Greater Israel

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Biblical King David's Kingdom at the time of his death. This map is probably close to the Greater Israel.

Greater Israel is an expression, with several different Biblical and political meanings over time. It is often utilized in an irredentist fashion, in order to define 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 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.


Promised Land

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).

During British Mandate of Palestine

Emblem of the Irgun (also known by its acronmym, Etzel)

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


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.[10]

Annexation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was part of the platform of the Israeli Likud party, and of some other Israeli political parties.[11] 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".[12]

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.

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.

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.[13]

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.[14] This claim was at a time made by Yasser Arafat, Iran and Hamas.[15] However, both Zionists and Anti-Zionists have debunked this.[16] 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) ..."[17]

In academia

Hillel Weiss, a professor at Bar-Ilan University, "preaches" the necessity of rebuilding the Temple and of Jewish rule over Greater Israel.[18][19][20]

Palestinian irredentism

A similar territory, "from the river to the sea", was also claimed as Palestine by the PLO[21] until the Oslo Accords[22] and is still claimed by Hamas.[23]

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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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, ISBN 9780307788054<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> 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"
  4. 4.0 4.1 Finkelstein, Norman (2005), Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-semitism and the Abuse of History, University of California Press, p. 280, ISBN 9780520245983<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>; and
    Segev, Tom (2000), One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Henry Holt and Company, p. 403, ISBN 9780805048483<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Howard M. Sachar History of Israel from the rise of Zionism to our Time pp. 207-208
  8. 8.0 8.1 The World: Pursuing Peace; Netanyahu and His Party Turn Away from 'Greater Israel'
  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. Interview: Osama bin Laden], Frontline, 1999
  11. "Likud - Platform". Retrieved 2008-09-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 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."
  13. [1]
  14. 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."
  15. 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?
    PLAYBOY: No.
    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.
  16. Pipes, Daniel. Imperial Israel: The Nile-to-Euphrates Calumny, Middle East Quarterly, March, 1994. Accessed April 3, 2006.
  17. Rubinstein, Danny. Inflammatory legends, Haaretz, November 15, 2004. Accessed August 2, 2014.
  18. Haaretz "Weiss versa" by Avi Garfunkel, 30 January 2004
  19. friendvill0104 (copy of Ha'aretz article)
  20. ABC News
  21. 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.
  22. Israel-PLO Recognition – Exchange of Letters between PM Rabin and Chairman Arafat – 9–1 Sept, 993
  23. "The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)". MidEast Web. August 18, 1988.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links