I like to ask stupid questions.

I like to ask stupid questions.

I like to go back to a blank blackboard and start from the very basic ideas. During this terrible ordeal when Jewish people all over the world are worried about everything happening to and in the State of Israel, some claim that Israel is a colonial power that is usurping the right of Palestinians to their land. I know that most Israelis are the children and grandchildren of refugees who were exiled from their homes in Europe and the Middle East; Israel is anything but a colonial power. I know that the land does not belong to a group that did not even exist decades ago. I know that this these claims against Israel are all false. And yet I also know that Israel has unfortunately has often needed to re-establish or re-enforce its claim to its land through war, from its War of Independence in 1948 to the current conflict.

Here comes my stupid question: How does any nation have a right to its land? There are four grounds that nations use in their self understanding of why they rightfully occupy their land. I will give some examples from around the world, and then I will apply it to Israel. These are grounds that other nations recognize in respecting each nation’s sovereignty over its land. Interestingly, in some form, all four of these grounds are illustrated in stories in Genesis in the Torah. War. The American Revolution and the revolutions of South American countries against their Spanish and Portuguese rulers are examples of how nations establish sovereignty over their land. This is mirrored in Genesis 14, in which Abram wages war to defend the land of Israel. Poignantly, in doing so he redeems his nephew Lot from captivity, an especially poignant part of the story for the current Israel-Gaza conflict.

G-d gave this land. This gift to Abram and his descendants is first announced in Genesis 12 and repeated many times thereafter. In similar fashion, for example, the Japanese believe that the g-ds granted them the land that they occupy. For many Jewish and Christian people this is a powerful justification for the right of the Jewish people to live in the land of Israel. I thought all Muslims would disagree, based on the Koran. But if you google “the Land of Israel in the Koran,” you find a talk by Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini in London, in which he points to Sura 5:20-21 and asserts “that the traditional commentators from the eighth and ninth century onwards have uniformly interpreted the Koran to say explicitly that Eretz Yisrael has been given by G-d to the Jewish people as a perpetual covenant. There is no Islamic counterclaim to the Land anywhere in the traditional corpus of commentary.” Mohammed urged his followers to fight for Mecca but never for Jerusalem or Israel. For the Koran and its official interpreters, G-d gave the Land of Israel to the Jews.

International agreement. This is how Canada gained its independence — through the Constitution Acts from 1867 to 1982 — and it is how many nations gained independence after World War II, when colonial powers handed over sovereignty to the local communities in India, Pakistan, and many countries in Africa. In the same way, the British abandoned their rule of Israel and its neighbors in 1948, turning it over to what, according to the United Nations resolution of November 1947, was supposed to be two independent Jewish and Arab states between the Mediterranean the Jordan River.

Long-time Residence. This is the self-understanding of the Japanese, Chinese, Russians, and many African tribes as to why they rightfully occupy their land: It has been theirs from ancient ancestors to now. Even though Jewish people did not rule that land for many centuries, there were always Jewish people living there.

The claim of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is grounded in all four of these factors: They have won it in war, it was given to them thousands of years ago by G-d, which is accepted by representatives of all three monotheistic religions, it was mandated by international agreement, and the Jewish people have lived in Israel for millennia. Such grounds are good enough for the world to accept every other nation’s sovereignty; why is only Israel questioned for living in its homeland?

Rabbi Scolnic