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Israel's Legal Borders under International Law

For Israel's Future Borders according to the Bible, see Millennial Borders


"We must constantly repeat that the root of the conflict is the very existence of the State of Israel, the refusal to recognize the State of Israel in any borders whatsoever."
[Benjamin Netanyahu, 2012]

Today there is much dispute over the borders of the land of Israel. At one extreme some claim Israel should not even exist and for them the border issue is academic. At the other extreme, the 'hard right' in Israel claim all of the Biblical land established by God's covenenant to Abraham. Most governments outside Israel claim Israel has occcupied land illegally. What is the truth, and where will this dispute end?

Video 1 below summarises Israel's legal right to settle in Palestine - anywhere between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, including all of Jerusalem. Video 2 asks the question "how holy is Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to Muslims and Jews?"


The Land of Israel pre-1948

During the seventh century Arab armies conquered most of the Middle East, including the land now variously called Israel, Palestine and the Holy Land (some 10,000 square miles). This area, including Jerusalem, became part of the Ottoman Empire and was largely under Muslim control until the early 1900’s. Over this period most of the population gradually accepted Islam and so by the mid 19th century the area was occupied by some 400,000 Muslims, 75,000 Christians and 25,000 Jews [World Vision].

Despite the strong Muslim presence, by the early 20th century the land was a mix of many peoples representing some 50 languages [1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica]. According to historian Richard Hartmann, prior to the creation of Israel in 1948 these communities were "ethnologically a chaos of all the possible human combinations", and so did not share a common Arab identity. They included Balkans, Greeks, Syrians, Egyptians, Turks, Armenians, Italians, Persians, Kurds, Germans, Afghans, Bosnians, Sudanese, Algerians and others. The land was not a "country" and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries [Prof. Bernard Lewis].

A 'Land of Palestine'?

Is 'Palestine' a historic land? Is it legitimate to use the term for the area we now call Israel? To answer this we first observe that the Hebrews entered the Land of Israel, specifically Canaan, under Joshua c1450 BC (Jos 6). This area was gradually extended by Israel's kings (Saul, David and Solomon) but still excluded 'Philistia' (the land of the Philistines), a narrow coastal strip including Gaza. The Philistines were an Aegean people more closely related to Greeks than to Arabs. Linguistically, the term 'Palestine' originated from the Greek word pronounced Palaistina, which is derived from the Hebrew word pronounced pel-eh-sheth, meaning 'land of the Philistines'.

It is important to note that this 'land definition' of Palestine was later expanded by the Romans. In the 2nd century AD, the Romans renamed Judea as 'Palaestina' in an attempt to minimize Jewish identification with the land of Israel. In fact, it is claimed that the Roman Emperor Hadrian began using the term 'Palestine' for the whole Land of Israel, and unfortunately this term has prevailed over the centuries. For example, under the Ottoman Empire (1517-1917), the term 'Palestine' was used as a general term to describe the land south of Syria, and it was applied to the territory placed under the 1922 British Mandate (see below).

Historically then, the term 'Palestine' only applied to the narrow coastal strip of land occupied by the Philistines, and Philistia itself did not survive the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar II c600 BC. We conclude that there was no historic 'Land of Palestine', at least from this point in time. There can be no legitimate Arab claim to a 'Land of Palestine' or 'Palestinian Land' spanning large parts of modern Israel..

"There is no such country as Palestine." [Arab leader A.B. Abdul Hadi, 1937]
"There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not." [Arab Prof Philip Hitti (Princeton University), 1946]
"Palestine does not exist at all." [Ahmed Shkari (PLO founder), 1956]

A Palestinian People?

At the start of the 20th century, just as there was no 'Land of Palestine', the strong ethnic mix referred to above meant there was no distinctive 'Palestinian people'. There were, however, stirrings for nationalism in response to Zionism. The term 'Palestine' seems to have come to prominence after the Balfour Declaration in 1917, when shortly after this the British were given a 'Palestine Mandate'. The 1922 Mandate didn't recognise the existence of a 'Palestinian people' but instead referred to the local Arab population as existing non-Jewish communities. It was only later that we find an emergence of Palestinian nationalism and an identifiable 'Palestinian People' [James Gelvin][Rashid Khalidi]. Some see this as a response to the threat posed by Zionism, when waves of Jewish immigrants arrived in Palestine between 1919 and 1939.

