply that should the nations point to the Jews entering the land and taking it from the seven Canaanite nations, Israel rejoins: "The world and all that is in it belongs to the Holy One Blessed Be He. When He so chose He gave it unto you and when He so chose He took it from you and gave it to us, and this is the meaning of the verse (Psalms 111): 'The strength of His deeds did He recount unto His people in order to give unto them the inheritance of the nations'" (Bereshit Rabah 1:2).

It is the Almighty who created all - the world, the lands, the peoples in them - for a purpose. And it is He who took The Holy Land from others for the same purpose and gave it to The Chosen People, for that purpose:
"And He gave them the lands of nations and they inherited the labor of peoples that they might observe His statutes and keep His laws" (Psalms 105). To observe his statutes and to keep his laws. And that is why the non-Jew who wishes to live there can do so only under certain conditions, the most important being that he has nothing to say concerning the state, its character, its workings. This is so for all non-Jews. Any grant to them of citizenship that implies ownership and a right to shape the destiny and character of the state destroys the uniqueness and entire purpose of giving the land to Israel. It invites spiritual assimilation and eventually demands for political autonomy.

How much more so for the non-Jewish residents of the Land who lived there before the L-rd gave it to the Jews. Those residents refuse to recognize such a fact. They believe the land to be theirs and dream of the day when they will regain it. To allow them to remain as proprietors, or even freely living with restrictions, is to ensure not only the general spiritual assimilation that is threatened by any large number of non-Jews, but also the threat of revanchist political and military attack.

And that is the clear concept given by the great Biblical commentator, Abarbanel, in explaining why the Children of Israel were forbidden to agree to a covenant of peace with the Canaanite nations which would give both equality and rights in the Land. Abarbanel brings down the verses in Exodus (34:11-12):
"Observe thou that which I command this day; behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Peruzite and the Hivite and the Jesubite. Take heed to thyself lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land that you come upon, lest it be a snare in your midst." And here is what the great Biblical commentator says: "For having taken their land from them there is no doubt that they would always seek the harm of Israel. And that is why the verse says 'the land that you come upon,' i.e., since you, Israel, came upon the land to take it from its inhabitants and they are 'robbed' of it, how will they observe a covenant of love? It will rather be just the opposite, for they will be a 'snare in your midst' and when there will be a war, they will join your enemies and fight you."

What sheer clarity and logic and normalcy. What understanding of the normal workings of people's minds and national feelings! And what a difference between the great Torah scholar and the tiny Hellenists whose cowardice and fear of facing the truth lead them down such pathways of contempt for the Arabs. Of course the admonition prohibiting a treaty of friendship and equality with the Canaanite nations is exactly the same for the Arabs of Israel, and for precisely the same reason. In both cases we deal with people who lived in the Land before Israel returned. Of course, they do not accept the truth of Divine ownership of the Land by the G-d of Israel, hence Israel's right to take the Land with sovereignty and ownership. Do we expect them to? Of course the ultimate, only reason that they surrender and live quietly is fear and their understanding that they are too weak at present to change the situation. But of course they never accept that situation as permanent and of course they dream of the day when they will return their "stolen land" unto themselves.

And so, apart from the reason that any non-Jews, even those from a people who never lived in the Land, cannot be granted national and citizenship rights in a Jewish state, there is far greater reason in the case of the Canaanites and the Arabs and any non-Jewish people who once lived in Israel and who see it as their land, stolen by the Jews. And, indeed, that is why so many of the Torah commentators deny the right of the Canaanites to live in the Land at all, under any circumstances, because it is impossible that they would not plot revanchist plots. There is no essential difference between the feelings of the Arabs and the Canaanite nations concerning the land they believe to be theirs. And while we may accept the view of those commentators who would grant the Arabs the limited rights of all other gentiles in the Land, it behooves us to watch them far more carefully than we would people who never lived there.

By Rabbi Meir Kahane
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