Greater Israel is a political and ideological term in the history of the Zionist movement and in the politics of the State of Israel which describes the historical boundaries of the Land of Israel found in Biblical and historical sources, and views those borders as the desired borders of the Jewish state or the State of Israel. The term Greater Israel became popular after 1967 with the desire to apply Israeli sovereignty over the territories beyond the Green Line that were transferred to Israeli control. The ideology of 'Greater Israel' divided the parties in the early years of the state of Israel. Now, those who support the idea of Greater Israel are labeled as having right-wing views in Israeli politics, and the term Greater Israel is often linked to the settlement enterprise whose goal is the Jewish settlement of the Golan Heights, the Jordan Valley, Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
The concept of Eretz Israel Ha'Shlama, Greater Israel, is based in its most limited sense on the borders of the Land of israel according to Jewish law, the area of the British Mandate until 1921 and the territories of the State of Israel after the Six-Day War and before the peace treaty with Egypt in a less limited sense and in its broadest sense the limits of the Promised Land. At the same time many use this terminology to focus on the entire land between the Jordan River and the sea and the other security borders of the State of Israel, particularly when discussing views that criticize even these borders.
Table of Contents
- 1 Definition of the Term
- 2 The Borders
- 2.1 According to the Bible
- 2.2 Greater Israel and the Promised Land
- 3 Eastern Transjordan
- 4 The Partition Controversy
- 5 The Idea of Greater Israel After the Six-Day War
- 6 Pro and Con
- 7 Today
- 8 See Also
- 9 Further Reading
- 10 External Links
- 11 Footnotes
1 Definition of the Term
The term Greater Israel is not an absolute and clear concept. There are several reasons for this:
- The borders of the Land of Israel are not uniformly defined in Jewish sources. Also from the standpoint of Jewish law (halakha) there are different types of boundaries included within the sanctity of the country and these differences create different definitions when considering the questions of borders.
- Historically is it difficult to define the sphere of control of the tribes of Israel, the United Kingdom, or the kingdoms of Israel and Judea because their boudaries changed over the course of history and because the modern concepts of 'state' and 'sovereignty' were concepts alien to the time.
- Practical political considerations were always included in the decisions of the Zionist movement and the factions within it, even when it came to formulating ideas and ideals.
The term Greater Israel refers to a numbers of concepts:
- "Promised Land" - the areas of the Eretz Israel as they appear in Genesis or Deuteronomy.
- The Eretz Israel that included the eastern side of the Jordan River as the border defined in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and the borders of the British Mandate established by the League of Nations.
- The Eretz Israel defined by the cease-fire lines following the Six-Day War (including Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem) the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.
- Eretz Israel within the borders of the British Mandate after the Kingdom of Jorday was established plus the Golan Heights. This is the territory controlled by Israel after the peace agreement with Egypt.
Each option depends on the context in which the term Greater Eretz Israel is used and when it is used.
2 The Borders
2.1 According to the Bible
There are those who define the borders of Israel by identifying the boundaries of the territory that was under the control of the people of Israel or inhabited by them during the Days of the Judges and the Day of the United Kingdom of Israel (the kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon). According to the most expansive interpretation, this includes the areas known in the Bible as: the Golan, the Bashan, the Gilead (Transjordan) and the area between the Great Sea (ie, the Mediterranean Sea) and the Jordan River. This interpretation is based on references to places that were under the control of the tribes of Israel or the later kings of Israel in the Books of Samuel and Kings. In practice, it is difficult to know exactly which areas the Kingdom of Israel controlled for two reasons:
- 1 The Bible refers to two kinds of boundaries - the ideal boundaries granted by a divine promise to Moses and the people of Israel, which were to be divided among the tribes of Israel (see, for example, Deuteronomy 34: 1-4, The Book of Joshua 1: 3-4) as opposed to the actual settlement boundaries of the tribes of Israel. To a large extent the actual boundaries were close to the ideal boundaries (see, for example, Sefer Shoftim 1: 27-30, 3: 1-6).
- 2 The concept of sovereignty is a modern concept that did not exist in biblical times. While it is true that in the Al-Amarna letters, which date back to the time of the prophets, the areas of control of the various kings are described but the aspects of controlling the territory are not identical to those of a sovereign state today.
