The Greater Israel is a biblical concept, in Hebrew, known as Eretz Yisrael Hashlema, which refers to the actual intended borders of Israel.
According to the Bible, there are three geographical definitions of the land of Israel, the first being what was given to Abraham, including “from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates.” The other territories are the land divided between the original 12 tribes of Israel.
While this may be shocking, it would encompass all of what are considered today’s Palestinian territories, Western Syria, Southern Turkey, part of Iraq, part of Saudi Arabia, part of Egypt and even Lebanon.
Obviously, the State of Israel, as it stands in the year 2023, is only a sliver of the enormous land mass that all of the territory mentioned above would comprise and yet, it is a much larger area than what the nation started out with when it was established in 1948. Of course, much of that was due to the spoils of war, which enlarged the land that Israel took and which today is inhabited.
But even with that tiny sliver of land, which most people would be hard-pressed to find on a map, Israel’s enemies and opponents are still loath to acknowledge the minuscule Jewish presence that sits in the center of the Middle East. Not only is it viewed by them as an unacceptable intrusion, but anti-Israel activists actually refer to the Jewish presence as “occupiers of Arab lands.”
It is within that historical backdrop that Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, during a speech given in Paris just a few days ago, spoke of the Palestinian people as being “an invention of the last 100 years.”
Smotrich spoke about his own ancestors who comprise 13 generations in the land of Israel and, specifically, his grandmother who was born before statehood occurred, thus referring to her as a genuine Palestinian who lived in the area called Palestine. He went on to say that once the Jews returned to their homeland, as predicted in accordance with the biblical prophecies, that the Arabs “created a fictional nation and then worked for their fictitious rights to the Land of Israel, just to battle against the Zionist movement.” He said, “that is the truth, and there is no alternative.”
Smotrich’s speech, seen as inciteful and controversial, was, of course, met with great anger, even calling his words racist. Governments throughout the world were quick to condemn Smotrich, causing him to have to walk back his statements, explaining later that “he referred only to terrorists.”
Ironically, while his viewpoint was considered controversial and inflammatory, from a historical perspective his grandmother would definitely have been called a Palestinian, and Arabs only began to use the term, “Palestinian,” to describe themselves once the State of Israel came into existence.
The Bible does, in fact, attribute much more land to the Jewish people, promised by God, than what they say comprises Israel today. But can any one person bring about the realization of those missing areas, which are known as other sovereign countries, these days?
This is, perhaps, what makes Smotrich’s speech so provocative and incendiary, despite the fact that many Bible-believers, be they Orthodox or Evangelical Christians, would likely agree with his representation of where God intended Israel’s borders to be.
The big difference between those Bible-believers and Bezalel Smotrich, however, is that probably the vast majority of those people would claim that only a divine intervention by God, Himself could bring about Israel’s realization of her complete territory, which was bequeathed to her by the Almighty.
Even as Israel, back in 1948, was preparing to be recognized as an independent nation, she was willing to accept the very narrow borders, which had been carved up for the Jewish state, as a compromise in order to live side by side with the Arab people who also claimed the land as their home. Although Jewish claims were supported by thousands of years of history, archaeology and a constant presence, albeit small, Jews were sober and realistic about the power of the United Nations, which oversaw the vote of other nations on the question of partition (two states for two people).
Likewise, today, Israel, which encompasses far greater territory than it did back then, recognizes that they cannot just do a land grab, even if they believe that, one day, according to the Scriptures, she will fulfill her destiny and finally realize the full inheritance. That is why, up until now, Israeli political leaders have used great caution in how they refer to the land, their neighbors and those who live among us who are not part of the Jewish people.
They understand the delicate balance which must be guarded in order to maintain peace and tranquility in the region. But it is not only Israel’s Arab neighbors who would strongly object to her annexation of territory it believes is rightly theirs. It is also the nations of the world, all of whom believe that the present arrangement is how it must be, despite some of those nations not even being any too happy about the status quo.
Smotrich may have sincere biblical beliefs as it relates to Israel’s borders, but he may do well to heed those who have wisely and prudently led the Jewish nation until now. If using restraint, as it relates to living within the present borders of Israel has not garnered favor and admiration from the world’s nations, what would their reaction be to a finance minister who thinks that he can hasten divine intervention? We don’t have to guess. We’ve already seen the furor which has arisen from, yet, another misstep of this overanxious and inexperienced politician.
For those who really trust in the God of Israel, it might be worthwhile to leave it to Him to decide the timing and execution – the how and when He chooses to endow His people with the promises that He has made them! Because only He can bring about His plan, the same way He did in 1948 when He caused the nations of the world to vote in favor of the biblical prophecy of Isaiah 66:8 by birthing a nation in One Day!
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.