Greater Israel

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This map representing biblical King David's Kingdom at the time of his death is probably close to a halachic Greater Israel

Greater Israel (Hebrew: ארץ ישראל השלמה, Eretz Yisrael Hashlema) is an expression with several different biblical and political meanings over time. It is often used, in an irredentist fashion, to refer to the historic or desired borders of Israel.

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 definitions, favored by Revisionist Zionists, included the territory of the former Emirate of Transjordan and the Sinai Peninsula.


Promised Land

The "Royal Grant" to Abraham consisting of all the land east of the Brook of Egypt and west of the Euphrates, north of Kadesh and south of Hamath, from a 1919 book by Clarence Larkin.

The Bible contains three geographical definitions of the Land of Israel:

  1. The first definition (Genesis 15:18–21) seems to define the land that was given to all of the children of Abram (Abraham), including Ishmael, Zimran, Jokshan, Midian, etc. It describes a large territory, "from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates".
  2. A narrower definition (Numbers 34:1–15 and Ezekiel 47:13–20) refers to the land that was divided between the original Twelve tribes of Israel after they were delivered from Egypt.
  3. A wider definition (Deuteronomy 11:24, Deuteronomy 1:7) indicating the territory that will be given to the children of Israel slowly throughout the years, as explained in Exodus 23:29 and Deuteronomy 7:22).[citation needed]

During British Mandate for Palestine

Emblem of the Irgun, showing all of British mandate territories, including Trans-Jordan

Early Revisionist Zionist groups such as Betar and Irgun Zvai-Leumi regarded the territory of the Mandate for Palestine, including Transjordan, as Greater Israel.[1]

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.[2][3][4]

The same sentiment was recorded by Ben-Gurion on other occasions, such as at a meeting of the Jewish Agency executive in June 1938,[5] as well as by Chaim Weizmann.[4][6] Ben Gurion said:

We shall smash these frontiers which are being forced upon us, and not necessarily by war. I believe an agreement between us and the Arab State could be reached in a not too distant future."[7]

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 (shalem, meaning complete)."[8] 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 lands) 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.[8]

Yitzhak Shamir was a dedicated proponent of Greater Israel and as Israeli Prime Minister gave the settler movement funding and Israeli governmental legitimisation.[9]


Inclusion of occupied West Bank and Gaza

Annexation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was part of the platform of the mainstream Israeli Likud party, and of some other, often more extreme Israeli political parties.[10] On September 14, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, formerly of Likud, remarked that "Greater Israel is over. There is no such thing. Anyone who talks that way is deluding themselves",[11] making this statement just two days before privately reaching out to the Palestinian President with Israel's broadest ever peace offer.

Meir Kahane, an 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. Kach,[12][13] Tehiya[14][15] and the National Religious Party[16][17] are parties which supported the idea of a Greater Israel.

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 without Trans-Jordan (already separated from Palestine by the British in the early 1920s). However, because of the controversial nature of the term, the term Land of Israel is often used instead.

In March 2023, the Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right National Religious Party–Religious Zionism, spoke at a Paris memorial behind a podium featuring a 'Greater Israel' map including Trans-Jordan. This speech has led to tensions with Jordan, while his spokesperson attributed the symbol's presence to the organizers of the event, which was dedicated to a man connected to the Irgun (see above for Irgun emblem). In response to the diplomatic controversy, Israel's Foreign Ministry reassured its adherence to the 1994 peace treaty and respect for Jordan's sovereignty.[18][19]

In academia

Hillel Weiss, a professor at Bar-Ilan University, has promoted the "necessity" of rebuilding the Temple and of Jewish rule over Greater Israel.[20][21][22]

Bin Laden interview

In a May 1998 interview with ABC's John Miller, Osama bin Laden noted what he saw as "Zionist plans for expansion of what is called the Great Israel ... to achieve full control over the Arab Peninsula which they intend to make an important part of the so called Greater Israel." While not his main reason, Bin Laden included what he saw as American and Western support for such a scheme as an additional motivation for his call to wage war against America and its allies.[23]

Conspiracy theories

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[24] brandished by PLO chairman Yasser Arafat in 1988 as evidence for this accusation. The Bank of Israel denies this conspiracy theory since the coin is a replica of a historical coin dating from 37 to 40 BCE and the alleged "map" is actually the irregular shape of the ancient coin.[25]

Israeli flag controversy

Conspiracy theorists have suggested 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 according to religious scripture.[26] This claim was at a time made by Yasser Arafat,[27] Iran and Hamas.[28] However, 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) ..."[29]

See also


  1. ^ Pappé, Ilan (1994). The Making of the Arab–Israeli Conflict, 1947–1951. London: I.B.Tauris. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-85043-819-9.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Morris, Benny (2011). Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1998. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 138 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". ISBN 9780307788054.
  4. ^ a b Finkelstein, Norman (2005), Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-semitism and the Abuse of History, University of California Press, p. 280, ISBN 9780520245983
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Howard M. Sachar History of Israel from the rise of Zionism to our Time pp. 207-208
  8. ^ a b Greenberg, Joel (22 November 1998). "The World: Pursuing Peace; Netanyahu and His Party Turn Away from 'Greater Israel'". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  9. ^ Mordechai Bar-On (2004) A Never-Ending Conflict: A Guide to Israeli Military History Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0-275-98158-4 p 219
  10. ^ "Likud - Platform". Retrieved 2008-09-04.
  11. ^ 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."
  12. ^ The SAGE Encyclopedia of Terrorism, Second Edition. SAGE Publications. 2011. p. 321.
  13. ^ Politics of Terrorism A Survey. Taylor & Francis. 2010. p. 166.
  14. ^ Pedahzur, Ami (2012). The Triumph of Israel's Radical Right. Oxford University Press. p. 101.
  15. ^ Atkins, Stephen E. (2004). Encyclopedia of Modern Worldwide Extremists and Extremist Groups. Greenwood Press. p. 316.
  16. ^ Yishai, Yael. "Israeli Annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights: Factors and Processes." Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 21, no. 1, 1985, pp. 45–60. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Mar. 2023.
  17. ^ "National Religious Party: Greater Israel, Religious Status Quo". Haaretz. 22 December 2002.
  18. ^ Lazaroff, Tovah (March 20, 2023). "Smotrich violated Israel-Jordan peace treaty with expanded Israel map - Amman". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved November 5, 2023.
  19. ^ Ben Samuels and Reuters. "Israeli Ambassador to Jordan Summoned After Top Minister Showcases Map of 'Greater Israel'". Haaretz. March 20, 2023.
  20. ^ Haaretz "Weiss versa" by Avi Garfunkel, 30 January 2004
  21. ^ "Website Disabled". Archived from the original on 7 May 2019. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  22. ^ Brown, Matt (4 May 2007). "Rabbis call for re-establishment of Jewish court". Retrieved 31 January 2019 – via
  23. ^ Interview: Osama bin Laden, Frontline, 1999
  24. ^ "Bank of Israel - Current Notes & Coins - Current Currency Series". Archived from the original on 4 December 2019. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  25. ^ Daniel Pipes (1998). The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy. St. Martin's Griffin. p. 51. ISBN 9780312176884. Retrieved 22 April 2016. In fact, the coin contains no map; the outline behind the menorah traces the shape of the surviving Hasmonean coin.
  26. ^ 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."
  27. ^ Playboy Interview: Yasir Arafat, Playboy, September 1988.
  28. ^ Raczka, Witt (2015-11-30). Unholy Land: In Search of Hope in Israel/Palestine. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780761866732.
  29. ^ Rubinstein, Danny. Inflammatory legends, Haaretz, November 15, 2004.

External links