It is interesting to note that, by 1948, a substantial portion of the 'Palestinian people' resident in Mandate territory originated, not from that territory, but rather from the surrounding Arab lands of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt! It is claimed that the Jews were the very reason the Arabs chose to settle in the Land of Israel - jobs provided by newly established Zionist industry and agriculture lured them there. The 'Palestinians' are therefore not an ethnic group (in contrast to the Jews).

Jerusalem pre-1948

Jews have been living in Jerusalem continuously for nearly two millennia and they have constituted the largest single group of inhabitants there since the 1840's. For example, at the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, Jerusalem had some 100,000 Jews and about 40,000 Arabs. To Jews the entire city is sacred, whilst to Arabs only "the Dome of the Rock" is sacred (Islamic tradition says Mohammed ascended to heaven from here - although some claim he never set foot in Jerusalem). Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for millennia, but it has never been the capital of any Arab entity.


Timeline for the Partitioning of Palestine

1917 Balfour Declaration

A.J. Balfour (Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, British Foreign Office) stated that "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people ... it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine ...". Formally, this became known as 'The Balfour Declaration'.

1920

The San Remo Peace Conference gave Britain a provisional 'Mandate for Palestine' based upon the Balfour declaration. In legal terms, 'The Mandate for Palestine' was 'The Trust' and Britain was the 'Mandatory' or 'Trustee'. The primary objective of the Mandate was to grant political rights in respect to Palestine to the Jewish people. Initially the Mandate defined "Palestine" as spanning both west and east of the Jordan (Fig.1), an area much larger than the historic Palestine as envisaged by the Zionists.

1920 Palestine Mandate

Fig 1: The 1920 provisional Palestine Mandate (Image courtesy Eli E. Hertz)

1922

The British Mandate was formalized in September 1922 by the Council of the League of Nations. Essentially this body gave unanimous approval for a Jewish national homeland in Palestine. Article 25 of this Mandate enabled the Mandatory to change the terms of the Mandate in the territory east of the Jordan River. Britain, under Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill, activated this option and cut away 77% of the original mandated area for the Jews and created a new country called Trans-Jordan, later called Jordan (Fig.2). The East Bank was therefore given to Britain's Arab allies!

The 1921 British sub-division

Fig 2: The 1922 British sub-division of the mandated land (Image courtesy Eli E. Hertz)


So the 1922 Mandate for Palestine redefined the boundary of Jewish Palestine as west of the river Jordan. Even though this created a fourth Arab state east of the Jordan, the Arab communities wanted as little to do with the Mandate as possible.


What the 1922 Mandate did for Jew and Arab

The reduced mandated area for a Jewish homeland included the Gaza strip and the Golan Heights, plus Judea and Samaria, today's 'West Bank'. According to the Mandate, the Jews could settle anywhere between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea (Fig. 3). Todate, this is the last legally binding document regarding the West Bank and Gaza. The Mandate did not grant any national political rights to Arabs, but Article 2 did safeguard the civil and religious rights of all inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race or religion. Political rights to self-determination for Arabs were guaranteed by the League of Nations in four other mandates (for Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Jordan).

International law expert Prof. Eugene V. Rostow (Undersecretary of State to Lyndon Johnson and Professor Emeritus at Yale Law School) has stated:
" ... the Mandate implicitly denies Arab claims to national political rights ... the mandated territory was in effect reserved to the Jewish people for their self-determination and political developement ... ."

In regard to the Arab 'natural law' claim to certain areas in Palestine he adds that it is not customary in law that every group of people claiming to be a nation has the right to a state of its own.


