Israel’s “occupation” is legal, moral — and not an occupation

View of Efrat, in Gush Etzion, Judea and Samaria, on January 6, 2020. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.

by Jason Shvili

(JNS) — The Palestinian Authority recently requested — and received — authorization from the United Nations General Assembly to have the International Court of Justice take up the question of the legality of Israel’s control of Judea and Samaria.

You’ve no doubt heard Israel’s critics repeatedly accuse it of illegally occupying Judea and Samaria, aka the West Bank. Yet this accusation is a myth based on a misunderstanding of international law, as well as, often, malice directed at the world’s one and only Jewish state.

In fact, Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria is perfectly legal and firmly morally grounded. Assertions to the contrary almost always apply standards to Israel that accusers use against no other nations, especially those most obviously guilty of illegal land grabs.

Above all, Israel’s control over Judea and Samaria — and its communities in this land — are decidedly not a violation of international law. Indeed, Israel has a stronger, more legitimate legal claim to the territory than anyone.

But the Jewish state’s control of Judea and Samaria is not only legal. It is also morally justified, since the territory constitutes the core of the Jews’ ancestral homeland and is vital for Israel’s defense.

Finally, Israel is clearly held to a double standard by the international community, which spends a disproportionate amount of time defaming and demonizing the Jewish state, while glossing over real violations of international law by other countries.

According to international law, an occupation is when one country takes over the sovereign territory of another country. But Judea and Samaria was never legally part of another country. Certainly, the Palestinian Arabs never owned or controlled it. Instead, it was unlawfully seized by Jordan during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

In 1950, Jordan formally annexed Judea and Samaria, renaming it the West Bank. The annexation was almost universally rejected by the international community, though no one suggested that Jordan illegally occupied the territory. Yet, when Israel captured the stolen territory in 1967, the world suddenly screamed “occupation.”

Israel is indisputably the rightful sovereign power in Judea and Samaria. International law holds that a new country inherits the borders of the preceding entity. Since Israel was established inside of the former British Mandate of Palestine, it should have legally inherited the borders of the former mandate, including Judea and Samaria.

International law also holds that an occupation ceases to exist once the occupying power concludes a peace agreement with the country from which it took the territory. Israel concluded a peace agreement with Jordan in 1994. Hence, even if Israel had “occupied” Judea and Samaria, this occupation would have ceased to exist because of the peace agreement.

The Oslo Accords and the Palestinians’ refusal of several offers of statehood also render the occupation accusation false. Under the Oslo Accords, the parties agreed to Palestinians’ self-rule in the Gaza Strip and parts of Judea and Samaria. The Jewish state was under no obligation to do this under international law, but did so anyway.

In fact, Israel went even further, repeatedly offering the Palestinians statehood in 2000, 2001 and 2008. The Palestinians rejected all these offers, and by doing so, implicitly endorsed the status quo.

As for so-called Jewish “settlements” in Judea and Samaria, there is no international law saying Israelis cannot live there.

Under international law, a country cannot forcibly transfer part of its population to occupied territory. But a) we’ve already established that Israel legally controls Judea and Samaria, and b) no Israeli who lives in the territory was forced to do so.

Israel not only has a legal right to control Judea and Samaria, it also has a moral right, for two compelling reasons:

First, Judea and Samaria comprise the epicenter of the indigenous homeland of the Jewish people. The very name “Judea” implies that it is the land of the Jews. Many point to the Bible as proof the territory was always part of the Jewish homeland, but there is also massive historical and archeological evidence linking the territory to the Jewish people for thousands of years.

Since Israel is solely the nation-state of the Jewish people, it’s only fair and just that the Jewish state controls what is, without a doubt, Jewish land. Remember, too, Israel has many times endeavored to share huge parts of this territory with its Palestinian neighbors, which they have invariably refused.

Second, Judea and Samaria is vital for Israel’s exercise of its moral right to defend itself. The territory includes high ground overlooking the Israeli coast, where much of the Jewish state’s population resides. The late Israeli politician Abba Eban described the frontiers of Israel prior to the 1967 war as “Auschwitz borders” because they made Israel exceedingly vulnerable to attack.

Israel cannot allow its enemies to control this territory, since it would be a perfect staging point for attacks on the Jewish state, just as the Gaza Strip became after Israel withdrew from it in 2005.

Israel is not only innocent of illegal occupation, but also unfairly singled out for opprobrium: It is held by critics to a double standard.

Indeed, many other countries maintain obviously illegal occupations, but are not subject to repeated demonization. Turkey has occupied the northern part of Cyprus for 51 years. China has occupied Tibet for 72 years. Yet China and Turkey are not the victims of constant smear campaigns by the international community.

It is no surprise the United Nations spends disproportionate effort demonizing and delegitimizing Israel. Just last year, the United Nations passed 15 anti-Israel resolutions, compared to only 13 resolutions critical of other countries. No resolutions were passed condemning China for its ongoing genocide of the Muslim Uyghurs, nor were there any condemnations of the infamous human rights practices of countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. No wonder Alan Dershowitz has called Israel “the Jew among nations.”

The myth of Israel’s “occupation” of Judea and Samaria is just another example of the hypocritical standard that the international community applies to the Jewish state. Israel does not “occupy” Judea and Samaria. There is no occupation, but rather a legitimate exercise of control over territory that legally and morally belongs to the Jewish state.

Jason Shvili is contributing editor at Facts and Logic About the Middle East, which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.