THE MORAL HEREDITARY RIGHT TO RETURN
721 B.C.-A.D. 1800
The assertion that the Bible is the Jews' "deed of ownership" to the
land of Canaan is not the only basis for Zionists' claims to the Holy Land.
They also cite Jews' long history there and maintain that it precedes that
of the Palestinians. Zionists assert: "We were here first!" This,
they argue, gives Jews today a greater moral right to the Holy Land than
Palestinians possess. They also main-tain that after some Jews were driven
out in 587 B.C. and in A.D. 135, they never gave up their desire to return
there and have their own independent state. Zionists contend that this
historical in-volvement and the desire to return created a moral hereditary
right to the Holy Land that in itself outweighs any moral right of the
Palestinians. (A moral right may be one which its possessor has independently
of any legal basis. Such a moral right, for instance the right to life
or to religion, is inherent and thus does not depend on human legislation
or decree for its existence. A second type of moral right may flow partly
from one or more primary moral rights and partly from legislation or other
type of legal action - for instance, some inheritance rights and political
Chapter One looked at Hebrews' involvement in the Holy Land between 1900 B.C. and 722 B.C. In the next year that involvement changed radically. Chapter Two looks at (a) the Jews' ensuing involvement with the Holy Land and at (b) Diaspora Jews' desire to return there. It examines whether in the light of history these two factors created a true moral hereditary right that outweighs the Palestinians' moral rights.
I. Assyria, Babylon, Post-exilic Life, 721-168 B.C.
In 721 the Assyrian Empire, helped by the Kingdom of Judah,
completed its conquest of the Kingdom of Israel, the "northern kingdom."
(Judah was then probably a vassal state of Assyria.) Assyria deported many,
perhaps most, of Israel's people to upper Mesopotamia, and to Media in
the eastern part of the empire. These deportees, the "ten lost tribes of
Israel," vanished as an identifiable ethnic group. Assyria imported non-Israelites
into the former kingdom. These importees intermarried with Israelites who
had not been deported. These families were the origin of the Samaritans,
who have lived in Samaria ever since. In A.D. 1990 about 550 Samaritans
lived in and around Nablus, and Holon, near Tel Aviv. In 597 B.C.
Babylon defeated the Kingdom of Judah and deported some of its people,
called Jews, to southern Mesopotamia. In 587 Babylon crushed a revolt among
the remnant in Judah. Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, including Solomon's
magnificent Temple, and deported many of Judah's remaining inhabitants
to Babylon. Some farm workers and others were allowed to stay. Some Jews
from Judah fled to Egypt and joined or began Diaspora colonies there.
Forty-eight years after the second deportation, in 539, Cyrus, a Persian king, conquered Babylon. According to the Bible he allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem, and helped finance their return. The initial group of returnees apparently was small. The noted archaeologist and scripture scholar, W.F. Albright, estimated that the Persian district of Judah had some twenty thousand people by 522 B.C. This included those who had never left it. A second group was larger. Ezra, one of the Bible's books treating this period, says this group contained 42,360 free people, 7,337 slaves and two hundred singers. According to Father Boadt: "This may be many more than actually made the journey itself, and may include the people already living in the Jerusalem area."
Judah's territory, about forty miles wide and twenty-five miles deep in 440 B.C., was much smaller than the former Kingdom of Judah. Now it was essentially the area around Jerusalem, which Jews were rebuilding. As part of the Persian Empire Judah enjoyed extensive religious and cultural freedom. But many, perhaps most, Jews did not choose to return there. They had sunk roots in the Babylonian - then Persian - Empire. Many were prospering. They preferred to stay where they were rather than undertake the long, difficult and somewhat dangerous trip back to the ruins of Jerusalem and to the hostile environment that other ethnic groups in the area provided. Their decision continued the Diaspora - Jewish life outside Palestine. The Diaspora has been the experience of most Jews ever since. Understandable as was the decision not to return, what effect, if any, should that decision have on the moral right of those Jews' descendants to immigrate to the Holy Land twenty-four centuries later? This will be examined in Section VI of this chapter.
In 332 Macedonia's King Alexander took over Judah from
Persia. After his death in 323 his empire was divided among his generals.
Following a power struggle Palestine was ruled first by the Ptolemies,
based in Egypt, then, after 198 B.C., by other Greeks, the Seleucids, based
in Antioch, in Syria.
