Does Israel have a “right to exist”?


The Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, seen from the Mount of Olives

Having done family Christmases for more decades than I care to remember, I decided to have change in 2016, and to become a refugee from Christmas – and indeed from New Year.  Taking a trusty companion, I set off to Israel around December 18th.  The destination was partly dictated by an International Conference in Jerusalem at which I had been invited to speak.

Having been raised (I have to admit it) in a church-going family, I was familiar from childhood with the names of all those locations in which the history of the Jews, and the events in the Gospels, took place.  Jerusalem.  Galilee.  Bethlehem.  Jericho.  Beersheba.  Nazareth.  But the almost surreal realisation on visiting Israel is that these are not merely ancient names from the mists of history, but real places.  They are names on motorway signposts.  The Mount of Olives is not just a name in story book, but a real mountain (or at least, a real hill), where I stood and looked across to the disputed City of Jerusalem, and to the temple Mount, now dominated by the gilded dome of the Al Aqsa mosque.

I visited Bethlehem on December 24th.  It is a predominantly Christian city, and there were parades and marching bands in preparation for Christmas festivities (so I did not avoid the event entirely).

It is also remarkable to note that so many of these familiar locations, which are at the heart of Jewish and indeed Christian history, are in what is now known as the “West Bank”.  The areas of Judea and Samaria, on the west bank of the River Jordan, are regarded by the UN as “occupied territories”.

It is easy to understand the enormous emotional ties which Jewish people have to these areas.  According to tradition, the land was given by God to Abraham and his descendants in perpetuity.  It is also remarkable the extent to which prophesies in the old Testament have been fulfilled.  Jeremiah 31:5 says “Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria: the planters shall plant, and shall eat them as common things”.  And indeed I visited a recently planted vineyard on the hills of Samaria, which until the vineyard came had been desert, and I drank the wine, and it was very good.  There is now a flourishing wine industry across Israel.

Or take Isaiah 35:1: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose”.  The Israelis have made huge strides in agriculture and water management, and are indeed showing that the desert can blossom.

I know of no other people who have returned to their ancestral lands after an absence of nearly two millennia.  Yet of course it is not clear that such a people, even having been forcibly removed from their lands around AD70, have an unchallenged right to return many centuries later.  Many people will be unmoved by Old Testament prophecies and divine promises, and will question their relevance in the 21st century.  So by what right does Israel claim the land, with or without Judea and Samaria?

First of all, those on the left in Britain who question Israel’s right to exist would do well to remember the Balfour declaration.  It was this country, Britain, with the later support of the League of Nations, which promised the Jewish people a home in the Holy Land.  This was a formal decision of the international community – whatever second thoughts it may be having at the moment.

Secondly, the right of conquest.  The Jews may have been promised the land, but they also had to fight for it.  I spent a few days in Eilat, on the southernmost point in Israel, and visited the town museum, where they remember the Uvda battle in 1948  in the Arab/Israeli war, which effectively delivered Eilat to the state of Israel.  Surrounded by enemies committed to their destruction, they have fought again and again – with remarkable success – for survival.  They have offered land-for-peace deals to their neighbours which have been summarily rejected on ideological grounds.

Thirdly, they have in a very real sense created a nation from a desert.  Yes of course there were communities living in the area before 1948.  Yet in terms of creating a nation, building infrastructure, and agriculture, and a vibrant economy, the Israelis have proved themselves worthy custodians of the territory.  They have built an extraordinarily successful market-led economy based on democracy and the rule of law – and are effectively the only country in the region to have done so.  As a consequence, they are able to deliver living standards and a degree of security which are the envy of neighbouring states.

We now see calls for various sanctions against Israel, because it is building and developing the Judea/Samaria areas.  There is a BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) campaign. The EU is calling for products from Judea/Samaria to be labelled – a deliberate device to promote a boycott – despite the fact that factories and Israeli investment in the region are providing well-paid jobs for Palestinian Arabs, and promoting cooperation and integration.  Arabs and Jews work side by side in these factories.  It is hardly surprising that Palestinian Arabs are happy to work in Israeli-owned factories in Judea/Samaria, given the higher salaries and greater security on offer.  Perhaps still worse, some academics in the UK are calling for a boycott of Israeli universities.  I myself visited Ariel University in Samaria, and saw Jewish and Arab students studying together.  Surely universities should be promoting dialogue, not blocking it.

