The Most Contested Piece of Land

Posted by on Nov 22, 2021

Great Britain governed Palestine from 1922 until 1947. Since 1922, Jewish immigration to Palestine had increased, and therefore the tensions between Arabs and Jews to become the most contested piece of land. While the European Jewry and the Jews in Palestine supported the war against the Nazi Germany and even participated in it, the Arabs openly lined up with Hitler and more particularly for the extermination of all Jews in Palestine. At that time, the term “Palestinians” did not even exist, and “Palestine” was an archaic word for the former Roman province Palestina. There would be three more decades until the “Palestinians” will be invented.

United Nations partition plan of 1947 - Map - Question of Palestine

United Nations partition plan of 1947 – Map – Question of Palestine

United Nations partition plan of 1947 – Map – Question of Palestine

In April 1947, Britain took the decision to withdraw from the Middle East and referred the issue of Palestine to the UN. The UN formed the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) of members from eleven countries, which delivered two proposals: that of the majority, which recommended two separate states joined economically, and that of the minority, which supported the formation of a single binational state made up of autonomous Jewish and Palestinian areas. The Jews of Palestine approved of the first of these proposals, while the Arabs opposed them both.

As a result, United Nations Resolution 181 passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1947 called for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, with the city of Jerusalem to be governed by a special international regime. The United Nations Resolution 181 was considered by the Jewish community in Palestine to be a legal basis for the establishment of independent Jewish State of Israel, while the Arabs completely rejected it. Violence erupted almost at once incited by the Arabs. Read more.

The United Nations Resolution 181 was not the legal document that led to the establishment of an independent state of all Jews but the Declaration of Independence of May 1948. Immediately after the Declaration of Independence, the new Jewish state was attacked by a combine coalition of armed forces of the neighboring Arab countries,

Legally, The 1947 UN Partition Plan intended for the Jordan Valley to be an Arab state. But following the 1948 War of Independence, it was illegally occupied and annexed by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. There would be three more wars; all initiated by the Arabs: in 1953, 1967, and 1973. Israel conquered the west side of the Jordan Valley aka the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Though conquering territory in a defensive war from an aggressor is legally recognized by the historic conduct of wars and international laws, UNSC Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967 Chapter 1 unfairly took the decision to require (Refer to the source for the complete quote):

(i) “the withdrawal of Israel armed forces from the territories occupied in the recent conflict” and

(ii) “the termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, etc.”

When UNSC Resolution 242 speaks of “all states”, it means Israel on one side, and Jordan, Egypt on the other. The term “Palestinian state” was unknown back then.

It will be 1994, when Israel and Jordan signed bilateral agreement establishing the border between the two countries as being demarcated by the Jordan River. In this agreement, Jordan effectively relinquished any claim on the Jordan valley.

Pray for the peace of Yerushalayim. Let those who love you be at rest. (Psa 122:6)

Although most commentators have already treated this verse exhaustively, there is some room left for our comments. If we want to understand what this verse really means, we must pay attention to how the Hebrew Scripture defines “the peace of Jerusalem”.

In 1948 with the War of Independence, this verse for the peace of Jerusalem became more actual than anything else. In the following, we will have something more to say regarding the most contested land and city in the world.

The boundary of the Land

The establishment of Israel’s borders was sealed in Deuteronomy upon Israel entering the Land, while the boundary of the land was set in Numbers 34.

The Covenant YHVH made with Avraham to give him the land of Kana’an (Gen 15:18) hundreds of years prior to its fulfillment by Yehoshua, could not have been fulfilled for obvious reasons. The boundaries of this covenant stretch from the Nile River all the way to the Euphrates River.

However, the boundaries described in Numbers 34 are clearly much smaller: The Wadi of Egypt on the southeastern border between the Sinai Peninsula and the Negev. The southern border of the land borders on the land of Edom in the wilderness of Zin, even to the southern tip of the Dead Sea. The Mediterranean Sea is the western border. Today’s Lebanon and Syria are the northern border, and the western bank of the Jordan River is the eastern border. Thus established the land in Numbers 34 is about the same size as the land the State of Israel occupies today.

This was the land YHVH told Mosheh only to look at but not go in,

Go up to the top of Pisgah, and lift up your eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and look with your eyes, for you do not pass over this Yarden. (Deu 3:27)

Hebrew word: complete

The word שָׁלוֹם shalom is perhaps the most recognizable Hebrew word. It is most commonly understood to mean “Peace”, “Hello”, and “Goodbye”. And even though these meanings are all true, its literal meaning is completeness, wholeness.

From this word the name of King Solomon is derived: שְׁלֹמֹה Shelomoh, “peaceful”, in order to fulfill the king’s name that Shelomoh had not waged war during his reign. From the word shalom another Hebrew name derives: שַׁלּוּם Shalum: the name of fourteen Israelites.