During this time non-Samaritan descendants of the Israelites left behind when Assyria deported much of the Kingdom of Israel in 721 were living outside of Judah, in other parts of Palestine such as Galilee, and in Trans-Jordan. Some of them were probably at least nominally Yahwists, at least nominally believers in the God of the Jews. According to biblical scholar John Bright, some of them "came to reckon themselves to be the Jewish community. At least this was true by the second century [B.C.] and was probably the case much sooner." Thus people who were ethnically Israelites and other people who were converts to Judaism or their descendants lived both in Judah and throughout Palestine and in Trans-Jordan. However, non-Jews also lived there, including Greek colonists, Samaritans in Samaria, and Philistines or their descendants along the coast.
II. Maccabean War, Roman Take-over, 168 B.C.-A.D. 65.
In 168 B.C. some Judean Jews, led by the family later
known as the Maccabees and then as the Hasmoneans, revolted against the
Seleucid Empire. They repeatedly defeated the Seleucids in protracted warfare.
By 141 B.C. the Palestinian Jews emerged de facto as a virtually independent
nation although they remained nominally subject to the Seleucids. The area
controlled by the Maccabees was approximately that perhaps claimed by the
Twelve Tribes during the era of the Judges. Conversion to Judaism was forced
on Idumeans living in Maccabean-conquered areas. This increased the Jewish
By 63 B.C. the Jewish leaders were fighting among themselves. The Roman Empire, which was exercising increasing influence in the eastern Mediterranean, was invited to intervene. As a result, Rome's Pompey marched into Jerusalem and ended some seventy-eight years of Jewish independence. Rome allowed Jews to practice their religion and follow their customs. In 40 B.C. Parthians invaded the neighborhood of Palestine - the name Greeks had given to the area because of its Philistines. A Hasmonean, Antigonus, took advantage of the war to reassert Jewish independence. He ruled part of Palestine for three years until defeated by Rome in 37 B.C. With this brief exception, the seventy-eight-year period of virtual independence under the Maccabees (141-63 B.C.) was the only virtual political independence that Palestinian Jews had between the time that Judah became a vassal state of Assyria in 732 B.C. and Israel's founding in A.D. 1948.
Between 37 B.C. and A.D. 65, Rome ruled different parts of Palestine in various ways, such as through puppet kings and procurators. Jews continued to live in Judea, Galilee and part of Trans-Jordan. Samaritans inhabited Samaria, where Jewish travel-ers were usually tolerated but not very welcome. Southern Phoeni-cia, including Tyre and Sidon, was primarily non-Jewish.
It is impossible to reconstruct Jewish populations of past centuries accurately. But estimates that have been made give us a useful though very rough profile of the fluctuating Jewish popu-lation in Palestine. Estimates of the worldwide Jewish population in A.D. 65, on the eve of the first Jewish-Roman war, go as high as 7.5 to eight million. The Diaspora has been estimated at five million. Three or four million of these Diaspora Jews were scat-tered about the Roman Empire, where they received special status and privileges; most of the rest of the Diaspora were in the Per-sian Empire. If these figures are somewhat accurate, the vast ma-jority of Jews, even before the Jewish-Roman wars, did not choose to live in Palestine. Even during the seventy-eight years of Maccabean independence most Diaspora Jews did not choose to return.
III. Jewish Revolts and Dispersals, A.D. 66-135.
In A.D. 66 many Palestinian Jews, especially in Jerusalem,
revolted against the Romans. Some Jews, including many Christian Jews,
did not join the revolt but fled Jerusalem. It was conquered; Herod's Temple
and much of the city was destroyed. This war ended what Jews call the Second
Jewish Commonwealth (even though Rome had ruled the area - with a three-year
partial interruption - since 63 B.C.). According to Werner Keller, a modern
historian, in this first Jewish-Roman war more than half of the Jews in
Palestine were either killed or left the country as slaves, prisoners or
fugitives. Of the remainder, a small group stayed on in Jerusalem.
Many other Jerusalem Jews moved to Galilee, which had neither been as involved
in the revolt nor as devastated by it. Jews remained a majority in Palestine.