2.2 Greater Israel and the Promised LandHa'eretz Ha'Mov'tekat
Although the term Greater Israel is sometimes used as a synonym for the term Promised Land, most will distinguish between these two terms and view them as referring to two different concepts. The Promised Land is the land within the boundaries mentioned in the Covenant (Genesis 15: 18-21) which according to the text extends from the river of Egypt in the south (a river whose identification is not clear, some speculate that it is Wadi al-Arish while others identify it with the eastern branch of the Nile) to the northern Euphrates (probably at the point where the Euphrates River is closest to the Mediterranean Sea). The area of the Promised Land is more or less the same as the area under the control of the King of Egypt in the land of Canaan before the 14th century BCE and certain periods after it (see Kings II 24: 7). According to the researcher Joshua Grinz, who was the head of the department of Bible studies at Tel Aviv University, the borders of the Promised Land, as promised by God to the forefathers, is the land of Canaanite, or the land of Canaan, to its borders which includes all of modern Syria and Lebanon. In the Book of Joshua, the entire nation of the Hittites to the north was also promised to the people of Israel. Even Ezekiel (יחזקאל Yechezkel) mentioned the borders of Eretz Israel, northwest of the Mediterranean through Hat-lun, east to the Euphrates River and south to the waters of Kadesh in the southern and eastern desert. According to Grinz' research as well as all that can be found in the Torah and in the Book of Prophets, the Promised Land of Israel during the biblical period was of ethnic and geographic unity, and for the future also, according to the prophets of Israel, Eretz Israel would be a real land and an autonomous geographical unit.
3 Eastern Transjordan
Part of the Jordan River valley were included in the territories of Judea and Israel during the Biblical period and during the Hasmonean Kingdom during the period of the Second Temple. At the beginning of Zionism, limited efforts were made to purchase land and settle Jews in Transjordan.
During 1919 to 1920, Chaim Weizamnn, as the representative of the Zionist Organization, raised many historical and practical reasons (land purchased east of the Jordan River that included the first kibbutz, Degania, and Jewish-owned land in Horan) at the Versailles Conference and before the other international bodies dealing with the territorial arrangements in the Middle East after the First World War, to maintain the integrity of a Jewish homeland on both sides of the Jordan while taking into account British interests in the Middle East. For example, the Zionist Organization drew the eastern border of the Jewish national home west of the Hejaz railway (which crossed the esatern side of the Jordan River along the plain to the east of the Jordanian mountain) because of the British interest in maintaining British control of the railway.
The border agreement between Britain and France was based on the Sykes-Picot agreement, that won approval from the League of Nations in 1920, the international conference at San Remo and in the British Parliament. The League of Nations designed the Mandate so Britain could remove Transjordan from the area of the Jewish National Home. This was because Britain was interested in giving the territory to Amir Abdullah. This separation of the eastern side of the Jordan from the area originally designated for the Jewish National Home was officially expressed in the Council and in the First White Paper. Due to Jewish settlement in the Galilee, the northern border of Palestine was ammended in 1923 to include this sliver of Galilee within the borders of the British Mandate (it had previously been within the borders of the French Mandate over Syria and Lebanon) and later within the borders of the State of Israel.
Today these borders are recognized as the borders that delineate the territory of the State of Israel, יש״ע YESHA"A (Judea, Samaria and Gaza) and the Kingdom of Jordan.
Despite their early energetic opposition, the Zionist Organization accepted the British proposal for removing the eastern side of the Jordan River from the areas of the Jewish national home, preferring instead to focus on the development of the area of Eretz Israel west of the Jordan River. Ze'ev Jabotinsky, one of the leaders of the Zionist movement who generally disagreed with territorial compromises, wrote at the time, "I am a full partner ... for our agreement to the White Paper." Jabotinsky later explained that he had agreed because he feared the Mandate might be revoked if he did not and also out of the belief that a legal Jewish majority could be created in Eretz Israel within these new limitations. The Revisionist Movement, founded by Ze'ev Jabotinsky and part of the Achdut Ha'avoda Movement, compromised temporarily with the new British policy direction but continued to view the eastern side of the Jordan River as an area for Jewish settlement that should also be a part of the planned Jewish state, and continued to view Transjordan as the hinterland of the homeland, one of the central elements of the Revisionist Movement - the ETZE"L emblem displays a rifle against the backdrop of a map of Eretz Israel with the borders of the original Mandate (the British Mandate for Eretz Israel-Palestine and Transjordan). This symbol still stands at the entrance to Metzudat Ze'ev, the center of the Likud Movement in Tel Aviv, even though Likud supported the peace treaty between Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan. One of BETA"R's songs, "The Left of the Jordan" was written by Jabotinsky and its lyrics are: "Two banks of the Jordan, it is ours, it is ours also." The journal of the Revisionist Movement is still called "The Jordan."
