The unspeakable violence that plagues Israel and Palestine daily relates in part to the assertion of an ancient, ancestral, and even divinely bestowed property right to a parcel of land, which is often called “holy” and “promised.” For background, here are a few influential – which is not to say factual – passages from a perennially bestselling book (or set of books) deemed important by the three Abrahamic religions.
From the Book of Genesis:
[15:18]In that day [the Lord] made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt [Nile] unto the great river, the river Euphrates [Iraq]; [15:19][the land of] the Kenite, and the Kenizzite, and the Kadmonite, [15;20]and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Rephaim, [15:21]and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Girgashite, and the Jebusite.’
From the Book of Joshua:
[1:1][T]he LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun [allegedly in 1400 BCE] … saying, [1:2]…go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. [1:3]Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses. [1:4]From the wilderness [Sinai?] and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast. [1:5]There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. [1:6]Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.
[6:20]So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. [6:21]And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword…. [6:24]And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein….
[8:1]And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land: [8:2]And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king: only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves: lay thee an ambush for the city behind it. [8:3]So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai: and Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valour, and sent them away by night. [8:4]And he commanded them, saying, Behold, ye shall lie in wait against the city, even behind the city: go not very far from the city, but be ye all ready: [8:5]And I, and all the people that are with me, will approach unto the city: and it shall come to pass, when they come out against us, as at the first, that we will flee before them, [8:6](For they will come out after us) till we have drawn them from the city; for they will say, They flee before us, as at the first: therefore we will flee before them. [8:7]Then ye shall rise up from the ambush, and seize upon the city: for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand. [8:8]And it shall be, when ye have taken the city, that ye shall set the city on fire: according to the commandment of the LORD shall ye do….
[8:11]And all the people, even the people of war that were with him, went up, and drew nigh, and came before the city, and pitched on the north side of Ai: now there was a valley between them and Ai. [8:12]And he took about five thousand men, and set them to lie in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city…. [8:14]And it came to pass, when the king of Ai saw it, that they hasted and rose up early, and the men of the city went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people, at a time appointed, before the plain; but he wist not that there were liers in ambush against him behind the city. [8:15]And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness. [8:16]And all the people that were in Ai were called together to pursue after them: and they pursued after Joshua, and were drawn away from the city. [8:17]And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, that went not out after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel.
[8:18]And the LORD said unto Joshua, Stretch out the spear that is in thy hand toward Ai; for I will give it into thine hand. And Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city. [8:19]And the ambush arose quickly out of their place, and they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand: and they entered into the city, and took it, and hasted and set the city on fire. [8:20]And when the men of Ai looked behind them, they saw, and, behold, the smoke of the city ascended up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that way: and the people that fled to the wilderness turned back upon the pursuers. [8:21]And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city, and that the smoke of the city ascended, then they turned again, and slew the men of Ai. [8:22]And the other issued out of the city against them; so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side: and they smote them, so that they let none of them remain or escape. [8:23]And the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua.
[8:24]And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. [8:25]And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai. [8:26]For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. [8:27]Only the cattle and the spoil of that city Israel took for a prey unto themselves, according unto the word of the LORD which he commanded Joshua. [8:28]And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day. [8:29]And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcase down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this day…..
[10:40]So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded. [10:41]And Joshua smote them from Kadeshbarnea even unto Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, even unto Gibeon. [10:42]And all these kings and their land did Joshua take at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel.
[11:1]And it came to pass, when Jabin king of Hazor had heard those things, that he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, [11:2]And to the kings that were on the north of the mountains, and of the plains south of Chinneroth, and in the valley, and in the borders of Dor on the west, [11:3]And to the Canaanite on the east and on the west, and to the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusite in the mountains, and to the Hivite under Hermon in the land of Mizpeh. [11:4]And they went out, they and all their hosts with them, much people, even as the sand that is upon the sea shore in multitude, with horses and chariots very many. [11:5]And when all these kings were met together, they came and pitched together at the waters of Merom, to fight against Israel. [11:6]And the LORD said unto Joshua, Be not afraid because of them: for to morrow about this time will I deliver them up all slain before Israel: thou shalt hough their horses, and burn their chariots with fire.
[11:7] So Joshua came, and all the people of war with him, against them by the waters of Merom suddenly; and they fell upon them. [11:8]And the LORD delivered them into the hand of Israel, who smote them, and chased them unto great Zidon, and unto Misrephothmaim, and unto the valley of Mizpeh eastward; and they smote them, until they left them none remaining. [11:9]And Joshua did unto them as the LORD bade him: he houghed their horses, and burnt their chariots with fire. [11:10]And Joshua at that time turned back, and took Hazor, and smote the king thereof with the sword: for Hazor beforetime was the head of all those kingdoms. [11:11]And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them: there was not any left to breathe: and he burnt Hazor with fire. [11:12]And all the cities of those kings, and all the kings of them, did Joshua take, and smote them with the edge of the sword, and he utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the LORD commanded. [11:13]But as for the cities that stood still in their strength, Israel burned none of them, save Hazor only; that did Joshua burn. [11:14]And all the spoil of these cities, and the cattle, the children of Israel took for a prey unto themselves; but every man they smote with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, neither left they any to breathe….
[11:16]So Joshua took all that land, the hills, and all the south country, and all the land of Goshen, and the valley, and the plain, and the mountain of Israel, and the valley of the same; [11:17]Even from the mount Halak, that goeth up to Seir, even unto Baalgad in the valley of Lebanon under mount Hermon: and all their kings he took, and smote them, and slew them. [11:18]Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. [11:19]There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. [11:20]For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses. [11:21]And at that time came Joshua, and cut off the Anakims from the mountains, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel: Joshua destroyed them utterly with their cities. [11:22]There was none of the Anakims left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod, there remained. [11:23]So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war.
The land thus acquired was then divided among the tribes of Israel. In 24:13, Joshua reported to his assembled people that the Lord had said, in summarizing all the favors he had done for them, “And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat.”
Postscript: Archeological and historical evidence – or more precisely, the lack thereof – tells us that these alleged events of 1400 BCE never happened. But that cannot be said of the Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, of 1947-48 CE, when 750,000 Palestinians were dispossessed and hundreds of others killed and wounded in the formation of the state of Israel. That was all too real.
Sheldon Richman is the executive editor of The Libertarian Institute and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. He is the former senior editor at the Cato Institute and Institute for Humane Studies; former editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education; and former vice president at the Future of Freedom Foundation. His latest books are Coming to Palestine and What Social Animals Owe to Each Other.