The 1922 League of Nations sub-division

Fig 3: The 1922 League of Nations sub-division (Image courtesy Eli E. Hertz)

1920’s

During the late 1920’s Jewish immigration and investment benefited the indigenous people and Arab standard of living in the area increased. In 1923 Britain (illegally) traded the Golan Heights, originally part of the Mandate, to France in exchange for the oil-rich lands of Mosul in Iraq.

1937-38

The Peel and Woodhead commissions of 1937 and 1938 recommended partitioning Palestine into a small Jewish state and a large Arab state, but this was rejected by the Arab leadership (which included Saudi Arabia).

1939

The British White Paper of 1939 (also known as the McDonald White Paper) was a statement of policy that severely compromised the British commitment to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. While it may have mollified Arab opinion, as intended, it certainly alienated Zionist Jews as its enforcement prevented the free settlement of refugees who desperately needed to leave Europe. In the 1939 White Paper, the limitation on Jewish immigration was made permanent: seventy-five thousand Jewish immigrants would be allowed to enter Palestine over a five year period. The policy therefore repudiated the Balfour Declaration and Britain's commitments under the League of Nations just at the time of greatest need for a sanctuary for Jewish refugees. The White Paper remained the basis of British policy until the end of the Mandate - a sad indictment against Britain.

1946

The League of Nations was dissolved and its assets and duties transferred to the United Nations (UN). So the Trust (the Mandate for Palestine) was transferred over to the UN, and article 80 of the UN Charter implicitly recognises the 'Mandate for Palestine' of the League of Nations. So the UN implicitly reaffirmed the 1922 Mandate; Article 80 preserved the mandated rights of the Jewish people. In 1946 all Jewish ownership in the Golan was nullified by the new state of Syria.

1947

At this time nearly half the land of Palestine was owned by Arabs, nearly half was "Crown Lands", and about 8% was owned by Jews. In 1947 a UN Special Commission on Palestine recommended that this area be divided equally, with open borders, into an Arab state and a Jewish state (Fig.4). Note that this plan referred to an "Arab" state, rather than to a "Palestinian" state (since there was no indiginous Palestinian people). Jerusalem was to be "internationalized". The UN General Assembly adopted this plan on November 29, 1947 (UN Resolution GA 181), and in 1977 the UN recognized November 29 as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

The Jews accepted the UN resolution but the Arabs rejected it. On Nov 30 and Dec 1 1947 Arab riots broke out in Jerusalem and fighting and violence spread throught the country. Arab Palestinians began leaving their homes to escape the violence. The Partition Plan was to replace the British Mandate, but since the plan was never implemented, the British Mandate still stands.

1947 UN Partition Plan

Fig 4: The 1947 UN Partition Plan (not implemented)

1948

April 1948 appeared to mark a turning point in the fighting in favour of the initially outnumbered and outgunned Jewish forces. On May 14 1948 the Jews proclaimed an independent State of Israel and the British withdrew from Palestine. On the same date, Britain, as Trustee for the 1922 Mandate turned over its reponsibility to the UN and withdrew from Palestine. The Trust (or Mandate) was now totally in the hands of the UN.

1948-49 War

As the Jewish State was born and the British finally left, five Arab armies (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq) immediately invaded Israel. The Arabs had no difficulty obtaining all the arms they needed. In fact, Jordan's Arab Legion was armed and trained by the British, and led by a British officer. At the end of 1948 and beginning of 1949, British RAF planes flew with Egyptian squadrons over the Israel-Egypt border. On January 7, 1949, Israeli planes shot down four of the British aircraft. During this war the Israel Defence Force (IDF) was formed. At the end of the war in Israel held territory beyond the boundaries set by the UN Partition Plan (approximately 78% of the area west of the Jordan) and Jerusalem was divided between Jordan and Israel, Jordan holding East Jerusalem. Egypt held Gaza and Jordan held the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

Jewish communities in the West Bank that had existed prior to the Arab invasion were demolished, as was the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. It's population of about 2,000 Jews was besieged and forced to leave en masse, and 55 synagogues and Talmudic Academies were destroyed. The UN partition plan, including its proposal that Jerusalem be internationalized, had been overtaken by events. From 1948-67, the city was divided between Israel and Jordan, but Jordan's sovereignty over the West Bank and East Jerusalem was never recognised by the UN.