There are many who call for “a two-state solution”, and most assume that this means giving Judea/Samaria to the Palestinians.  Indeed I myself thought that this was the way forward, until I went to Israel and saw for myself.  So why not a two-sate solution?

The first problem is land area.  Israel is around 20,700 km2.  The four adjacent Arab countries together have a land area of 1,284,000 km2.  This makes the size of Israel just over 6% of the average of its neighbours, or 1.6% of the size of the four taken together.  Israel has more than four times the population density of its neighbours’ average.

The second problem is an existential one.  If you exclude Judea & Samaria, the width of Israel from east to west, at the level of Tel Aviv, is less than ten miles.  The hills of Samaria command a clear view across Tel Aviv, including Ben Gurion International airport. All the way to the sea. I have stood on those hills and watched the planes landing at Ben Gurion.   If you allow the Palestinian authority to control those hills, you will have Hezbollah rockets on them, and the whole heartland of Israel, including the airport, will be in the firing line.  I’m no military strategist, but it seems clear to me that the State of Israel could not survive in those circumstances.

Thirdly, development.  If you say that Israel cannot have “settlements” (read “new housing development”) in what amounts to Tel Aviv’s suburbs, you put a tourniquet – a garrotte – around the neck of Israel’s economic development.  It’s like telling the City of London that it can’t expect new housing in Hammersmith.  I don’t believe that the Israelis should accept that, and I wouldn’t expect them to.

I think that the only solution, however unsatisfactory, is to leave Israel in control of Judea/Samaria, with an appropriate level of devolution and local autonomy for Arab-majority areas.  And this, in fact, is what exists today.  Certainly it appears that President-elect Donald Trump has effectively killed the two-state solution by nominating David Friedman as his Ambassador to Israel.  Friedman has openly called for a one-state solution.  In conclusion, one more quotation: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee”.

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37 Responses to Does Israel have a “right to exist”?

  1. David says:

    The very best to Israel, Id support them anytime over any of their neighbours.

    • KennieD says:

      I agree David. israel is the only really civilised country in the ME.
      The only other one approaching anything like decency is Jordan and Syria used to support lots of other religions, including Christianity, before SA told our govt to get rid of Assad.

    • Dung says:

      I agree 100% ^.^

    • RosieG says:

      Like you, I am a fervent supporter of Israel. I was very pleased to see Roger H putting their case so clearly. Why, oh why, doesn’t the world just leave the Jewish nation in peace?

      • Martin Reed says:

        Why won’t they leave Israel in peace? Several good reasons (from their point of view). Firstly, self-righteous bullying is a favourite pastime of leftists which they apparently find very enjoyable. So what better than to gang up in dozens to bully one of the smallest countries of any significance in the world? Especially when that country is one of the most civilised in the world and isn’t going to retaliate with terrorism. Then there’s the beauty of distracting attention from the wars in your own country, and there are many of those around the world costing currently countless lives every day. Just one example, how many Syrians have been slaughtered now in the current conflict, half a million? Finally the old stand-by, good old-fashioned anti-semitism at the root of it all. But how you can explain the near universal appeal of that, I will never know.

  2. Pete Hodge says:

    Let’s go back to the Bible. And let us ask the question, who or what is Israel? First, Israel was never a nation, it was a tribe descended from Abraham’s family. Also, it was to be the family though whom God was going to deliver His source of Salvation, Jesus, the Christ. God promised Israel a land in which to settle after He had them led out of Egypt where they had been held prisoners for 400 years. But this occupation was dependent upon obedience to God’s will.

    After the fulfillment of His prophecy regarding Jesus, and His death and resurrection, Israel arranged showed their disobedience to God’s will, so H arranged for them to be removed from the land. This was achieved in A.D.70 by the Romans when they held Jerusalem siege and then destroyed the Temple, the center of Jewish worship. Also, in the destruction, the records of the Jewish nation were destroyed, so no Jew can today know which tribe they belong to. Indeed, no one can honestly claim to be Jewish.

