The Jewish People’s Rights to the Land of Israel, by Salomon Benzimra (Kindle Edition: Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights, 2011. No ISBN).
Reviewed by Vic Rosenthal
My first thought after reading this short book (about 100 pages) was: why hasn’t someone done this before?
Especially when almost every mass media outlet can’t mention Jewish communities outside of the 1949 armistice lines without adding “which are illegal under international law,” when NGOs funded by Israel’s enemies invent legal principles to suit their purposes, when the President of the US takes it upon himself to demand that “settlements must stop,” when the false historical narrative of the Palestinians is more and more being accepted into the conventional wisdom, there is a need for a simple exposition of the facts, an antidote to the lies and inventions.
One does not need to agree with all of Benzimra’s arguments (I don’t) to benefit from his exposition. Unlike many authors of polemics — and this book is frankly polemical — Benzimra exposes his premises and his logic. The electronic format has made it possible for him to provide exhaustive and invaluable documentation with web links to the text of primary sources, treaties, minutes of meetings, etc.
The exposition is clear, without dense legalese. Each chapter includes at least one chart or map, like this one:
Benzimra’s major argument, greatly simplified, is this:
The Balfour declaration, which became part of international law when it was incorporated into the British Mandate for Palestine, ratified by the Allied Powers at the San Remo conference (1922) and adopted by the US through the Anglo-American Convention (1924), became a binding international commitment to the Jewish people, based on the “historical connection of the Jewish people to Palestine and the grounds for reconstituting their national home there,” a commitment which has never been revoked.
The post-WWI mandates were intended to replace colonialism with a paternalistic system by which a people could be helped to ultimately obtain independence under the guidance of a more advanced power, which would be given temporary control of a territory:
On the strength of the concept of “self-determination” advocated by President Wilson in 1918, the Jewish people acquired legal sovereignty in Palestine, based on their historical connection to the land, even though this sovereignty was held in abeyance for the duration of the Mandate period. These national rights in Palestine were exclusive to the Jewish people, who became the national beneficiary under the Mandates System. Britain was assigned a triple role: a) as Mandatory, to secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home… b) as Trustee, to preserve the whole land in trust for the benefit of the Jewish people; and c) as Tutor… The Legal Title to Palestine was therefore transferred from the Allied Powers … to the Jewish people. [loc 1285, emphasis in the original]
Although the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate state that nothing in them is intended to prejudice the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities in Palestine, there is a clear distinction between such rights and what Benzimra calls “collective political rights” (and I often refer to as ‘national aspirations’). Arab citizens of Israel that are demanding in essence a binational state are asking for such collective rights, which are not supported by this clause.
Benzimra interprets the phrase “in Palestine” in the Mandate as meaning “in all Palestine” primarily because of Article 5, which says that “no Palestine territory shall be ceded to … any foreign power.” He interprets this as meaning that any repartition of the land, such as the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state east of the Green Line, would be illegal. I think this is uncertain, since the Palestinian Arabs — while not the beneficiary of the Mandate — would certainly insist that they are not a ‘foreign power’.
He also says that “national home” must be interpreted as ‘state’. While it’s likely that Balfour, Lloyd George and others envisaged a Jewish state as a desirable outcome, the word ‘state’ is not used. In contrast, the British Mandate for Mesopotamia [Iraq], established at the same time, clearly does refer to the ultimate creation of an “independent state.” Of course, the state of Israel as declared in 1948 (unlike the recent attempt to declare a state of ‘Palestine’) met all of the criteria for a sovereign state and rendered moot the question of whether the Mandate promised a state or something less.
He is on more solid ground, however, when he points out that the Mandate called for “close settlement by Jews on the land” in Article 6, and argues that this implies that Jews have a right to live anywhere in Palestine, including Judea and Samaria. It can be argued that the Mandate’s provisions will be operative until the Jewish home has been established with recognized borders. This hasn’t happened yet, and so until it does, there can’t be a limitation on Jewish communities in the area of the Mandate.
In summary, I think he has argued persuasively that the state of Israel’s legitimacy in international law is unquestionable, and is derived from the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate (and the declaration of independence of 1948), which in turn are based on the Jewish people’s historical connection to the land. He has also demonstrated that Jewish rights of settlement extend to all of the land of Israel, although I do not believe that it can be established that the Jewish ‘home’ — or state — must include all of it.
Benzimra devotes several chapters to a description of British efforts to renege on the promise of the Balfour declaration, starting with its action to lop off the eastern portion of it in the period between the final draft of the Mandate and its ultimate adoption in 1922 (this territory ultimately became the Kingdom of Jordan), and — far worse, in my opinion — its gradual abandonment of the principles of the Balfour declaration in favor of the Arabs.
He provides an instructive chart which shows how episodes of Arab violence against Jews led to British “commissions of enquiry,” which then resulted in White Papers that restricted Jewish rights — culminating in the execrable MacDonald White Paper of 1939, which arguably sealed the fate of hundreds of thousands of Jews trapped in Europe:
The MacDonald White Paper not only limited Jewish immigration to a trickle, it called for a “Unitary Palestine State” from the river to the sea, encompassing both Jews and Arabs, with the Jewish population not to exceed 1/3 of the total! Need I add that this is a total renunciation of the spirit and letter of the original Mandate?
Benzimra also discusses the Arabs’ very effective propaganda tactic of presenting the Jewish presence as a conspiracy between European Jews and imperialists to steal and illegally occupy their land. This has been made possible, he says, by two things:
One is the fact that the legal rights of Israel have not been effectively upheld; in particular, he refers to the decision made after the 1967 war not to apply Israeli law to the conquered territories, but rather to treat it as a belligerent occupation. This was done to avoid the acquisition of a large number of Arab citizens, and in the hopes that the Arab nations would agree to negotiate a real peace in return for the territory, which did not happen.
The other is the way the historical facts about the Jewish connection to the land have been forgotten or obscured.
He concludes with a discussion of the need for any peace negotiations to include a recognition of the true facts, including the historical connection of the Jewish people to the land — which the Arabs and their supporters are doing their best to replace with what he calls their “forged narrative” — and the legal rights of the Jewish people.
I couldn’t agree more, and note that one of the main reasons that this has not happened is the power of the Israeli Left, in politics, media and academe, which has somehow forgotten Israel’s history and to a great extent accepted and promulgated the Arab story.
I found the book enormously useful insofar as it collects the secular legal and historical arguments and documentation for a maximal Zionist position and presents that position clearly. The electronic format is a mixed blessing: it puts supporting documentation at one’s fingertips, and provides handy links to the contents of the book. You can read it on a Kindle, if you have one, or you can download a free reader for the PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, and Android phone. On the other hand, a printed book would make wider distribution of Benzimra’s arguments possible.
Update [Dec. 15 10:00 PST]: See Salomon Benzimra’s response here.