The 1949 Green Line

The Arab countries refused to sign a permanent peace treaty with Israel, and so the UN arranged a series of ceasefires. UN GA Resolution 194 called for cessation of hostilities and return of refugees. Security Council Resolution 62 called for implementation of armistice (truce/ceasefire) agreements that would lead to permanent peace and as a result Israel's borders were re-established along the so-called "Green Line". This demarcation or armistice line, drawn up under the auspices of UN mediator Ralph Bunche, largely reflected the ceasefire lines of 1949 (Fig 5) and as such represented interim borders for Israel.

At this point, Egypt held the Gaza strip, Jordan retained control of Judea and Samaria (the 'West Bank'), plus the Old City of (east) Jerusalem, and only as a result of war was Israel excluded from the West Bank and Gaza! It is shown later that the 1949 Armistice Green Line is not Israel's Legal Border

Political map of Israel

Fig 5: Israel's 1949 'Green Line' Borders

The Refugee and West Bank Problem

1949

At this time some 726,000 Arabs fled or were driven out of Israel and became refugees in neighboring Arab countries, whilst over 800,000 Jews were forced to leave Muslim countries after their property was confiscated. Israel offered to repatriate 100,000 Arab refugees in April 1949 but this was rejected.

1952

The UN offered $200m for the refugees but this was also rejected by Arab governments.

1967 Six-Day War

In the Six-Day War of June 5–10, 1967, the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon (and later Iraq) attacked Israel. Their goal was “to wipe Israel off the map”. Israel defeated the attack even though the Arab armies had huge superiority in armour, aircraft and troops. After the war Israel held the Sinai, the Golan Heights, Gaza, the West Bank and all of Jerusalem. Some 1 million Arabs and all parts of Palestine were now under Israeli rule. It is interesting to note that the area controlled by Israel after this war was the same area allotted to Israel for Jewish settlement under the 1922 Palestine Mandate (Fig. 3).

Initially, the Israeli government declared that it was ready to return all of the territories except Jerusalem in return for peace treaties with its Arab neighbors. However, due to pressures within Israel, and the fact that Arab states would not negotiate with Israel, an increasing number of settlements were established on the West Bank.

1967 Arab Summit

In the wake of the Arab defeat, eight Arab heads of state attended an Arab summit conference in Khartoum, Sudan held August 29 - September 1, 1967. It formulated the Arab consensus that underlay the official policies of most Arab states for the next two decades and beyond, with the exception of Egypt: "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it."

1967 UN Resolution 242

In November 1967 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242. The most controversial clause was the call for the "Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" (i.e. in the Six-Day War) in exchange for an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although the Arabs pushed for the clause to say "all the" territories, the Resolution deliberately did not say how much territory Israel had to give up. When asked to explain this, the British Ambassador who drafted the approved resolution (Lord Caradon) said:

"It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial."

Similarly, Arthur Goldberg (one drafter of Resolution 242) repeatedly stated that

"... the armistice lines of 1948 were intended to be temporary ... this, or course, was particularly true of Jerusalem. At no time ... did I refer to East Jerusalem as occupied territory."

Clearly, the UN regarded the pre-1967 war boundaries as "artificial" and "temporary" (recall that Jordan only gained the West Bank and E. Jerusalem by war). Also note that Resolution 242 implied that Israel withdraw from "some" of the occupied territories, not "all". Since Israel withdrew from 91% of the territories when it gave up the Sinai, it has already partially, if not wholly, fulfilled its obligation under 242.

1973

In October 1973 Egypt and Syria launched another attack on Israel (the Yom Kippur War). Israel withdrew from Sinai in 1982.

1978-79

In 1978 Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David framework agreements, leading to a Peace Treaty in 1979. Israel withdrew from Sinai in 1982.

1988

King Hussain of Jordan formally renounced any claim to the lands (i.e. West Bank and East Jerusalem) that he had lost in the 1967 war.