    That they are in a land which is called Israel, does not mean that they are in Israel. Israel, as a nation, never existed, and what is today called Israel has nothing to do with Israel. Indeed, it is clear that Israel of today is a state imposed on the Palestinian people who were ejected from their own land in 1948. I do not accept Israel as a legitimate state, and their genocidal oppression of the Palestinian people could be considered an international disgrace.

    • Dung says:

      You are no different to any other religious fanatic: we need kill race X because the bible (substitute Koran or whatever) tells us they are evil. Why do you not grow up?

    • catweazle666 says:

      עם ישראל חי!

    • It is a bit extreme to say that “Israel does not exist as a nation”. You might as well say that the USA doesn’t exist as a nation. The term “nation” is used in various different ways. It can mean a recognised nation-state, and/or a tribal/ethnic group. The Sioux nation. The nation of Islam. The Six Nations tournament (I believe that four of the six nations are not recognised independent nation-states, despite Scottish aspirations). I can think of many defining criteria for a nation — but I cannot think of one where Israel would not qualify. It has a defined territory (despite some disputes at the margin); a language; a democratic government; a seat at the United Nations: Ambassadors around the world. What’s missing?

    • Genocidal? In 1948 there were about 750,000 Palestinian Arabs on each of the two sides of the Jordan. There are now 4.8 million. Some genocide.

  3. Frances Fox says:

    Thank you for this post which I will copy to my Daughter.


  4. mike5262015 says:

    First of all, Thank you Roger for your insight into an area that is geographical and spiritual at the same time, but with so much political interest in the here and now. It has become interesting due to Obama, under cover of Christmas and Hanukkah, effectively pulling support from Israel at the U.N., which has no doubt cheered many Arabs. Trump has yet to open his account.

    I must say that Christianity is something I came to at the end of my 20s, as I became somewhat angry with myself when asked. – Do I believe in God ? – Only to reply, I don’t know ! Stepping into my 30s I really should know, so being the awkward individual that I am, I read up on all the world religions. Some had me laughing, and some had me really concerned that there were people following such utter tosh. I dallied a little with Islam and an English K’ran, but that bit the dust when viewed with The Holly Bible and the accounts of The Lord Jesus.

    With a little in depth reading of the Bible, I found that The End Times would arrive when the Jews have to stand alone in the world. Obama has started that process, by ditching any borders that have been ‘understood’ to this point. Public opinion is no small weapon in all of this, and deaths in Palestine of men women and children, have been reported in such a way that the evil doer is Israel. ( It’s understood that Hamas shot rockets into Israel, but how dare they reply with force against civilians.) !

    I agree that The Two State idea is only acceptable to those not living in that land. I also agree that Judea/Samaria would be better held by Israel, if only in view of their ability to turn desserts into gardens. Our friend Pete Hodge gives excellent details, all agreed with except conclusion. Since Israel was the making of the U.N., I would have thought that the U.N. could show some ideas and positive leadership on this. Putting the Jews back into a land given by God, so many centuries after they left, was by their ability always going to be a green and pleasant land in the middle of scrub dessert. In the Balfour declaration pre war, to the wish to make right the wrongs of the war, the U.N. initiated, and then turned their backs. This must change !

  5. Anne says:

    Does the United Kingdom have the right to Exist? Does Germany have the right to exist? Does France etc? Of course they ALL have the right to exist. And YES, many countries have had to fight for that right to exist, such as the United Kingdom of GREAT Brtiain and Northern Ireland had to fight to exist in that last War from 1939-1945, and also for that first World War too..

  6. KennieD says:

    Do the United States of America have the “right to exist” Or should that land be given back to the Apache, the Sioux, the Mohican etc?

  7. George Morley says:

    Seems that this is a hodge podge of a debate (sorry Pete, could’nt resist that)) as the country names can change overnight – I still call Myanmar Burma and whatever happened to Rhodesia ? Sri Lanka was Ceylon and today the names can change overnight and the history becomes almost irrelevant in the current world especially with the current movement of people around the world. What I hate is the way that some point the finger when they are the wrongdoers as mike5262015 said about Hamas.

