They Say, We Say: Why does the Left insist on referring to "Occupied Territories?"

They Say We Say We know that pro-Israel does not mean blindly supporting policies that are irrational, reckless, and counter-productive. Pro-Israel means supporting policies that are consistent with Israel's interests and promote its survival as a Jewish, democratic state.

You've heard the arguments of the religious and political right-wing, and so have we. They've had their say. Now, we'll have ours.

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Why Should Israel have to give up land?

They Say:

Why does the Left insist on referring to "Occupied Territories?" Judea and Samaria (or as the Left would say, the West Bank) and Gaza cannot be "occupied" because they never belonged to any other sovereign nation.

We Say:

The West Bank and Gaza are viewed by virtually all international legal experts as "occupied territory." Since 1967, legal experts, including in Israel, have been virtually unanimous in recognizing this. The fact that the sovereign status of these areas was in limbo in 1967 is an artifact of the post-colonial era and, regardless, international law is clear: the acquisition of territory through military force is prohibited.

Even the Israeli Supreme Court has repeatedly used the term "belligerent occupation" to describe Israel's rule over the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that the question of a previous sovereign claim to the West Bank and Gaza is irrelevant to whether international laws relating to occupied territories should apply there. Rather, the proper question - according to Israel's highest court - is one of effective military control. In the words of the Supreme Court decision, "as long as the military force exercises control over the territory, the laws of war will apply to it." (see: HCJ 785/87, Afo v. Commander of IDF Forces in the West Bank).

What matters, from this perspective, is the fact that the West Bank and Gaza were conquered by Israeli armed forces in a war (that the war was forced upon Israel is irrelevant) and have been controlled and governed by the Israeli military since. Who claimed the territories before they were occupied is immaterial. What is material is that before 1967, Israel did not claim the territories.

Even Ariel Sharon, one of the principal architects of Israel's policy of building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, recognized this reality. On May 26, 2003, when he was Prime Minister of Israel, he bluntly told fellow Likud members, "You may not like the word, but what's happening is occupation [using the Hebrew word "kibush," which is only used to mean "occupation"]. Holding 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is a bad thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy."

More importantly, the semantic debate regarding the "occupied" nature of the West Bank and Gaza is wholly immaterial when it comes to realpolitik. Whether one believes that these territories are legally occupied or not does not change the basic facts: Israel is ruling over a population of millions of Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens. Demographic projections indicate that Jews will soon be a minority in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.