1988 also saw affirmation of the Hamas Charter or 'The Charter of Allah: The Platform of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)'. This charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the killing all Jews. Hamas is an acronym of Harakat al Mawqawama al Islamiyya meaning "Islamic Resistance Movement."

1993

The Oslo Accords: in these Israel recognized the PLO as Palestine's official representative, the PLO renounced the use of violence, and the PLO recognized Israel's right to exist. The PLO became the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994.

1994

Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994, and Israel withdrew troops from Gaza and most cities and towns of the West Bank by 1996. Palestinians authorities then took control.

1995

The Oslo Interim Agreement 1995 (signed by the Palestinians at the White House and signed by the EU as witness) contained a clause (Article 31) stating:

"Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations."

So any attempt to change the status of these territories, namely a 2-state solution without prior negotiations with Israel will violate this clause. Article 31 expressly prohibits unilateral action by either side to change the status of the West Bank and Gaza prior to reaching a negotiated permanent status agreement.

2002

Israel reoccupied all of the West Bank following waves of Palestinian suicide attacks.

2003

Since Israel withdrew from 91% of the territories when it gave up the Sinai, it has already partially, if not wholly, fulfilled its obligation under UN Resolution 242. Moreover, if Israel withdrew from the whole of the West Bank up to the June 4 1967 border, then planes taking off from Israel's main airport would be in range of shoulder-fired missiles from the West Bank.

By 2003 about 220,000 Israelis had settled in the West Bank. Israel erected security barriers along the Green Line to prevent more suicide attacks. From 2000 to 2003 there were 73 attacks from Samaria killing 293 Israeli's, but after construction of Israel's Security Fence attacks declined by over 90%. This is, of course, at the expense of severe hardship for many Palestinians.

2003-2004

In response to Palestinian attacks, the IDF recaptures parts of the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon presents a Disengagement Plan from Gaza and the northern West Bank, which met with intense opposition from fellow Likud members and from settlers. To aid Israel in this withdrawal, President Bush stated that, in his view, "Israel should not have to withdraw to the 1949 Armistice borders".

2005-2008

Knesset ratifies Sharon's Disengagement Plan. Government announces August 15 as the day disengagement is set to begin. Passionate, nationwide anti-disengagement protests begin. Israel withdraws unilaterally from Gaza on August 15. After the election of Hamas in 2006 there was a steady increase of rocket attacks against Israel's citizens. Between 2001 and January 2009, over 8,600 rockets had been launched from Gaza, leading to 28 deaths and widespread trauma.

2008-2009

On 27 December 2008 Israel launched a wave of airstrikes against targets within the Gaza Strip, with the stated aim of stopping rocket fire from and arms import into the territory.

Conclusions on Israel's Legal Right
to Settle in the West Bank and Gaza

The forgoing timeline summarises the recent turbulent history of Palestine. What happened is often misinterpreted, and the charge is frequently made that Israeli settlements on the West Bank are illegal and that Israel is illegally occupying the West Bank. The legal case for such a statement is weak.