Within sixty years, some of those who left during the war, or their children,
In A.D. 132 Palestinian Jews, especially in Judea, again revolted. By 135 Rome again defeated them. During the war Rome destroyed many villages and reportedly killed more than 500,000 Jewish men. Perhaps another 200,000 Jews left; they either fled to the Diaspora, or were sold into slavery, or were otherwise dispersed in the empire. Virtually no Jews remained in Judea. The area around Jerusalem was repopulated by retired Roman soldiers and other non-Jews from Syria and other neighboring regions. Jews, including Jewish Christians, were forbidden to enter Jerusalem except on the ninth of Ab, the anniversary of the Temple's destruction, to mourn. Except for a brief period this rule was enforced perhaps until Persians captured the city in 614.
"In 135 the Romans drove the Jews out of Palestine; until recently they were never allowed to return." This paraphrases a common, highly inaccurate perception which still supports the Zionist argument that the Jews were unjustly expelled from their homeland in 135 and therefore have a moral hereditary right both to return to it and to reclaim it exclusively as their own. Moreover, Zionists maintain, this right is prior to and outweighs the rights of the people who have lived in Palestine allegedly only since some time after 135.
The question is not whether the Romans treated the Jews cruelly and unjustly. That is evident. However, an examination of Jewish migration to and from Palestine during the past two thousand years indicates that the perception quoted above substantially skews reality. The expulsion of Jews from part of Palestine in 135 did not exclude them from its other parts. Many Jews continued to live in Palestine, especially in Galilee; many expellees returned. Significantly, it was not only during the Jewish-Roman wars but during the succeeding centuries as well that the Jewish population of Palestine substantially decreased. Emigration - sometimes sporadic, sometimes gradual - was seemingly a major cause of this decrease. Therefore those who view the Diaspora as completely imposed on the Jews rather than as at least partly a result of Jews' own decisions both to leave Palestine and not to return, are looking at only part of the picture. Similarly, those who look to the Roman edicts of 135 as a basis for a right to claim the Holy Land may also have to look elsewhere to argue for their claim. A further look at history supports this conclusion.
IV. Palestine After the Second Revolt, 136-637.
Of the sixty-four Jewish villages in Galilee before the
revolt of A.D. 132, fifty-six (88 percent) remained after it - inhabited
by Jews. In 138, Hadrian, against whom the Jews had revolted, died. His
successor, Antonius Pius, revoked many of Hadrian's edicts against Judean
Jews. Not only expellees but some who had fled to the Diaspora returned.
Some Jews sold as slaves also returned after other Jews bought their freedom.
In Galilee several centers of Jewish studies sprang up, which attracted
students from throughout Palestine. The Sanhedrin, the Jews' highest judicial
and legislative body, moved to Usha, near Haifa. It had the authority,
recognized by Rome, to rule Jews in intra-Jewish affairs not only in Palestine
but throughout the Diaspora. This enabled widely scattered Jews, despite
the temple's destruction, to continue sharing a religious life unified
by a center in Palestine. Usha, and later Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee,
became the headquarters of the Jewish patriarch, who had the title of prince.
Rome recognized him as the Jews' representative in their dealings with
both the Roman governor in Caesarea, who ruled the region in civil matters,
and the emperor.
The Jewish Sanhedrin enacted laws to encourage Jews to buy land in Palestine from non-Jews. It also forbade Jews to leave Palestine. This indicates that Jews were then not being forced out of Palestine but leaving it freely. Moreover, Diaspora Jews were usually politically free to move into Palestine, though not into Jerusalem.
The third century was a mixed blessing for Jews in the Roman Empire. In 212 Rome extended citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire, including Jews. (Some Jews were already citizens.) Emperor Alexander Severus (ruled 222-235) admired Judaism and granted many favors to Palestinian Jews. He increased their power to legislate regarding internal matters; he authorized Jewish judges to settle civil cases between Jews; he gave Jewish patriarchs the right to judge even in capital cases. In the third century the patriarch headed what in some ways resembled a national government. Despite these political advances, Palestine, with the rest of the empire, suffered economically from frequent violent political coups and military revolts in Rome between 235 and 285. Many Jews emigrated from Palestine, not stopping until they had left the empire and had reached prospering Babylon. Palestinian rabbis tried to discourage this, using religious reasons to try to convince Jews not to desert the land they believed God had promised them.
