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Ancient Battles, Modern Wars: The Story of Yiftach and Israel’s Rightful Land

הרב שי טחןג תמוז, תשפד09/07/2024

The land of Israel was known to be Jewish land for 2,000 years, and no other nation established a state there during this long period

ארץ ישראל
This week's Haftara (Chukat) feels like it could be taken from a modern-day newspaper, as it addresses the Jewish people's right to the land of Israel, particularly in relation to Ishmael. It discusses the impending war of the nation of Ammon against the Jewish nation and the appointment of Yiftach as their leader and general.
Let's first introduce the nation of Ammon. We find Ammon in the Torah in the prophecy of Bilaam regarding the end of days before Mashiach comes, where he prophesies about a nation called Keini (Bamidbar 24, 21). Rabenu
ארץ ישראל
Bechayei writes that Keini are the descendants of Ishmael. The Chizkuni points out that the Keini nation is the same as Ammon, proving this from the event of the Brit Ben HaBetarim, where Hashem promises Avraham the land of ten nations but gives him only the land of seven. Rashi (Bereshit 15, 19) explains that the remaining three lands will be given to us at the end of time. These three lands are Edom, Moav, and Ammon, which is referred to as Keini. We can see that the story of Yiftach involves the nation of Ishmael, and upon closer study, we observe that history repeats itself in an exact duplicate.

I urge everyone to open Sefer Shoftim (chapter 11 with the Malbim) and read what I'm about to write, as this is exactly what it says there. Then, compare it with recent events. In the story of Yiftach, when he is appointed leader and sees that Ammon is preparing to declare war against Israel, he first sends messengers to the king of Ammon, asking why he is coming to fight. The king of Ammon replies that Israel has conquered territory belonging to Ammon, and if Israel does not return the occupied territory and withdraw the settlers, he will proceed with the war until Ammon's land is free from the river to the sea (Jordan River by the Yabok River to the Salt Sea, bordering the Arnon River).

Claim #1: Israel mind their own business
Upon hearing this, Yiftach sends back messengers to tell the king of Ammon that he is wrong, as that land belongs to Israel. The Malbim draws from the psukim that Yiftach used four different logical arguments to support his case. The first claim he made was that when Israel came to the borders of the land of Canaan, they avoided the settled areas. Even when they asked Edom for permission to pass through their land and were denied, Israel respected this and made a detour to avoid them. Therefore, Israel never sought to conquer anyone.

Claim #2: Losing Wars, Losing Land
The second claim Yiftach made was that when Sichon, the king of the Emori, saw that Israel was coming to the area, he went out to fight a war with them. Unfortunately for him, he lost that war and also lost territory. When you initiate a war against others and lose, you can't complain about the consequences, as that is the risk you take when you declare war against another nation.

Claim #3: Hashem's Deed Over the Land
Thirdly, Yiftach argued that the fact that a single nation, which had emerged from oppressive slavery and was few in number, weak, and tired from travel in the desert, with little armament, was attacked by all the nations who were many, strong, and well-armed, and still emerged victorious, is a clear sign and indication that Hashem was fighting their battles. Since Hashem granted the Jewish people the land of Israel, this divine gift cannot be denied.

Claim #4: presumption of ownership
Finally, Yiftach told him that until now, when Ammon decided they wanted the land, no one had denied that it belonged to the Jewish nation, and no one had tried to take it from them. This creates what we call in Halacha a "chazaka." Chazaka means that if someone settles on land without anyone challenging their right to hold it, it indicates that the land belongs to them.
All of Yiftach's claims fell on deaf ears, and Ammon started a war, which they lost to Yiftach's brave army.

Today's Battle Over the Land of Israel
Let's now move forward in time and see if the above story rings some bells from recent events. When the Jewish people returned from a long and bitter exile, having faced much persecution, they were granted parts of the land of Israel in areas that were not settled by any Arab villages.

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was a result of the United Nations Partition Plan for the land, which was approved by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947. The plan proposed to divide the British Mandate of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Following the withdrawal of British forces, the Jewish community declared the independence of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. This declaration was supported by the United Nations and subsequently recognized by many countries.

The areas given to the Jewish people were not occupied by any Arab villages, and they could have lived happily as neighbors side by side if the Arabs had agreed to the UN partition plan. However, the very next day after Israel declared Independence, all surrounding Arab nations declared war, leading to what is known as the War of Independence. This aligns with the first claim of Yiftach, that the Jews did not intend to take any neighboring land but rather to settle in empty areas.

The second claim of Yiftach is that if you declare war and lose, you shouldn't complain because you took the risk and played your cards poorly. Arab nations have declared war on Israel several times, and each time they lost, resulting in land being taken by the young Jewish country.

Thirdly, Yiftach argued that even if you don't agree with the previous two claims, you can't deny that the victory of the Jewish people defies logic and reason. This can only be explained as a divinely granted gift. Since Hashem is the owner of the universe and holds the deed to the land of Israel, He decided to give it to the Jewish people (see first Rashi on Bereshit).

Finally, the land of Israel was known to be Jewish land for 2,000 years, and no other nation established a state there during this long period. This proves that it is Jewish land with chazaka (a presumption of ownership).
But just as Ammon, the nation of Ishmael, didn't accept any logic and went to fight an unjust war against the Jewish nation, so too does their nature remain unchanged today. They defy any logic, claiming the land as theirs. The truth is that their own claim to the land is the biggest proof that it is Jewish land. They argue that Israel occupies their land because they were there first, and the passage of time doesn't change that, as the right of first settlers doesn't expire. By that same logic, the Jewish people settled in the land before the Arab tribes, and our ancient right to it doesn't expire either.
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