  • International-law arguments against the settlements have rested primarily upon two sources. The first of these, the 1907 Hague Regulations, protect the interests of a temporarily ousted sovereign in the context of a short-term occupation. Article 43 of the Regulations calls for the occupant to "respect .... the laws in force in the country" and Article 46 bars an occupying power from confiscating private property.
    Settlements are also opposed through the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 49(6) states: "The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into territories it occupies". Both these legal arguments rely upon the concept of "occupation of a legally owned land". The following points neutralise this concept.
  • First, we should note that the 1949 armistice borders were not recognised by Arab states, which continued to refuse to recognise Israel. So it is contradictory for Arab states to later state that these are 'legal' borders; the 1949 Armistice Green Line is not Israel's Legal Border!
  • Secondly, Jordan occupied both East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1948-49 war and only gained these areas via war and the Green Line of the UN armistice. These areas had never formally been allocated to Jordan and so were strictly unallocated Palestine Mandate territory. Later, between 1949 and 1967 Jordan simply attempted illegal annexation of this newly gained territory, but then in 1988 Jordan formally renounced any claim to the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Eminent legal scholars, such as Prof. Eugene Rostow therefore maintain that Israeli settlers have as much right to live in the West Bank as non-Jews. He states:
    "Under international law, neither Jordan nor the Palestinian Arab 'people' of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have a substantial claim to the sovereign possession of the occupied territories. The West Bank should be considered 'unallocated territory'".
  • The Israeli Government follows this argument and denies that the occupation of the West Bank is illegal on the grounds that the land was not previously occupied lawfully by any other state. This view is supported by Prof. Judge Schwebel (former President of the International Court of Justice) who states:
    "The armistice agreements of 1949 expressly preserved the territorial claims of all parties and did not purport to establish definitive boundaries between them."
    This of course agrees with those who drafted UN Resolution 242.
  • In June 2011, Dr. Jaques Gauthier, an international human rights lawyer from Toronto addressed the European Parliament in Brussels on the legal issues regarding Jerusalem and Israel. Referring to the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine and to Article 80 of the UN Charter he said:
    "For anyone who is interested in justice, these are issues which we have to study carefully ... the rights vested in the Jewish people stand on very solid legal ground and are valid to this day."
    Under Article 80 and the 1922 Mandate he maintained that Jerusalem cannot be divided and that Jews still have the legal right to settle anywhere in Mandated land.

So since there is no legal ownership of Judea and Samaria, these areas cannot be regarded as "occupied territory". The armistice borders never received international recognition. All of western Palestine, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, including Gaza and all of Jerusalem (as in Fig.3) remains legally open to Jewish settlement under the orignal British Mandate. International lawyers maintain that this right of settlement is protected by Article 80 of the UN Charter which recognises the Trust (British Mandate) handed to it by the League of Nations.

It appears that the world prefers to 'believe a lie' (2 Thes 2.11) and still cry "occupied territory"!


The Future - a Biblical View

We have tried to ascertain how the Palestinian problem arose. Essentially it seems to be a combination of so-called Zionism (returning Jews with a vision for Zion or Jerusalem), and repeated Arab refusal to recognise Israel, or to accept both an Arab state and an Israeli state. We have also seen that what the media describes as 'occupied land', cannot be described as occupied from a legal point of view. Now let's summarise the big picture as described in the Bible (see Israel for a fuller explanation):

  • God promised by covenant that He would give all the land of Canaan (modern Israel) to Abraham and his descendents. This was 'forever'. (Gen 17.7,8)
  • The covenant was established through Isaac and not through Ishmael. So the Jews are the true descendents of Abraham in the covenant sense and they keep this covenant through circumcision. (Gen 17.10,20,21)
  • The covenant people (national Israel - the twelve tribes) have been chosen by God to be His witnesses and servant in the world. They are a special people through whom God will make a name for Himself. (Isa 43.1,10)(2 Sam 7.23)
  • Through this people all the nations of the earth will be blessed - a reference to the Messiah, Jesus. (Gen 22.18)(Acts 3.25)
  • In the last days God will take scattered Israel (the 12 tribes) from among the nations and bring them into their own land. (Jer 30.3)(Ezek 37.21)(Zech 8.7,8)
  • Most of Israel returns in unbelief in that they do not acknowledge Jesus as Saviour and Lord, but God will speak to them. (Zech 12.10-14) (Rom 11.26,27)
  • When Israel returns, the land itself will be blessed and become more fruitfull. (Isa 35.1,2)(Ezek 36.8-12)
  • Close to the end of this age, Israel will experience a brief time of false peace, and then severe persecution from the end-time world ruler. (Jer 30.7)(Mat 24.15-25)
  • At the very end of this age, just prior to the Second Coming of Christ, all nations will gather against Jerusalem for war. (Zech 14.2)
  • The remnant of Israel that survives these attacks come through into the millennial reign of Christ. (Zech 13.8,9)
  • During the millennium the whole world will live in peace and security as Christ rules from Zion (Jerusalem), and the world acknowledges Israel as God's servant and witness. (Zech 8.22,23)(Zech 14.9-21)

Observation of the world scene confirms the biblical picture. Israel is indeed returning, the land is indeed being blessed, and the nations are surely raging against her (see also Reality).

