Eretz Israel HaShlema / Greater Israel

Today’s Jews are the living representatives of Judah, one of the 12 tribes of Israel that conquered most of Palestine in the 13th century BC. Judah’s share of the territory continued for seven centuries, until the Babylonian Captivity, in which Judah was deported by Nebuchadnezzer in 587 BC.

They returned again within less than half a century, and held Judea, once more, for the next 773 years, until they were evicted by the Romans in AD 135. Jews never renounced their claim to the land of Israel, and always hoped, believed, and proclaimed that they would get this land back again.

In an interview in May 1998, a little over two months before the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, Osama bin Laden explained his call for Muslims to take arms against America. «Their presence has no meaning save one and that is to offer support to the Jews in Palestine who are in need of their Christian brothers to achieve full control over the Arab Peninsula which they intend to make an important part of the so called Greater Israel….»

General (Jewish) Wesley Clark «We’re going to take-out 7 countries in 5 years.»

In February 2003 an audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden called President Bush «stupid» and claimed American war plans against Iraq were part of a plot to attack Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa. The United States’ goal in waging war against Iraq is to change the regional map to benefit Israel, according to the voice said to be bin Laden. «It is clear that the preparations to attack Iraq are part of a series of attacks prepared for nations of the region including Syria, Iran, Egypt and Sudan,» the voice said. «The aim of the Crusaders’ campaign is to prepare the atmosphere for the establishment of the so-called greater Israel state, which includes great parts of Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and large portions of (Saudi Arabia),» it said [this later element was omitted from most published transcripts].

In a sermon delivered by Usama bin Laden on the first day of ‘Id al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, he explains in great detail. The holiday started on February 11, and the sermon was published in February 16th, 2003. «One of the most important objectives of the new Crusader attack is to pave the way and prepare the region, after its fragmentation, for the establishment of what is known as ‘the Greater State of Israel,’ whose borders will include extensive areas of Iraq and Egypt, through Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, all of Palestine and large parts of the Land of the Two Holy Places. Come let me tell you what is meant by ‘Greater Israel’ and what disasters will beset the region. What is happening to our people in Palestinian is merely a model which the Zio-American alliance wishes to impose upon the rest of the region… »

This conception of a Greater Israel encompassing much of the Middle East is evidently a pervasive element of popular culture in the region, and it is easy to understand how this would be taken up by bin Laden and other propgandists. By asserting that Israel seeks to occupy the territories of many other countries in the region, it places the Palestinians on the front line of a struggle common to all people in the region.

The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement of 18 August 1988 states: «Today it is Palestine, tomorrow it will be one country or another. The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the «Protocols of the Elders of Zion», and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying. … It is the duty of the followers of other religions to stop disputing the sovereignty of Islam in this region … They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there. ….. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state. It was they who instigated the replacement of the League of Nations with the United Nations and the Security Council to enable them to rule the world through them. There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it. » [source]

Bin Laden is not the author of this view, but rather is simply appealing to a widespread belief. On 19 July 2003, the Saudi daily Al-Watan published an article by Dr. Umayma Ahmad Al-Jalahma, who is described by the paper as a professor at King Faysal University. «The Jewish rabbis recently issued a Fatwa [sic] stating that ‘Iraq is part of Greater Israel.’ The authors of that Fatwa issued calls to the Jewish troops annexed to the American and British forces, whose number barely exceeds 2,000, to recite a special prayer whenever they begin to erect a tent or build anything on Iraqi soil west of the Euphrates, specifically, because such regions are in their view part of the land of Greater Israel.»

An edition of the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, «The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,» published by the Iranian government supplies an introduction which describes Iran’s view of itself in the struggle to destroy Israel. «A boundless passion for usurpation and hegemony is typical of these professional criminals of history; a passion which they try to satisfy through their fickle logic of ‘From the Nile to the Euphrates.'» This edition also included a map that projects boundries up to that include parts of Iran.

In a message dated 6 September 1983 (15 Shahrivar 1362 AHS) Sahifa-yi Nur, Vol. 18, p. 101, Imam Ruhollah Al-Musavi Al-Khomeini said «Greater Israel means an Israel stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates or in other words encompassing all the regions inhabited by Arabs, which besides Egypt surely includes the Hijaz too.» And in his Last Will and Testament, Khomeini noted «The USA is the foremost enemy of Islam. It is a terrorist state by nature that has set fire to everything everywhere and its ally, the international Zionism does not stop short of any crime to achieve its base and greedy desires, crimes that the tongue and pen are ashamed to utter or write. The stupid idea of a Greater Israel urges them to commit any shameful crime.»

From this perspective, the American occupation of Iraq must seem like a frightening fullfillment of «From the Nile to the Euphrates» — given a tendency to conflate the United States with the Zionist Entity.

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei focused on the importance of the Iraqi elections in his message for Hajj pilgrims in early 2005. He said: «The people and leaders of Iraq want to elect a popular government for ensuring a free and independent Iraq. According to them the elections should end foreign military occupation and the political hegemony of the US and Britain. The elections should put end to the seditious presence of the Zionists who under American arms have infiltrated to the banks of the River Euphrates as part of their dream of Greater Israel.»