The Hebrew word שָׁלֵם shalem means “complete” (literally or figuratively). As such, it also means full, just, made ready, peaceable, perfected, whole. Shalem derives from the primitive root שָׁלַם shalam, meaning to be safe (in mind, body or estate); figuratively to be completed. It is used in various applications, such as to make amends, to restore, to make peace; that is, to make something or someone whole or complete, since a person is in peace, when he or she is complete.

Hence, the name Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) comes from the words יראה yirah and שלם shalem. Yirah is the Hebrew word for “awe”, and shalem is for “complete” or “perfect”, combined Yerushalayim means “complete awe”.

Ya’akov returned into the Promised Land complete

The patriarch Ya’akov came to the city of Shechem in the land of Kana’an with his wives and children after being in Mesopotamia for more than two decades. We read thus from KJV Bible,

And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padanaram; and pitched his tent before the city. (Gen 33:18 KJV)

In JPS translation, we find a different rendering of the same verse,

And Jacob came in peace to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram; and encamped before the city. (Gen 33:18 JPS)

Other translations render the word in question as “safely”. All these rendering of the Hebrew word שָׁלֵם shalem are correct, but in this particular occurrence, we encounter a very interesting application.

The KJV translators have decided to transliterate the word as a personal name Shalem for the early name of Jerusalem: Salem (see Gen 14:18) rather than translating it: something the JPS translators have decided to be more appropriate in the context.

The JPS translators assumed that the patriarch Ya’akov came in peace or safely to Shechem after he survived the encounter with his brother Esav. Please, read what we have written in the article Did Yitschak Allow to Be Deceived in His Blessing? of Time of Reckoning Ministry.

Which of these translations of KJV or JPS is the correct one?

KJV implies that Ya’akov arrived at the city of Salem (the future Jerusalem) but does not render it Salem, as in Gen 14:18, but rather preferred the transliteration as it appears in Hebrew: Shalem; in both instances it is the same Hebrew word Shalem. And rightly so, because otherwise it will create the difficulty to explain as to how Shalem falls way up north from Salem (Jerusalem). To avoid the geographical discrepancy, the KJV translators “created” a new city, which they called out “Shalem” in addition to Salem; problem solved.

The JPS translators however have taken a different approach. As noted above they assumed that Ya’akov came in peace to Shechem. This approach is proven to be close to the immediate context of the story, while the KJV is a pure speculation.

To make the things even more difficult for KJV “Shalem” as a city never appears again in association with the land of Shechem, not even in the KJV translation. In support of this, we read that father Ya’akov later sent Yoseph to Shechem to find his brothers,

And he said to him: ‘Go now, see whether it is well with thy brethren, and well with the flock; and bring me back word.’ So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. (Gen 37:14 JPS)

The sages here are in agreement, as we read in Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 102a, that Shechem became a place predestined for evil: (1) in Shechem Dinah was raped, (2) in Shechem Yoseph was sold by his brothers, and (3) in Shechem the kingdom of the House of David was divided (1Ki 12:1).

However, there is another good interpretation of Gen 33:18, which is none-the-less correct and complete in the broader context. The medieval Tanak commentator Rashi (Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040 – 1105) interprets this verse to mean that Ya’akov arrived at the city of Shechem whole, complete three-fold, saying,

Whole in body, for he was healed of his limp. Whole in wealth, for he sustained no loss as a result of the gift [he dispatched to Esau]. Whole in his Torah, for he forgot nothing of his learning in the house of Laban.

When Rashi says “whole in body”, he means that Ya’akov arrived in the land of Kana’an healed and whole, from the injury sustained in the fight with the messenger of YHVH.

When he says, “whole in wealth”, he means that even though Ya’akov gave substantial wealth to his brother Esav, he remained rich; and by “whole in Torah” he means that Ya’akov did not abandoned the faith while he was in a foreign land. In other words, Ya’akov returned in the Promised Land complete. And this is the full meaning of the Hebrew word shalem: a person returns to the Land complete and whole.

We will now return to complete what we began to explain.

The most contested real estate was bought with money

After the patriarch settled in the land of Shechem, he bought a portion of the field to build for himself a house (verse 17). Hence, the name of the place was called Sukkot (Hebrew for tents), for he pitched his tent there.

And he bought the portion of the field where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred kesitah. And he erected an altar there and called it El-elohe-Israel*. (Gen 33:19-20) *El is Elohim of Israel, for He kept him whole until his returned in the Land.

This same field, Ya’akov purchased from the sons of Hamor, fell to the lot of the sons of Yoseph, and it was where Yoseph’s bones were buried (Jos 24:32). Shechem was the plain, where Ya’akov’s well was still extant in the first century Judea noted by the apostle.

So he came to a city of Samaria, called Shechem, near the piece of land Ya’akov gave to his son Yoseph. And Ya’akov’s fountain was there. So Yeshua, being wearied from the journey, was sitting thus at the fountain. (Joh 4:5-6)

The city of Shechem is mentioned several times in the Torah in reference to the patriarchs.