What of the Palestinian Arabs?

The Bible instructs the people of Israel how they should treat foreigners (non-Jews). Old Testament Israel was commanded to love foreigners and to let them live normal lives amongst them (Deut 10.19):

"When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong … (he) … shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself …" (Lev 19.33,34)

This instruction is timeless and applies to future Israel. Once Israel has returned to her land, the land is divided up amongst the tribes of Israel and the stranger amongst them is also ‘allotted an inheritance’:

"And they (strangers) shall be to you as the native-born among the sons of Israel; they shall be allotted an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel." (Ezek 47.22)

And of course God's timeless instruction applies now. It applies to Palestinian Arabs today. During an interview in 1989, Arial Sharon was asked: “Do you think of Arabs as your friends, neighbours, your enemies?” He replied:

"From my childhood, I have believed Jews and Arabs can live together, and I believe now they should live together. All the rights to this country, to the land of Israel – especially Judea and Samaria – are Jewish … but everyone who lives in the country should have all the rights of the country". [Ariel Sharon, TIME, April 1989]

Unfortunately, as long as Arab countries refuse to recognise Israel and continue to attack her, such cohabitation would seem to be impossible. Article 7 of the 1988 Hamas Charter states:

"The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!"

Israel's Future Borders according to the Bible

As stated, God promised that He would give all the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendents. He made a covenant with Abraham:

"To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates ..." (Gen 15.18)

Despite Israel's future disobedience, this promise was unconditional in that the land was to be theirs forever; no strings attached.

"I will give to you and to your descendants ... all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession" (Gen 17.8)

Let's try and identify the geographical boundaries in more detail.

As the Israelites conquered more territory the term 'Canaan' was gradually applied to all the lands west of the Jordan valley, and there are references to Canaanites living in the valleys and plains of this region (Num 13.29)(Jos 11.3)(Judg 1.27). In time the LORD gave more detail of the geographical boundaries. For example, in Num 34.1-12 we find the boundaries given to Moses as he was about to divide up Canaan for the twelve tribes. These are:

  • Western: the Mediterranean Sea
  • Eastern: from Kadesh-barnea, via Zin and the salt sea to Zedad and Hamath in the north
  • Southern: from the River of Egypt (not the Nile) to Kadesh-barnea
  • Northern: from the Mediterranean Sea to Mount Hor, to Hamath
Israel's Future Borders

Fig 6: Future Occupation of Israel by the Twelve Tribes

In reality, the tribes occupied only some of this land and in addition occupied some land east of the Jordan. The land was divided according to the size of each tribe (Jos 13) and so resulted in very unequal division e.g. the tribe of Manasseh took a large share. In contrast, Ezek 47 and 48 state that the land in millennial Israel will be divided equally between the tribes, each tribe having one portion (Fig 6). In Ezek 47.13-21 we find more boundary detail and it is clearly stated that the Jordan is the eastern boundary (v18) and the western boundary goes north as far as 'opposite Hamath' (v20).

At first sight it appears that there is some discrepancy in the northern boundary, since initially God told Abraham this boundary would be the River Euphrates, much further to the north (Gen 15.18). The kingdoms of David and Solomon did indeed stretch from the river of Egypt on the Sinai peninsula (not the Nile), across the Syrian Desert to Tiphsah on the Euphrates, but the Euphrates boundary is absent from Num 34 and Ezek 47. A possible explanation is that God is giving boundaries for two time periods. At the Second Coming of Christ there will be significant geological changes in the Middle East (Zech 14.4,10)(Isa 11.15,16) and one of these is the drying up of the Euphrates (Rev 16.12). So whilst the Euphrates served as a boundary for David and Solomon, it virtually ceases to be a landmark in the millennium.

Comparison with Today's Borders

It is interesting to compare the future biblical boundaries and land division with the current situation in Israel. Clearly, the biblical boundaries include both the Gaza strip and the West Bank. They also include significant parts of present-day Syria i.e. up to Hamath, and probably all of Lebanon.


Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible