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Occupation or liberation?

The New York Times appears ignorant of Jewish history in Judea and Samaria.

“The New York Times” building in Midtown Manhattan. Credit: Ajay Suresh via Wikimedia Commons.
“The New York Times” building in Midtown Manhattan. Credit: Ajay Suresh via Wikimedia Commons.
Jerold S. Auerbach
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of 12 books, including Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel (1896-2016).

New York Times Jerusalem bureau chiefs and columnists, led by Thomas Friedman (in both roles), have long referred incessantly to Israeli “occupied territory.” In the Times’ May 15 issue, current bureau chief Patrick Kingsley, focusing on the recent ceasefire between Gaza Palestinians and Israel, once again displayed this obsession with Israel’s “56-year occupation of the West Bank.”

He either does not know or prefers to ignore Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War that returned it to biblical Judea and Samaria, occupied by the Kingdom of Jordan ever since Israel’s War of Independence. That was liberation, not occupation. But the Times remains oblivious to history—and reality.

Ancient Jewish history in the promised land framed 20th-century Zionist restoration. Following World War I, Britain received a League of Nations Mandate to govern then-Palestine. The Mandate cited “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and the legitimacy of grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country”—east and west of the Jordan River. There was no mention of “Palestinians,” who did not yet exist as a self-defined people.

But British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill gifted the land east of the Jordan River to Britain’s wartime ally Abdullah. It became known as the Kingdom of Jordan. The League of Nations Mandate, however, continued to protect “close settlement” by Jews on the land west of the Jordan River. This was disregarded by the Kingdom of Jordan, which during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence seized the territory that became known as its “West Bank.”

Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War redrew the boundary. A U.N. Security Council resolution permitted Israel to administer its newly acquired territory—the West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza—until “a just and lasting peace in the Middle East” was achieved. There was no restriction on Jewish settlement.

Indeed, an Israeli government report in 2012 reiterated that ever since the League of Nations Mandate nearly a century earlier, Jews held an internationally guaranteed legal right, never revoked, to “close settlement” west of the Jordan River. Because Jordanian sovereignty in the West Bank had not been recognized under international law, Israel could not be considered a “belligerent occupier” of that land. The report concluded that Israelis “have the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria.”

That did not deter former President Barack Obama from declaring that “the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine” located in the biblical Jewish homeland.

Obama was not alone. Israel’s critics continue to insist that Jewish settlements are the major obstacle to peaceful relations with Israel’s Arab neighbors. But as recent events in Gaza demonstrated, it is the Jewish state, not only settlements, that is the target of Israel’s enemies.

Not all Israelis have accepted the return of Jews to their biblical homeland. Soldiers, condemning a government policy of “occupation, repression and colonization,” have occasionally refused to serve in Judea and Samaria. Settlers have been accused of a “fascist, fanatical ideology” and occupation has been condemned as “a moral crime.”

An organization called Courage to Refuse absurdly claimed that “refusal to serve in the territories is Zionism.” A group of soldiers who had served in Hebron organized Breaking the Silence to condemn Israel’s “occupation” of the ancient Jewish city. They were oblivious to Hebron’s history as the burial site of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs and as the location of the ancient Jewish capital before King David relocated his throne to Jerusalem.

Amid the obsessive focus on evil settlements, it is seldom recognized that, geographically and demographically, a Palestinian state with a majority Palestinian population already exists within historic Palestine. It is the Kingdom of Jordan, which occupies two-thirds of the land defined as “Palestine” by the League of Nations after World War I. Jordan is home to the world’s largest percentage of Palestinians, who comprise more than half the population.

But it is highly unlikely that New York Times Jerusalem bureau chiefs and columnists will acknowledge Jewish history and the legitimacy of Jewish settlements in biblical Judea and Samaria.

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