The Borders of Israel

 A. Biblical Borders

 According to the Hebrew Bible the Land of Israel is the region which G-D promised to the descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac and to the descendants of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. After G-D changed Jacob’s name to “Israel” (Genesis 32:28) the promised land became known as the “Land of Israel”, in Hebrew ארץ ישראל(Eretz Yisrael).

 When the Lord made the covenant with Abram, he said: “Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” (Genesis 15:18). In this passage of scripture the Lord defined the northern and southern borders of Israel, long before the nation of Israel came into existence. From the river of Egypt in the south to the great river Euphrates in the north would include all of modern day Lebanon and three-fourths of modern day Syria.

When the Lord spoke to Moses about the Promised Land in (Numbers 34:1-15), he specifically laid out the southern, western, northern and eastern borders of the Land. Thus the promised borders of Israel run from the wilderness on the east side of the Jordan river to the uttermost sea (Red Sea) on the west side of the Sinai: and from the Euphrates river in the north, to the river of Egypt in the south.

Finally, in (Ezekiel 47:13-20), we read about the borders of the Land in which the twelve tribes of Israel will live during the final redemption, at the end of days. The borders of the land described by the text in Ezekiel include the northern border of modern Lebanon, eastwards (the way of Hethlon) to Tz’dad and Hatzar-Einon in modern Syria. On the side of the Negev toward the south it will be from Tamar (Ein Gedi) on the western shore of the Dead Sea to Meribah Kadesh (Kadesh Barnea). The west side will be the Mediterranean Sea. The territory defined by these borders is divided into twelve lots for each of the twelve tribes.

B. Historical Borders

Under King David, Israel expanded greatly, controlling a number of weaker client states like Philistia, Moab, Edom, Ammon, with a number of Aramaean city-states (Aram-Zobah and Aram-Damascus) becoming vassal states; the imperial border stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arabian Desert, from the Red Sea to the Euphrates River. According to the biblical account, the empire had a large land area.

However, few archaeological remains of the Kingdom of David and Solomon have been uncovered to date that would accord with the huge conquests described in the Bible. The divided Kingdoms of Judah and Israel came into existence during the 8th century BC. While Israel encompassed the north of the country, including Samaria and the Galilee as far as Dan, Judah was restricted to a comparatively small area around Jerusalem, with a northern boundary near Mitzpah and a southern one around Hebron, probably not projecting effective rule as far as Beersheva.

C. 1948 Borders

The biblical concept of Eretz Israel was the basis of its re-establishment as a state in the modern era. During two millennia of exile and with an almost continuous small Jewish presence in that ancestral Biblical land, the area was seen as a land of destiny, and always with hope for some form of redemption and return. It was seen as a national home and refuge, that this land was always seen as central to Jewish life.

This idea however saw little success, until the British accepted ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’ in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Britain’s job was to implement the Balfour Declaration, but the British government had made conflicting promises to both the Jews and the Arabs, promising each their own autonomous area.

Following Arab revolts between 1936 – 1939, Britain issued the White Paper, essentially reneging on the principles set forth in the Mandate as well as the Balfour Declaration. Severe restrictions were placed on Jewish immigration, as well as on Jewish land-owning rights. During the years of World War II, the small quota was quickly reached, and Jews were denied entry to Palestine.

After World War II, the United Nations (the former League of Nations), adopted the Partition Plan, essentially dividing Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem under international control. This led to Britain ending its mandate and Israel declaring its independence in May of 1948.

On May 14, 1948, the last British forces left Haifa, and the Jewish Agency, led by David Ben-Gurion, declared the creation of the State of Israel, in accordance with the 1947 UN Partition Plan. Both superpower leaders, U.S. President Harry S. Truman and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, immediately recognized the new state. Arab League members Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq declared war and invaded the next day. Saudi-Arabia and Sudan also sent forces.

The war was fought along the entire border of the country: against Lebanon and Syria in the north; Iraq and Transjordan – renamed Jordan during the war – in the east; Egypt, assisted by contingents from the Sudan – in the south; and Palestinians and volunteers from Arab countries in the interior of the country.

The Arab war to destroy Israel failed. Indeed, because of their aggression, the Arabs wound up with less territory than they would have had if they had accepted partition. When Israel declared statehood in 1948, it didn’t declare borders — but in 1949, it agreed with each of its neighbors on ceasefire lines that also defined what is today called the West Bank and Gaza.

The borders have changed from time to time with developments in Israel’s military and diplomatic situation. It borders Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank in the east, the Gaza Strip and Egypt on the southwest.

The border with Egypt was demarcated in 1906 between Britain and the Ottoman Empire. The borders with Lebanon, Syria and Jordan are based on those drawn up by the United Kingdom and France in anticipation of the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War and the carve up of the Ottoman Empire between them. They are referred to as the 1923 borders, being those of Mandate Palestine, which were settled in 1923.

Israel’s borders with Egypt and Jordan have been formally recognized as part of the peace treaties with those countries, and with Lebanon as part of the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

D. 1967  Borders

After a period of high tension between Israel and its neighbors, Israel found out that Egypt prepared an attack. Egypt had massed approximately 100,000 of its troops in the Sinai, Syria and Jordan had also sent troops to their borders. On June 5th, 1967, Israel launched strikes pre-emptive surprise air-strikes of a defensive nature against the Arab forces. The Six-Day War involved three distinct battlefronts, tied together by a shared desire on the part of the surrounding Arab states to eliminate Israel. The outcome was a swift and decisive Israeli victory. Israel took effective control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank of the Jordan River (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

After the war the Sinai was returned to Egypt. As a matter of fact, Israel returned 90% of the territories it gained lawfully in the six-day war in 1967. No other nation in the world has ever relinquished territories acquired from an aggressor in an act of self-defense. But Israel fulfilled its part in UN resolution 242 adopted on November 22, 1967, as the cornerstone for what it called “a just and lasting peace” that recognizes Israel’s need for “secure and recognized boundaries.” This resolution became the foundation for all peace negotiations until today.


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