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Greater Israel is a controversial expression, with several different Biblical and political meanings over time. It is often utilized in an irredentist fashion, in order to define the "natural" or desired borders of Israel in the eyes of radical Israeli nationalists.
Currently, the most common definition of the land encompassed by the term is the territory of the State of Israel together with the Palestinian territories. Other earlier definitions, favored by Revisionist Zionism, included the territory of the former British Mandate of Palestine (with or without Transjordan, which developed independently after 1923). Religious uses of Greater Israel borders refer to one of the Biblical definitions of the Land of Israel found in Genesis 15:18-21, Deuteronomy 11:24, Deuteronomy 1:7, Numbers 34:1-15 or Ezekiel 47:13-20.
During British Mandate of Palestine
In 1937, the Peel Commission recommended partition of Mandatory Palestine. In a letter to his son later that year, David Ben-Gurion stated that partition would be acceptable but as a first step. Ben-Gurion wrote that "This is because this increase in possession is of consequence not only in itself, but because through it we increase our strength, and every increase in strength helps in the possession of the land as a whole. The establishment of a state, even if only on a portion of the land, is the maximal reinforcement of our strength at the present time and a powerful boost to our historical endeavors to liberate the entire country." The same sentiment was recorded by Ben-Gurion on other occasions, such as at a meeting of the Jewish Agency executive in June 1938, as well as by Chaim Weizmann.
During early period of the State of Israel
Joel Greenberg, writing in the New York Times notes; ‘At Israel's founding in 1948, the Labor Zionist leadership, which went on to govern Israel in its first three decades of independence, accepted a pragmatic partition of what had been British Palestine into independent Jewish and Arab states. The opposition Revisionist Zionists, who evolved into today's Likud party, sought Eretz Yisrael Ha-Shlema -- Greater Israel, or literally, the Whole Land of Israel. The capture of the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Jordan and Egypt during the Six Day War in 1967, led to the growth of the non-parliamentary Movement for Greater Israel and the construction of Israeli settlements. The 1977 elections, which brought Likud to power also had considerable impact on acceptance and rejection of the term. Greenberg notes:
THE seed was sown in 1977, when Menachem Begin of Likud brought his party to power for the first time in a stunning election victory over Labor. A decade before, in the 1967 war, Israeli troops had in effect undone the partition accepted in 1948 by overrunning the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Ever since, Mr. Begin had preached undying loyalty to what he called Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and promoted Jewish settlement there. But he did not annex the West Bank and Gaza to Israel after he took office, reflecting a recognition that absorbing the Palestinians could turn Israel into a bi-national state instead of a Jewish one.
Greater Israel concept today
Annexation of the the West Bank and Gaza Strip was part of the platform of the Israeli Likud party, and of some other Israeli political parties. On September 14, 2008 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert remarked that "Greater Israel is over. There is no such thing. Anyone who talks that way is deluding themselves".
Rabbi Meir Kahane - an assassinated ultra-nationalist Knesset member, who founded the American Jewish Defense League and the banned Israeli Kach party, worked towards Greater Israel and other Religious Zionist goals.
Currently in Israel, in the debate relating to the borders of Israel, "Greater Israel" is generally used to refer to the territory of the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories, the combined territory of the former Mandatory Palestine. However, because of the controversial nature of the term, the term Land of Israel is often used instead.
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Greater Israel occasionally refers to the Promised Land (defined in Genesis 15:18-21) or to the Land of Israel, and is also called Complete Land of Israel or "Entire Land of Israel" (Hebrew: ארץ ישראל השלמה, Eretz Yisrael Hashlemah). This is a more accurate translation than "Greater" Israel, which is used in English but has no real counterpart in Hebrew.
The Bible contains three geographical definitions of the Land of Israel. The first, found in Genesis 15:18-21, seems to define the land that was given to all of the children of Abraham, including Ishmael, Zimran, Jokshan, Midian, etc. It describes a large territory, "from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates", comprising all of modern-day Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, as well as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E, Oman, Yemen, most of Turkey, and all the land east of the Nile river.
The other definitions are found in Deuteronomy 11:24, Deuteronomy 1:7, Numbers 34:1-15, and Ezekiel 47:13-20. They describe smaller territories (see the map included in this article). The definition in Numbers and Ezekiel refers to the land that was divided between the original twelve tribes of Israel after they were delivered from Egypt, and finally, the borders defined in the book of Deuteronomy are those that will be given to the children of Israel slowly throughout the years (please see Exodus 23:29 & Deuteronomy 7:22).
10 Agorot coin controversy
Zionists, and the State of Israel, have been accused of plotting to expand Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates. This so-called 10 Agorot controversy is named after the Israeli coin brandished by PLO chairman Yasser Arafat in 1988 as evidence for this accusation. The Bank of Israel denies this claim and maintains the coin is a replica of a historical coin dating from 37-40 BCE.