Thus a substantial Jewish exodus from Palestine took place during the two centuries between A.D. 136 and the early fourth century, when imperial instructions legalized Christianity and the imperial government moved to Byzantium.
The next three centuries, those of Byzantine-Roman rule over Palestine, were darkened by emperors' attempts to subject religion to their concept of the all-powerful state. Some emperors were harsh, even ruthless, toward Christians who refused to bend to them. Emperors sometimes showed this same harshness toward Jews. This absolutism, coupled with some emperors' and bishops' anti-Semitism, resulted in Jews having restrictions imposed on them, especially in their relations with Christians. They were deprived of some rights and privileges they had enjoyed in the pre-Constantinian empire. This situation and attitude adversely affected Jews not only in Palestine but throughout the shrinking empire between 324 and 638.
Despite the emigration of many Jews from Palestine during the third century, a substantial Jewish population remained there into the fourth century - enough to revolt against the Romans, again unsuccessfully, in 352. Emperor Julian "the Apostate" befriended Jews and let them reenter Jerusalem during his eighteen-month reign (361-63). His successors, however, reimposed restrictions and many Palestinian Jews moved away. In the late fourth century Huns invaded southern Palestine and destroyed many villages, including Jewish towns. More Jews emigrated to Mesopotamia, where the Jewish communities "were experiencing a great efflorescence. Between A.D. 200 and 500 they may have increased...from one million to two; and before long their impressive educational centres eclipsed the scholarship of Palestine Jewry itself."
St. Jerome, who lived in Bethlehem from 386 to 420, wrote that Palestine's Jewish population dropped to a tenth of its former level. Jews continued to be more numerous in northern Palestine, but even there they reportedly comprised only about 15 percent of the population. In about 429 the emperor abolished the Jewish patriarchate but the Sanhedrin continued to function.
It was perhaps during the third or fourth century, if not before, that Jews ceased being Palestine's major ethnic group. Only in the twentieth century did Jews fully reverse the effects of these gradual emigrations of the second, third and fourth centuries. Israeli demographer Roberto Bachi indicates that in the centuries before the Arabs conquered Palestine (634-640), conversions of Jews to Christianity helped to reduce the population that identified itself as Jewish. The descendants of these converts are still perhaps among the Christian and Muslim Arabs of Palestine whose roots go back to the Canaanites. These Arabs' Palestinian roots would obviously be as old as those of the Jews. Except for perhaps a few Jews whose ancestors may have lived continuously in Palestine, these Arabs' Palestinian roots would be much more continuous than those of all Jews.
Life for Jews in Palestine during the Roman-Byzantine era had positive sides to it. Within at least one period, perhaps more Jews moved into Palestine than left it. During much of the fifth and sixth centuries Palestine prospered and was generally peaceful. According to demographer Bachi, around the fifth century Palestine probably had its largest population ever until the twentieth century:
During the late Roman and Byzantine periods peace prevailed, agriculture was intensively developed and extended to southern areas and a considerable urban development occurred. The Negev served also for eastern trade, and some part of it was cultivated. The considerable flow of capital from the Imperial treasury and from abroad in the Byzantine period contributed to the relative prosperity of the country.
In the sixth century an estimated 250,000 Jews lived in Palestine. In 555, hoping to found an independent state, they joined Samaritans in an unsuccessful revolt. During the sixth century Christians became the majority in Palestine. Arabs moved into it from surrounding areas.
By the beginning of the seventh century probably not more than 500,000 Jews lived in the shrunken Roman empire. However, there were enough Jews and Samaritans in Palestine to help the Persians conquer Jerusalem in 614. Jews and Samaritans, probably helped by Persians, "were said to have massacred nearly 100,000 Christians." This may be an exaggeration; a contemporary, a monk of the Monastery of St. Sabas, said there were 62,455 corp-ses after the massacre, 24,000 of which were unarmed prisoners who were killed. Many Christians were sold as slaves. The Jews and their Persian overlords soon had a falling out. After Constantinople defeated the Persians in 627-28, Jews faced the anger of the surviving Christians, who did not want them to live in the city. Hardships resulting from living near the unstable frontier between the two frequently warring empires motivated many Palestinian Jews to emigrate south into western Arabia. It was from them that the Arabian Mohammed (570-632) learned much about Judaism, which greatly influenced the religion he founded. By 638 Palestine was perhaps only one-tenth Jewish.