  8. John Burnett says:

    Roger, Thank you for a very rational view of the regional problems facing Israel. However, the problem is not about rationality, but sovereignty, which is defined by “where the buck stops” because where the buck stops is where the power lies to fashion the future; this right has been usurped by the Israel on the pretext that “It is in the Book”.

  9. F. Hugh Eveleigh says:

    Thank you for your, as usual, balanced comment. It is a fraught area indeed and I am sure that seeing the situation as it exists in practice has influenced your opinion. I am pro-Israel in general and want the country to continue to prosper and give succour to Jews and Arabs who live within its fractured boundaries. My understanding has been that the Palestinians as a whole want Israel destroyed. A two state solution, in their eyes, is not a solution. Why are outsiders still pontificating about a solution that one side will not accept? We have to re-think and it seems that Mr Trump is of a similar mind. The problem is a huge one – a reasonable outsider wants both sides to be content with any ‘solution’ so quite how argument might unfold I don’t know. Unfortunately both sides have by now entrenched views which will require compromise but I must say that I agree with your analysis of the ‘West Bank’s’ strategic location. If Israel were to leave this area it effectively would destroy itself.
    These remarks of mine do not offer a solution. There may not be one which is acceptable to both parties equally but somehow the whole political discussion needs rejuvenation. Maybe Mr Trump will bring this about. I hope so. Israel is a remarkable country – a beacon of liberal democracy surrounded by hostility. I want it to continue but I also want reasonable Palestinians to be accommodated somehow and to have an identity. Indeed let us pray ‘for the peace of Jerusalem’.

  10. Anne says:

    Every one has the right to exist.

  11. Anne says:

    Did Hitler have the right to exist? Of course he did. And I remember very well indeed what he did for we were bombed night and day until eventually we could no longer live in a house that had no windows, no front door and holes in the roof-and we were the lucky ones!. Perhaps there would never have been a second World War had it not been for HITLER eh! It changed my life, for we left our House that was near the much used Manchester Ship Canal and came to a quieter part of the UK. Perhaps it is “what each person does” that have the right to exist? Sadly, I remember very well being shown the opening of BELSEN-all of us taken to “The Picture House” from school-yes all of us- to see the opening of Belsen and other Camps-so that we would never forget what Man did to their fellow Man”. I have never forgotten and I doubt all those that went to see those opening of those camps did either.

  12. Jesse_Marcel says:

    Roger, as a longstanding admirer of your statements and follower of your blog, I regret to say I am appalled by what I have read today. Your title ‘Does Israel Have a Right to Exist?’ made me read your entire piece but at the end I find I cannot agree anything you say or your reasons for saying it. Please let me explain.

    The way you have argued the case for Israel continuing to do what it has done from the 6-day war onward, seems more in line with the Brexit Remainers who still argue staying in the EU on economic grounds, whereas UKIP has always argued that Brexit is all about the right of self determination. We wanted our country back. But Roger, that is PRECISELY all the Palestinians want! They don’t care how well paid the jobs are in the Occupied West Bank, they simply want their own country!

    Israel has got away with doing whatever it likes, in the face of dozens of UN resolutions against them, because the big stick behind them is the USA. There is a well established Israeli lobbying department in DC meaning that despite any protests from any US President, America can’t actually DO anything to curb Israel’s excesses. I have Jewish friends in America who are quite frankly digusted at the behaviour of the Israeli government towards Arabs and in particular the Palestinian people, and feel almost ashamed of their faith.

    I understand that you went on a trip to Israel for quite different reasons, but I am surprised that an otherwise very rational and well spoken man such as yourself can ignore the disgusting treatment of the Palestinians. The Israeli government have proved over the years, by their actions, that they would quite happily eradicate a whole group of people in the name of ‘Peace’, but we all know that no such peace would be forthcoming and the Moslems would work to the end of their lives to destroy Israel. Which gives the government of Israel the perfect excuse to carry on, I suppose. And so the vicious circle goes on, round and round and round and round.