Israeli flag controversy
Critics of Israel have stated the blue strips of the Israeli flag represent the Nile and Euphrates as the boundaries of Eretz Isra'el as promised to the Jews by God. This claim was at a time made by Yasser Arafat, Iran and Hamas. However, both Zionists and Anti-Zionists have debunked this. Danny Rubinstein points out that "...Arafat... added, in interviews that he gave in the past, that the two blue stripes on the Israeli flag represent the Nile and the Euphrates... No Israeli, even those who demonstrate understanding for Palestinian distress, will accept the... nonsense about the blue stripes on the flag, which was designed according to the colours of the traditional tallit (prayer shawl)..."
- State of Judea
- Land of Israel
- 10 Agorot controversy
- The East Bank of the Jordan (also known as "Two Banks has the Jordan"), a poem by Ze'ev Jabotinsky that became the slogan and one of the most famous songs of Betar
- Pappé, Ilan (1994). The making of the Arab-Israeli conflict, 1947-1951. London: I.B.Tauris. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-85043-819-9.
- Letter from David Ben-Gurion to his son Amos, written 5 October 1937, Obtained from the Ben-Gurion Archives in Hebrew, and translated into English by the Institute of Palestine Studies, Beirut
- Morris, Benny (2011), Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1998, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, p. 138, ISBN 9780307788054 Quote: "No Zionist can forgo the smallest portion of the Land Of Israel. [A] Jewish state in part [of Palestine] is not an end, but a beginning ….. Our possession is important not only for itself … through this we increase our power, and every increase in power facilitates getting hold of the country in its entirety. Establishing a [small] state …. will serve as a very potent lever in our historical effort to redeem the whole country"
- Finkelstein, Norman (2005), Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-semitism and the Abuse of History, University of California Press, p. 280, ISBN 9780520245983
- Quote from a meeting of the Jewish Agency executive in June 1938: “[I am] satisfied with part of the country, but on the basis of the assumption that after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state, we will abolish the partition of the country and we will expand to the whole Land of Israel.” in
Masalha, Nur (1992), Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of "Transfer" in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, Inst for Palestine Studies, p. 107, ISBN 9780887282355; and
Segev, Tom (2000), One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Henry Holt and Company, p. 403, ISBN 9780805048483
- From a letter from Chaim Weizmann to Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, High Commissioner for Palestine, while the Peel Commission was convening in 1937: “We shall spread in the whole country in the course of time ….. this is only an arrangement for the next 25 to 30 years.” Masalha, Nur (1992), Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of "Transfer" in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, Inst for Palestine Studies, p. 62, ISBN 9780887282355
- The World: Pursuing Peace; Netanyahu and His Party Turn Away from 'Greater Israel'
- Mordechai Bar-On (2004) A never-ending conflict: a guide to Israeli military history Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0-275-98158-4 p 219
- "Likud - Platform". www.knesset.gov.il. Retrieved 2008-09-04.
- Ha'aretz 14 September 2008 Olmert: There's no such thing as 'Greater Israel' any more By Barak Ravid "Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday reiterated his position that the vision of Israel holding onto the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of its sovereign territory was finished."
- The PNC Program of 1974, June 8, 1974. On the site of MidEastWeb for Coexistence R.A. - Middle East Resources. Page includes commentary. Accessed 5 December 2006.
- Israel-PLO Recognition – Exchange of Letters between PM Rabin and Chairman Arafat – 9–1 Sept, 993
- "The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)". MidEast Web. August 18, 1988.
- Genesis 15.18: "The Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying unto thy seed have I given this land from the river of Egypt [the Nile] unto the great river, the River Euphrates."
- Playboy Interview: Yasir Arafat, Playboy, September 1988.
ARAFAT: Yes, because they don't want it. Look at the slogans they use: that the land of Israel is from the Euphrates to the Nile. This was written for many years over the entrance to the Knesset, the parliament. It shows their national ambition — they want to advance to the Jordan River. One Israel for them, what's left for us... Do you know what the meaning of the Israeli flag is?
ARAFAT: It is white with two blue lines. The two lines represent two rivers, and in between is Israel. The rivers are the Nile and the Euphrates.
- Pipes, Daniel. Imperial Israel: The Nile-to-Euphrates Calumny, Middle East Quarterly, March, 1994. Accessed April 3, 2006.
- Rubinstein, Danny. Inflammatory legends, Haaretz, November 15, 2004. Accessed August 2, 2014.
- Haaretz Weiss versa by Avi Garfunkel, 30 January 2004
- friendvill0104 (copy of Ha'aretz article)
- ABC News
- For The Land and The Lord: The Range of Disagreement within Jewish Fundamentalism, by Ian Lustick, chapter V and chapter VII (accessed 12 October 2005)
- A collection of maps of Eretz Israel HaShlema (Greater Israel), from GlobalSecurity.org.