This element of the Revisionist Movement eventually turned into a a point of contention between rivals and the split between the doves and the hawks.
Transjordan shares the same biome as the region west of the Jordan River.
4 The Partition Controversy
The debate for and against Greater Eretz Israel began on the eve of the First Partition Plan by the British Peel Commission in 1936. The resulting controversy touched on both ideological and pragmatic considerations. Ideologically, the various Zionist factions disagreed as to whether or not the borders of the Jewish state were critical - was it one of the essential characteristics of the state or was it a technical matter that called for a pragmatic answer. Among the practical considerations raised were: should the boundaries of the Jewish state include the territories of the historic Eretz Israel which were densely populated by Arabs; should preference be given to areas where it was easier to establish Jewish settlements in areas with historical or religious significance in the history of the Jewish people; should proposals for the creation of a Jewish state within limited borders be accepted or should they be rejectd until it was possible to establish a state within the borders of Greater Eretz Israel. Some also rejected the Partition proposal because they believed that a bi-national Jewish-Arab state was preferable to a Jewish state with limited borders, and those who questioned a Jewish state with a large non-Jewish population.
After the general Arab strike and the 1936 riots (the Great Arab Revolt, April 1936 onwards) a British commission of inquiry was created for Eretz Israel, the Peel Commission. Even before its decisions were published, it was clear to all that they would decide on a partion, that is, a political separation between Jews and Arabs. This approach received the support of Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion. Even before the committee's decisions were published, many opponents from the Zionist movement made their concerns known. The first to reject it was Mencham Ussishkin, President of the Jewish National Fund, who demanded that Chaim Weizmann, who directed foreign policy regarding the British commission, oppose the partition plan. On the other side, Dr. Judah Leib Magnes, president of Hebrew Univeristy, opposed the partition plan and supported a bi-national state. The most radical of the proponents of the Parition Plan was Shmuel Dayan, one of the founders of Degnia and Nahalal, who viewed the program's who viewed the proposals as emotional and unrealistic, thinking that it was also necessary for a Jewish state within limited borders to allow free immigration.
After studying the claims of the various national groups in area, the committee proposed dividing the British Mandate into three parts: An Arab section that included Samaria, Judea, the Negev and the southern coastal plain from Rehovot to the south, and other smaller enclaves such as Jaffa; A Jewish section with the Galilee, the Jezreel Valley and the coastal plain; A small British-controlled strip that included Jerusalem and Bethlehen and a narrow strip that reached the city of Jaffa. In addition, the committee recommended an enclave under British control in the city of Nazareth.
The committee's proposal for the partition of the country aroused strong opposition among both the Zionist movement and the leaders of the Arabs. Benjamin Poznanski, one of the founders of Machanot Ha'olin, wrote this in 1937: "What will the youth be taught? I will go to a torn patch of land, a body that has been wrought asunder?" While before them stood "the Land of Greater Israel ... united, complete, and natural." Ben-Gurion, on the other hand, supported this partition proposal, arguing that they should seize the oppportunity to establish a Jewish state to which there would be free immigration of Jews, but harbored doubts about how serious the British intentions were. Doubts about Britain's intention to implement the proposal proved decisive and led to an agreement on an interim position: expressing support in principle for the findings of the Peel Commission but also emphasizing the Zionist rejection of the idea of partition. This patter of both support and oppostion to the partition of the land was to be repeated in all of the partition proposals, including the UN Partition Proposal of November 1947.
5 The Idea of Greater Israel After the Six-Day War
The outcome of the War of Independence left about one-fifth of the territory of the British Mandate in Palestine under the rule of the Kingdom of Jordan: the mountains of Judea, Mount Hebron and parts of the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea. The cease-fire line was established in the Rhodes Agreements in 1949 and was referred to as the Green Line. This line went on to become the border of the State of Israel. The terrotories beyond it were also annexed to the Kingdom of Jordan and were designated as the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). This annexation to Jordan was officially recognized only by Britain and Pakistan but most countries recognized it as a de-facto annexation.