    In 1967 they asked the UN to remove the peacekeeping force which was keeping the warring sides apart, and like naiive idiots they did just that. The rest has been a murderous bloody history of Israel nibbling away at territory they were never granted in 1948, and getting away with it because every international UN resolution attempting to stop them, in the name of human reason, has been vetoed by the US.

    The Near East / Middle East is a hell hole of utter religious intolerance, populated by people with different gods, and believing that only their god can win. Cos it says so in their Book. You can’t reason with any of them.

    I call myself a Christian, not because I go to church, but because I simply believe in Christian moral values.

    • catweazle666 says:

      What a dreadfully distorted, one-sided view you have of the only civilised socially liberal democracy in the Islamist hellhole of the Middle East.

      I don’t believe you have the remotest idea what is going on there or what Israel stands for, you certainly have no knowledge of the history of Israel and its struggles to survive despite the best efforts of the Islamists to destroy both Israel and every Jew not only in the Middle East but the rest of the World as well.

      Perhaps you could start by reading the Hamas charter,..

      • Jesse_Marcel says:

        Well I’m sorry you feel that way. If one doesn’t mindlessly support the government of Israel, then one is a terrorist right? Dear oh dear.

        Tell me, what do you thnk of all those terrorist sympathisers in the UN that passed, oh, perhaps over a hundred resolutions condemning the actions of the state of Israel? Buncha Antisemites?

      • catweazle666 says:

        “Buncha Antisemites?”

        Pretty much, yes.

        As are you too, of course.

        The United Nations resolution that Jews and Christians have no historic association with the Middle East tells practically all we need to know about their sympathies – and they do not lie with twenty-first century socially liberal Western democratic civilisation.

        But I’m pretty sure you are in full agreement with that, aren’t you?

    • What a very ignorant man you are.

  13. Pete Hodge says:

    I had this post on Facebook, and they blocked me. Facebook obviously seeks to adapt the truth.

    What he fails to see is that Israel was never a land, it was a people. The only reason Israel exists is because we felt sorry for the Jews following the holocaust, and so we forced the people living in Palestine into camps to allow the terrorists, that are the Jews, to steal their land.

    • catweazle666 says:

      “we forced the people living in Palestine into camps to allow the terrorists, that are the Jews, to steal their land.”


      • Pete Hodge says:

        Is that so? So historians are telling porkies? Who was blowing up hotels? How did the Palestinians get pushed into refugee camps, which apparently that are to some extent still occupied. And hoq come the people of Israel today in a land that was never theirs?

  14. What a (mostly) pile of ignorance here.Are you all fully aware that prior to 1948. 850,000 Jews lived in the surrounding Arab countries for centuries in peace and harmony. Then the lunatic Arabs (Muslims) expelled them-how stupid can you get?
    Israel and other Western countries absorbed them. Did you see any Jewish refugee camps Roger? NO of course there never were any. The Arabs called them Palestinians in the sixties when “Palestine ” was meant to be Jordan – that is their home. The Arabs then used them and still are as political pawns 70 years later. Israel has a powerhouse economy and the Arabs are below zero.
    Some of the tripe above is not worth responding to life is too short.

  15. KennieD says:

    Peter Hodge, (“So historians are telling porkies?”)
    So Peter, you don’t believe that historians can tell porkies? I guess then that you fully support David Irving, the disgraced historian.
    There is a new film opening this week in London & probably elsewhere in UK. It is called “Denial”.
    Perhaps you could find time to go and watch it?

    • mike5262015 says:

      Both you Kennie, and Peter have some good backing in both of your comments, but I am fully behind Israel. One or the other or both of you might take the mickey out of me for putting this forward, but I believe that Israel today, is the pivot for all our futures. I wont bore you with Biblical argument, but I take it very seriously.

      • KennieD says:

        If you look back to 08 Jan, you will see that I was the second person to comment on this blog and that I was fully behind Israel. I don’t take the mickey out of people for their beliefs or points of view, whether I agree or not.
        I take the mickey only out of people like catalanbrian who insist on being nasty to anybody who doesn’t agree with the likes of him.

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