V. Palestine Under Muslim and Crusader Rule, 638-1800.
After Jerusalem Christians peacefully surrendered to Muslim
Arabs in 638 the Muslims allowed Palestine's Jews and Christians to continue
practicing their religion. Both groups were subject to a special tax, which
usually was not heavy. Muslims removed many Roman restrictions. Jews could
again pray regularly not only at the base of the Temple Mount, the Western
or "Wailing" Wall, but also on the top of the area, the "Temple platform."
Seventy Jewish families were permitted to move into Jerusalem. Jews also
moved into Hebron in southern Judea. Throughout Muslim lands Jews were
generally much better treated than they had been under Byzantine-Romans.
Palestine was slowly Arabized culturally, religiously and to some extent ethnically. Arab tribes gradually immigrated into Palestine from Arabia but the indigenous people were allowed to remain. Eventually many of these two groups presumably intermarried. Therefore many, if not virtually all, present-day Palestinian Arabs presumably include in their ancestry people who lived in Palestine before the arrival of the Arabs. This ancestry undoubtedly includes Arabized Jews who converted to Islam. Through them this ancestry probably reaches back into the Canaanites. To say that today's Palestinian Arabs have been there only since the seventh century is to oversimplify an ethnic blending that probably extends from pre-Abrahamic Canaanite times into the twentieth century.
Under Caliph Omar II (ruled 717-720), non-Muslims, especially Christians, lived under humiliating restrictions. To avoid these, many converted to Islam and blended into the Arabic culture.
It is estimated that in A.D. 1000 there were no more than 1-1.5 million Jews throughout the world - a small fraction of those in A.D. 65. Some lived in the new nations of western Europe, where, for instance, they had been welcomed to the Frankish court of Charlemagne, who became the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800. Jews were also welcome in Islamic Spain. By 942 Palestine had become less significant than other centers for Jewish studies, which were flourishing in North Africa and Europe. Despite some Jewish migration into Palestine, Jews there remained few. It could not compete with opportunities offered to Jews elsewhere. During the reign of the perhaps psychotic ruler, al Hakim (996-1021), those who refused to recognize his divinity, especially non-Muslims, were severely persecuted. He reimposed laws against Christians and Jews and added new ones. Jews who refused to become Muslims were forced to wear bells and carry six-pound wooden blocks about their necks. In 1009 he ordered that several churches, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, be destroyed. Many Jews and Christians converted or emigrated. A Turkish invasion and intermittent warfare later in the eleventh century further reduced Palestine's Jewish population so that by the time of the barbaric Crusader arrival in 1099 only a few thousand Jews lived there.
This level would continue with some fluctuations, exacerbated by wars and massacres, until 1800, at which time Palestine had some 265,000-325,000 Arabs and 5,000-6,500 Jews (1.47-2.36 percent of the population). During this 700-year period since the First Crusade, some Palestinian Jews prospered but many, espe-cially the large proportion of life-long religious students and the elderly, depended on the charity of Diaspora Jews for their living.
VI. The Moral Hereditary Right to Return.
This brief survey indicates that Jews were never completely
excluded from Palestine; some have lived there continuously at least since
Joshua's time. According to both moderate historicalists and reductionists,
through Jews' Canaanite ancestry they have lived there much longer.
Since A.D. 135 it has been possible for Jews to move into at least some areas of Palestine. Whether this would have been per-mitted on a large scale was probably not fully tested until the late nineteenth century. Of course Jews who did immigrate there did not go to an independent Jewish country but to one under non-Jewish rule. However, that had been the case, with one three-year exception, since 63 B.C., 195 years before the second Jewish-Roman war.