During the Six-Day War, Israel conquered large areas that had belonged to the Jewish people in the past, including the West bank, which was also known as Judea and Samaria. Israel did not apply Israeli law to these areas with the exception of East Jerusalem, however, shortly after the war the Green Line was opened to allow free passage and was removed from the official maps distributed by Israel. The idea of a Greater Eretz Israel within the borders created by the new cease-fire lines quickly became the topic of many public figures and intellectuals. Some had supported the idea even before the war, but the outcome of the war made it seem more of a possibility with others beginning to support the idea. So, for example, in 1967 after the war a movement among writers and intellectuals sprung up which was called the Movement for the Liberation of Eretz Israel. Their manifesto calling for a Greater Eretz Israel was signed by Natan Alterman, who was a key leader in the movement, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Uri Zvi Greenberg, Iahim Hazaz, Haim Guri, Yehuda Burla, Ya'akov Orland, Menashe Harel, Yitzhak Shalev, Dov Sadan, Ze'ev Vilnai, Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi, Zerubavel Gilad and Monshe Shamir. Alterman's appeals to Avraham Shlonsky and Leah Goldberg to sign the document were rebuffed. Left-wing groups also joined to advance the idea within the Movement for Greater Eretz Israel and the Ein Vered Circle. The manifesto reads: "The IDF's victory in the Six-Day War puts the people and the state in a new and fateful period. The Eretz Israel is now in the hands of the Jewish people, and just as we do not have the right to abandon the State of Israel so also have we been commanded to observe what we have received from her: Eretz Israel. We owe loyalty to the integrity of our country, to the people of the past and to their future together, and no government in Israel has the right to give up this perfect wholeness."
Settlement in these areas began shortly after the war, especially in places abandoned by Jewish communities during the War of Independence. Kfar Etzion, which had been destroyed during the War of Independence, was rebuilt. After the acceptance in principle of the Alon Plan, the government of Israel began to encourage the creation of settlements in the territories designated by the plan to remain under Israeli contol: the Jordan Valley, the Golan, and the Jerusalem area. Kiryat Arba was established near Hebron in response to demands to restablish Jewish settlement in this city. After the Yom Kippur War, the idea of Greater Eretz Israel lost favor with left-wing activists but among the national religious movement the idea gained momentum. The Gush Emunim Movement which grew after the Yom Kippur War, created additional settlements in Samaria, for example, in Ofra and Kedumim. These seeds would later sprout into the settlement movement which the government initially opposed and there were confrontation with the security forces, but in the end the government supported them after the the intervention of ministers from the Labor Party: Israel Galili and Shimon Peres. At the time Shimon Peres said: "Although there are high mountains in the Golan Heights there are also high mountains in Samaria and even if someone does not like Hadera of Petah Tikva there is no reason to abandon them."
An obvious supporter of the idea was Likud whose leader, Menachem Begin, promised to accelerate the settlement movement. He did add many settlements and even applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights, but also returned the Sinai to Egypt as prt of a peace treaty. His successor, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, was also a supporter of Greater Eretz Israel. Rabin's rise to power in 1992 and the Oslo process brought changes to the Israeli approach to areas beyond the Green Line. In the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority was created to assume control of parts of the territories beyond the Green Line under the supervision of Israel. Following the Second Intifada, the IDF reoccupied all areas of Judea and Samaria while at the same time the construction of the separation fence began on the Green Line and east of it. In 2005 as part of the Disengagement Plan, all Israeli settlements were moved out of the Gaza Strip as wll as a number of settlements in northern Samaria. Israel then announced that it was ending its rule in the Gaza Strip. Prior to the 2006 elections, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced his plan to evacuate Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria and create a new border that would leave a large section of the West bank outside the State of Israel. Kadima won 29 Knesset seats in the elections and Olmert formed a government with the support of the Labor Party (Ha'avoda). However, after the Second Lebanon War, Olmert's plan was shelved.
6 Pro and Con
Supporters of Greater Eretz israel believe that the historical right of the people whould be realized at least in the most important areas, including Biblical cities, they believe that controlling the dominant hills is of prime importance for security and that there is an existential threat to Israel if if is confined within the 'narrow waist' of the pre-Six-Day War (referring to the section of the Green Line that passes only 15-20 kilometers east of the seashore). They believe that since the entire Middle East is in the hands of the Arabs and Israel only occupies a small area, the existing Arab states must find a national solution for the Palestinian Arabs. The religious public view Eretz Israel as the Holy Land that must not be handed over to foreginers, this in the teachings of רב קוק Rabbi Kook. Others believe that a withdrawal and the creation of a Palestinian state will lead to increased terror threats against Israel.
