At the bottom of all the Arab rhetoric demanding that Israel withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Jerusalem, lies one basic claim: "You are intruders. This is our land. We had been living here for centuries and then you decided to take it from us."

Once it is established that the Jews have a valid right to the Land of Israel, then the violence, hatred, and disregard for life that has characterized the Arab position can be judged for what it is. Unless that right is established, the Arabs will always claim that they have a valid goal: reclaiming a land that is rightfully theirs. And once validity is granted to their goal, the debate whether all means are acceptable to attain it or not is one of philosophy.

What is the basis of our claim to the land? G-d's promise in the Torah. G-d told Abraham: "I have given this land to your descendants." For 1,500 years, the Land of Israel was our home. And ever since our expulsion from the Land of Israel, which sent the Jewish people into exile, we have longed to come home to their eternal heritage to Jerusalem, the site of the Holy Temple; to Hebron, the burial place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and to Bethlehem, where Rachel weeps for her dispersed children and awaits their return. Throughout the 2,000 years during which our people wandered from country to country, Israel has remained the national home of every Jew. From the beginning of the exile until this day, no matter how far-flung his current host country might be, every religious Jew has turned to face the Holy Land in his thrice-daily prayers.

So central is this principle to our faith, that Rashi, the foremost of the traditional commentators on the Torah, begins his commentary by stating:

"Rabbi Yitzchak said: The Torah should have begun with the verse, `This month shall be for you the first of the months.,' which is the first commandment given to the Jewish people. Why does it begin with creation? Because of the pasuk [verse], `He declared to His people the strength of His works, in order that He might give them the heritage of the nations' (Psalms 111:6). So that if the nations of the world say to Israel, `You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],' Israel will reply to them: `The entire world belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whomever He pleased. Of His own will He gave it to them, and of His own will He took it from them and gave it to us.' "

From this perspective, the entire Land of Israel--not only the coastal region, Jerusalem, and the Galilee, but also Judea, Samaria, and indeed every tiny portion of the land--is part of an organic whole, an indivisible and sanctified unity. In this spirit, the Kneisiyah HaGedolah of Agudas Yisrael, an assembly of Jewry's foremost sages in the pre-Holocaust era, declared in 1937:

"The Holy Land, whose boundaries were prescribed by the Holy One, blessed be He, in His holy Torah, was granted to the nation of Israel, the eternal people. Any sacrifice of the Holy Land that was granted to us by G-d is of absolutely no validity."

This explanation is, moreover, the only rationale that cannot be refuted by the Arabs or the Americans. They also accept the Bible and believe in the truth of its prophecies. The Koran does not dispute the Jews' right to the Land of Israel. And can you conceive of an American president telling his people that G-d's promise to Abraham is not relevant? Indeed, the connection between the land and our people is so well established that everywhere it is referred to as "the Land of Israel."

For this reason, it is important to emphasize that this connection is rooted in the Bible's prophecies. It would not be desirable to base our claim to the Land of Israel on the Balfour Declaration or international agreements of the present century, for these agreements could be countermanded by other ones. After all, how favorable is the United Nations to Israel today?

Nor is the fact that our people once lived in the land sufficient in and of itself to establish our claim to it today. If the American Indians would lodge a claim to all of America, would it be granted them?

When the Bible's prophecies serve as the basis for our claim, then many other arguments are effective in reinforcing the position. But when that foundation is lacking, we have difficulty refuting the gentiles' claim: "You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the. nations."

After thousands of years of exile, our people have returned to our land. Every portion of the land over which Jewish authority is exercised was won in defensive wars in which G-d showed overt miracles. Now when G-d grants His people land in such ways, should it be returned? Is it proper to spurn a Divine gift?

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