Israel exists —no kudos to people who think acknowledging its existence is a major concession. Few question the legitimacy of the ten new countries created in the last 20 years or the tens of countries created in the decades before. That Israel is a Jewish state is bizarrely controversial when 30 countries proclaim Islam as their state or official religion and 19 countries are Christian. And Israel does not need to prove itself error free or offer to commit existential suicide either. But the BDS movement, a variant of the Arab Boycott of earlier decades, relies on historical ignorance and misinformation which internet searching does not remedy. We must reclaim Israel’s history from those who would distort, defame or destroy it. Here follows a short guide to the creation and legal status of Israel.
If ever a country was midwifed by legal and international norms it was Israel. The creation of Israel was approved by United Nations Resolution 181 in November 1947. That resolution envisioned the creation of two states, a smaller Jewish state and an larger Arab state. Jerusalem was to be an international city. The Jewish community accepted the partition; the Arab leadership rejected it and vowed to oppose by force any Jewish state.
Israel declared its independence on May 15, 1948 and immediately faced five Arab armies and Arab violence from within the Israeli state borders. Notwithstanding overwhelming odds, Israeli army’s proved victorious. During 1949 Israel signed a series of armistice agreements with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. A year earlier, with little fanfare or international condemnation, Jordan unilaterally occupied the West Bank and banned Jewish access to the Old City of Jerusalem, site of the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.
During this period, the Egyptian government built the refugee camps in Gaza since Egypt, like the other Arab countries surrounding Israel excepting Jordan, refused to give citizenship to the Arabs who had fled Israel, many through their own choice. Instead the ostracized Palestinian refugees served a mighty purpose by distracting other Arab domestic populations from their own nations’ failures. The refugees were and continue to be supported by the United Nations, receiving more international aid than any other ethnic group.[i]
Approximately 1,000,000 Jews from Arab countries, who were mercilessly despoiled and expelled, after 1948 were granted Israeli citizenship and today their descendents form nearly half of the population of Israel. (This number is about thirty percent higher than the number of Arab refugees who left, mostly voluntarily.)
In 1967 Israel again fought Arab armies. Israel rapidly swept away Jordanian, Syrian and Egyptian forces and occupied the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 242, which requires the:
(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.[ii]
In other words, Israel would withdraw from occupied territories in return for Palestinian and Arab state legal recognition of the state of Israel’s right to live peacefully within safe and internationally recognized borders.
Crucially, the Resolution does not say “all territories” but simply “territories” because of the general understanding that certain territorial adjustments would be made to give Israel its “secure” borders. Furthermore, Israel was to remain in legal occupation of the territories until the peace demarcated in Resolution 242 emerged. . Unlike Jordan, Israel permitted access by Arabs to the holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The hope of a majority of Israelis, that the Palestinians and their Arab state sponsors would be willing to trade land for peace, proved illusory. In October 1973 Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon again attacked Israel. At the war’s end, which produced no territorial change, the United Nations passed Resolution 338 which reiterated that Resolution 242 was to be the basis for a permanent settlement. Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979 and Israel returned the Sinai peninsula to Egypt. Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty fifteen years later.