One reason to oppose the concept of a Greater Eretz Israel is based on demographic fear since there are over three million Arabs living in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. A second reason is the belief that withdrawal and the establishment of a Palestinian state will lead to peace and the recognition of Israel by its neighbors as a legitimate state in the Middle East. A third reason is the basic evidence that part of Greater Eretz Israel is the property of the Palestinian people living on the land and the historical fact that Jews lived there in the distant past does not give the state of Israel the right to control the Palestinians or to settle its citizens on that land.
There are intermediate approaches such as withdrawal from densely populated areas at night, autonomy or withdrawal from large sections except in areas where there is dense Jewish settlement.
Among the most prominent supporters of Greater Eretz Israel was Yisrael Eldad and the most prominent opponents, Yeshayahu Leibowitz. Among the politicians who promoted Greater Eretz Israel were Yitzhak Shamir and Rehavam Ze'evi.
Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook, the spiritual leader of Gush Emunim, refused to join the Movement for Greater Eretz Israel because it did not include all of the lands covered by the Promise and as such it did not include all of his definition of Greater Eretz Israel.
After the peace treaty with Egypt (1979), support for the idea that the borders of Greater Eretz Israel defined those of the State of israel was accepted only by right-wing Israeli movements. Some 410,000 Israeli citizens live in about 125 hitnachloiot (NB: Hitnachlot - Special term for settlements beyond the Green Line.) and 100 outposts that have been established beyond the Green Line after the Six-Day War (not including residents of East Jerusalem). The largest settlements are Ma'aleh Adumim, Betar Illit, Efrat, Ariel, Givat Ze'ev and Modi'in Illit. Two hundred and fifty thousand more live in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem built beyond the Green Line, such as Gilo, French Hill, Armon Hanatziv and the Old City. On the Golan Heights, kibbutzim and moshavim were built as was the city of Katzrin. Not all of the Israelis who live beyond the Green Line belong to right-wing movements or identify with the idea of Greater Eretz Israel. This is particularly true in cities where the population is diverse. During the 1980s and after, the Israeli government encouraged Israeli settlement in the territories by means of tax benefits, subsidized housing and land prices and other measures. Many young couples preferred to live in communities beyond the Green Line in order to enjoy these benefits, particularly in the communities near Jerusalem or those near Kfar Saba, Ra'anana, Hadera and Afula. Many of them moved to these communities to enjoy a better quality of life and a quieter environment compared to the big cities. Most of the new Haredi communities were established beyond the Green Line and, due to a housing shortage in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, many Haredi preferred to move to communities beyond the Green Line.
The settlements in the Sinai and the Gaza Strip were evacuated. The evacuation of the settlements in the Sinai took place in 1982 as the final stage in the implementation of the peace agreement with Egypt, while the evacuation of Gush Katif and the other settlements in the Gaza Strip occurred in 2005 as part of the Disengagement Plan. In both cases, the settlements were evacuated and destroyed by prime ministers identified with their support of Greater Eretz Israel - Menachem Begin in 1982 and Ariel Sharon in 2005. In both cases, the state compensated the evacuees and ensured their resettlement within the Green Line, although in the case of the Disengagement Plan, there were criticisms of distruption and delay in providing compensation and also in finding alternative housing solutions for the evacuees.
The idea of a Greater Eretz Israel, which was once almost a consensus, is now considered a controversial issue. Since the First Intifada (Dec 1987) the public has increasingly favored territorial compromise, however, opinion goes up and down in response to political events and the degree of trust between the Israeli and Palestinian sides. The idea of Greater Eretz Israel was once again at the center of a dispute in the Likud Party during discussions over the Disengagement Plan. And this debate was one of the reasons for the split in the Likud party. The platform of the Kadima Party, which included many who left Likud and was led by Ariel Sharon, expressed support for the idea of two states for two peoples, an idea that many right-wing organizations would not consider even a dozen years earlier. However, Kadima did not last long and disappeared from the political landscape.
8 See Also
- The Borders of the State of Israel
- The Borders of Ezekiel
9 Further Reading
- Aaron Ben-Ami, The Book of Greater Eretz Israel, Friedman Press, 1977.
- Shaul Arieli, Got Much, Got Nothing - Approaches in the Struggle over the Borders of the State of Israel, Carmel Publ House, Jerusalem, 2006.
- Aryeh Naor, Greater Israel, Univ of Haifa, 2001.
- Shmuel Katz, Conflicting Land: Reality and Imagination in the Land of Israel, Karni Press, Tel Aviv, 1972, 1995.