Certainly that war was a disaster for Palestinian Jews at that time, especially those in Judea and Jerusalem. However, as the preceding sketch indicates, the long-term effect of keeping Jews out of Palestine, commonly attributed to the war's outcome, seems not to have existed. This is very significant with regard to the claim that twentieth century Jews have a moral hereditary right to repossess Palestine. Throughout the 1,665 years between the Jews' partial expulsion from Judea in 135, and 1800, some Diaspora Jews moved into Palestine. However, during those 1,665 years most Diaspora Jews did not choose to move back there. And dur-ing those years many - perhaps most - Palestinian Jews decided to move out of Palestine. Both groups had myriads of reasons: better educational and job opportunities elsewhere, religious persecution, danger from war and marauders, and natural disasters such as earthquakes and droughts - to mention a few. However, Jews, like Gentiles, faced these same problems elsewhere. The usual personal and family reasons for either leaving Palestine or not moving to it must also have been factors. These reasons were persuasive to them, and perhaps sometimes even "tied their hands," but they had little or nothing to do with the revolt of 132. As a result of the varying reasons Jews had for either leaving Palestine or not moving to it, after the fourth century, and perhaps before then, Jews were only a minority within Palestine. After perhaps the 700s they were a very small minority. Granted that Jews' decisions were sometimes made under varying degrees of duress, the continuation of the Diaspora resulting from the Babylonian Captivity and from the Jewish-Roman wars was probably the result sometimes of duress and sometimes of free choice.
Much of that duress has been the difficulty many Jews have experienced in making a living in Palestine. For the past several hundred years visitors have noted the extreme poverty of many Palestinian Jews, whose main income was the charity of Diaspora Jews. Even modern Israeli Jews receive an annual subsidy that averages about $750 for each man, woman and child from U.S. taxpayers (more if U.S. interest costs are included). Moreover, extensive additional subsidies come from Diaspora Jews, especially American Jews.
During most of the time between A.D. 135 and perhaps 614, the desire, "next year in Jerusalem," could not be fulfilled, even by a visit, except for one day each year. During most of the time since 638 it has been possible for Jews to fulfill that desire, both by visiting the city and, to a limited extent, by living there. However, it was only during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that the nationalist movement called Zionism gave that desire the magnetic strength (and political power and organization) that it has today. The desire may have been common, but before 1800 relatively very few Jews acted on it.
The preceding sketch seemingly indicates that those who look to the results of the Roman edicts of 135 as a basis for Jews' moral hereditary right to the Holy Land have to look elsewhere for that basis.
As noted, the Jews who left Palestine in 135 did so under
duress; those who emigrated since then did so either under varying degrees
of duress or freely:
1. Regarding those who left under serious duress such as religious or political persecution or near famine, not simply for better job or educational opportunities: It would seem that long-term inhabitants such as citizens or their equivalents, and their descendants born in forced exile, together with their immediate families, always have a refugee's moral right to return even if they did not return to Palestine within a reasonably short time after the factors prohibiting their return ceased. However, if they wished to reclaim property they might have had to have done this within a few years to avoid leaving the subsequent occupants "in limbo."
2. Regarding the refugees' immediate descendants who were born into voluntary exile - for example, the refugees who decided not to return to Palestine but remained in the Diaspora and then had children, and these children decided to return: It would seem that they had some moral hereditary right to return to Palestine as long as they did so within a reasonably short time after the factors prohibiting their ancestors' return ceased. It is hard to pinpoint, as a moral issue, what was "a reasonably short time," as this could have varied with circumstances. It would probably not have been more than a generation - about twenty-five years. Beyond that time the descendants would seem to have forfeited or at least seriously weakened their moral hereditary right to return. This weakening, if not forfeiture, would have increased with each succeeding generation to the point where the right ceased entirely.
3. Regarding the descendants of those who left Palestine freely: It would seem that their moral hereditary right to immigrate to Palestine was either non-existent or at least very weak, especially after a generation or two.
Why is it that in either forced or free emigration situations whatever moral right originally existed becomes weaker and eventually ceases with the passage of successive generations? One reason is the chaos that would result if the right continued to be valid indefinitely. The immigrant ancestors of many of today's Americans were political, economic or religious refugees, or expellees, from other countries. These emigrants left under varying degrees of duress. Chaos would result if their descendants still had a moral hereditary right to return to the lands of their ancestors and if enough people were to act on that right. Except under morally just limitations controlled by the current inhabitants of those lands, the returnees would violate the stronger rights of those inhabitants. Yet the post-A.D. 1600 migration to what is now America is much more recent than most of the migration from Palestine to the Diaspora.