It was the first place in the land of Israel that Avraham entered and where YHVH appeared to him, and the site of the first altar to YHVH.

Two generations later, it was the place Ya’akov first settled in after his return from Mesopotamia, and the place where he bought the field to live on. Shechem was the place where Yoseph met his brothers and where they sold him into slavery.

Shechem is the place, where Ya’akov’s great-grandson Yehoshua buried the bones of Yoseph, when Israel entered the Land; on the same field that Ya’akov bought from the sons of Hamor.

Yoseph's tomb; photo early 1900'.

Yoseph’s tomb; photo early 1900′.

Midrash Rabbah testifies that this field is one of the three places of real estate in the Land of Israel regarding which the nations of the world cannot accuse Israel of stealing: (1) the Cave of Machpelah, where the father Avraham buried Sarah, as it is written (Gen 23:16-17): “Avraham weighed to Ephron four hundred shekels of silver”, (2) the site of the Temple: “So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold” (1Ch 21:25), and (3) the tomb of Yoseph at Shechem: “[Ya’akov] bought the piece of land for a hundred kesitah (a monetary unit of uncertain value)”.

This purchase of the field in Shechem showed that Ya’akov relying upon the promise of YHVH, regarded the land of Kana’an as his own home and the home of his offspring.

Furthermore, the Book of Jubilees 46:9 testifies that not only were the bones of Yoseph buried in the field Avraham bought, but also the bones of all his sons,

And the children of Israel brought forth all the bones of the children of Jacob save the bones of Joseph, and they buried them in the field in the double cave* in the mountain. *That is Machpelah in Gen 23:17.

Thus, Israel returned home. To this truth Acts of the Apostles also testifies, saying,

And Ya’akov went down to Egypt, and died, he and our fathers, and they were brought over to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Avraham bought for a price of silver from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. (Act 7:15-16)

This piece of field, where the bones of the twelve sons of Ya’akov were buried and where Ya’akov dug the well, was the plain where Ya’akov also erected an altar, as Avraham had previously done after his entrance into Kana’an (Gen 12:6-7).

Jubilees and Acts are the oldest sources that the bones of the twelve fathers were buried in the Promised Land. It is interesting that the Hebrew Scripture says nothing about bringing the bones of the forefathers to the Land but only the bones of Yoseph (Exo 13:19, Jos 24:32). Most obviously, Apostle Stephanos must have had knowledge of the Book of Jubilees in order to exclaim before his death that all twelve brothers rested in peace in the Land.

But Mosheh did not surpass the patriarchs. When YHVH told him “for you do not pass over this Yarden”, according to the interpretation in Sifri Pinchas 135, He meant that even his remains would not cross the river. Mosheh thus realized that he could not have even asked Yehoshua to bring his remains for burial in the Land, just as Ya’akov and Yoseph had asked, even though he had carried Yoseph and his brothers’ remains with him all these 40 years in the desert.
Mosheh, who surpassed all patriarchs in righteousness and in his relationship with YHVH, did not merit to have even his bones brought to the Promised Land. It was YHVH’s will that his body would not be placed in a grave in the Land of Israel.

Let us now approach Psalm 122 to return to our main subject. The literal meaning of the verse reads thus,

Seek the wholeness of Yerushalayim. They shall be complete who care about you.

Why is the psalmist entreating the nations to seek the wholeness of Jerusalem? And what does “the wholeness of Jerusalem” mean?

As we explained “to make whole” means to restore something to its original state or to bring it up to higher state. Shalom is a greeting with a desire for completeness to another. We greet with Shalom when we meet someone, because we want the completeness to come to him with our friendship. And when we leave, we also say Shalom because we wish the completeness to stay with him even after our departure.

When there is a war, there is no peace and there is no wholeness. Currently, Israel is not in her wholeness, as she is constantly threatened by her enemies. But what is Jerusalem lacking to be whole? Here is the deeper insight.

1) In the first place, Jerusalem is lacking peace.

2) Jerusalem is also lacking her people who are to be restored to her.

3) Israel has sovereignty over a small portion of the land promised to Avraham. And even worse, even this tiny sliver of real estate is under the threat to be divided by the enemies of Israel.

4) Torah is not the constitution of the Land.

5) Jerusalem is lacking the Temple.

6) There is no Levitical priesthood.

7) And yet, Jerusalem will still be lacking something or … someone. Yes, Jerusalem is lacking her Anointed.

And indeed, when (1) the Messiah returns, he will (2) put the enemies under his feet and bring peace, (3) gather the lost tribes of Israel, native and non-native in order to be one people, (4) give the Promised Land to His people, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River, (5) restore Torah to the fullest extent, (6) build the Temple and restore its sacrificial services. Then, and only then, Yerushalayim will be in peace and wholeness and will add another pearl to her diadem.

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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!