With regard to the descendants of the Jews who chose not
to return after the end of the Babylonian Captivity in 539 B.C.: Their
claim to a moral hereditary right to immigrate to Palestine would seem
to be even weaker than that of descendants of those who left, either freely
or as refugees or expellees, after the Jewish-Roman wars in A.D. 65 and
135. The ancestors of the former were, according to the Bible, invited
by the king of Persia to return to Judah but they declined the offer. Moreover,
the time span since 539 B.C. is also up to 674 years longer than that since
the Jewish-Roman wars. The distinction between the two groups is, of course,
largely irrelevant both because the time frame for both groups spans so
many generations and because the two groups have somewhat, if not entirely,
The line of reasoning outlined above does not deny people's inherent right to immigrate and nations' duty to accept immigrants. But in the current issue regarding the Holy Land, whatever basis there may be for that right and duty, it seemingly is not heredity. The historical involvement of the Jews in Palestine before A.D. 135 and the desire of some Jews during the intervening centuries to return there and establish their own state seem at best very weak bases for a moral hereditary right today. Whatever moral hereditary right that might still exist would not outweigh the moral rights of the Palestinian Arabs to land they have not only inherited but possessed at least since the Canaanite share of their own ancestry lived there. Obviously this applies fully only to Arabs who have such an ancestry. Today it would presumably be difficult to identify these, just as it would be difficult to identify Jews who are biologically descended from the Jews of the Babylonian Captivity or from the exodus of A.D. 135.
It would seem that Native Americans whose lands were unjustly taken from their ancestors have a much stronger claim to a moral hereditary right to return to those lands than do Jews with regard to Palestine. Whatever argument Americans may make for Jewish hereditary rights to Palestine would perhaps apply with greater force to Native American rights to at least some property in America. However, the two cases are not fully parallel because of the low ratio of Native Americans to land at the time the lands were conquered by the European settlers.
VII. Moral Rights From Jews' 3200 Years in Canaan.
There has been an uninterrupted presence of some Jews in Palestine since about 1240 B.C. according to the Bible, and probably much earlier than that through Jews' at least partial Canaanite ancestry. This seemingly should be considered in weighing Jews' and Palestinian Arabs' relative rights to the Holy Land. However, many if not most Palestinian Arabs' ancestry also probably goes back in part to the Canaanites. Until after the State of Israel was formed in 1948 there were more Palestinian Arabs than Jews in the Holy Land. Thus the "long-term-presence" factor seemingly adds more weight to the Palestinian Arab side of the balance of moral rights than to the Jewish side.
VIII. An Independent Jewish State.
As to the issue of establishing a sovereign Jewish national
state, an issue that is distinct from immigration: After the two
Jewish-Roman wars and before modern Zionism, with the exceptions of the
revolts of A.D. 352 and 555, there were no significant attempts by Jews
to establish a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine or elsewhere. (The eighth-to-tenth
century Khazar kingdom in what is now part of the Ukraine and Russia was
comprised primarily of converts to Judaism and their descendants in an
already-existing kingdom.) Given the small minority population of Jews
in Palestine and the overpowering might of Palestine's rulers - Romans,
Arabs, Crusaders, Turks - creating a Jewish state in Palestine would have
been extremely hazardous if not impossible. Perhaps a Jewish state in part
of Palestine proportionate in size to the percent of population that was
Jewish might have been equi-table then. However, as Jews became a diminishing
component of Palestine's total population between the second and fifth
centuries A.D., the rights of the non-Jewish component would have raised
moral questions similar to those in the present conflict between Jews and
Arabs over forming a specifically Jewish state in Palestine.
After America's discovery, Jews made some efforts to establish colonies within the colonial empires of European nations. However, they did not try to establish a sovereign state before European powers had laid claim to all the coastlands of North America. Perhaps such a Jewish state would not have been recognized by the colonizing European nations, most of which had persecuted Jews. (Spain and Portugal claimed all of Latin America and ruthlessly pursued Jews who tried to hide there.) Moreover, there seems to have been little desire by Diaspora Jews or even by Palestinian Jews to form a state anywhere. Forming a sovereign Jewish state in the New World probably would have created the same justice problems regarding the rights of Native Americans that plagued the colonizing efforts of the European nations. Because Jews did not - perhaps could not - form their own nation then, they did not have a national homeland, which would have been of great value to them in the early and mid-twentieth century. But that is hindsight.