The Promised Land

Abraham lived with his family in Ur of the Chaldeans (modern day Iraq). Abraham’s journey begins circa 2000 BC. Abraham, born in Ur Kasdim in today’s Iraq, was instructed to go to Canaan, the Promised Land. God promised to the Patriarch Abraham the following: «To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river the Euphrates.» (Genesis 15:18-21) «And I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your temporary residence, all the land of Canaan as an eternal possession and I will be a God to them.» (Genesis 17:8) Abraham’s descendants include not just the Jews through Isaac, but also their «cousins,» the Arabs through Ishmael. This prophecy has been fulfilled in so far as Ishmael’s descendants do indeed extend throughout the Middle East.


Jacob, the grandson of Abraham the Patriarch, was renamed Israel when God appeared to him when he was leaving Padn-Aram and blessed him. Jacob produced twelve sons, each of whom became the father of one of the twelve tribes of Israel: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Issachar, Zevulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin.

Akenaten was a Pharaoh of Dynasty XVIII (1375-1358 BC). The psychologist Sigmund Freud argued (in Moses and Monotheism) that Moses was an Egyptian who got his beliefs from Akenaten. In The Bible Came from Arabia, Islamic scholar Kamal suggests that «Moses» (i.e. mosis, which means rightful child or heir in Egyptian) of the Exodus (about 1360 BC) was a follower of Akenaten’s monotheism, which had attracted some followers among Hebrews living in Goshen (northeastern Egypt).

Others date the Exodus to the time of a later Pharaoh. The indecisive outcome of the battle of Kadesh and the retreat of the Egyptian forces caused a rash of rebellions in Canaan, supported by the Hittites. In the eighth year of his reign (1296 BC), Ramses II retook the towns of Galilee one by one.

Moses delivered his people from the Egyptian Captivity. Moses announces to the Jews in Deuteronomy 11:24, that «Every place where you set the soles of your feet shall be yours. Your borders shall run from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the western sea.» Later, «Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And The Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And The Lord said to him, «This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.» (Deuteronomy 34:1-4 RSV).

Jehovah commanded his servants again and again not to leave alive anything that breathes. «So Joshua massacred the population of the whole region-the hill country, the Nageb, the Shephelah, the watersheds-and all their kings. He left no survivor, destroying everything that drew breath as the Lord God of Israel had commanded.»

As specified in Joshua chapters 13 to 22, the Israelites were allocated their lands from far south of Jerusalem, to far north of the Sea of Galilee (the Levites were distributed among the lands of the other tribes). In this covenant, the Promised Land is much smaller than «from the Nile to the Euphrates». The area covered by this traditional Holy Land, from «Dan to Beersheba [Beer-sheva]» measures only 50 miles wide and 150 miles long. The phrase «from Dan to Beer Sheva» is a stereotyped expression that fixes the boundaries of Israel (Judges 20:1, 1 Sam. 3:20). Dan was the northern and Beersheba the southern limit — hence the expression «from Dan to Beersheba.» With regard to the eastern and western borders, i.e. the Mediterranean Sea (34:6) and the Jordan River (34:11-12), there can be no question whatsoever as to their identity. A minimalist approach identifies the northern border in the area of today’s Southern Lebanon, i.e. along the Litani river, while the southern border runs along the Beer Sheva-Gaza line in the northern Negev. The ‘maximalist’ opinion finds the northern border somewhere up in Turkey and Northern Syria, while the southern border is somewhere deep in the Sinai desert.

Reuven, Gad, and Menashe (the 2 &1/2 tribes) settled in their nachala [inheritance] on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. Even though they lived outside of Biblical borders of Eretz Canaan, they still belonged to the same nation.

Until the days of David and Solomon, «from Dan to Beersheba» was the customary designation for the entire area of the Land of Israel, Beersheva being regarded as the extreme southern point of the country.

King David reigned for forty years. After his death in 970 BC his son Solomon, who was the heir to the throne, began to rule. He also reigned for forty years, and died in 930 BC. The Genesis 15:18 land promise was fullfilled by King Solomon. In 1 Kings 4:21 the inspired narrative declares: «And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt: they brought tribute, and served Solomon all the days of his life.»

The Torah (the Pentateuch) and the «historical» books are a compilation of oral traditions, set in writing by the scribes of Solomon in the 9th century BC. Most exegetes consider the promise of the patriarchs in its classic form (eg, Genesis 13/14-17 or Genesis 15/18-21) as a post-hoc legitimization of the conquests under David and Solomon. That is, the promise was retroactively inserted in the patriarchal tales to turn that «ancestral epic» into a prelude to the golden age of David and Solomon.

Following the death of Solomon, the kingdom split into two weaker states: Israel, conquered by Assyria in 722 BC; and Judah, conquered by Babylon in 586 BC. In Judah nineteen kings and one queen, all descendants of King David, reigned for the duration of four hundred years.

In the year 722 BC the Assyrian monarch Shalmaneser V initiated and carried off the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom into the Assyrian Captivity, leaving only Judah and Benjamin in the south. «Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone. . . The LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them from His sight…. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them, until the LORD removed Israel out of His sight, as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day» (2 Kings 17:18-23).

As Josiah came to the throne of Judah in about 640 BC, Assyria was on the decline. He incorporated the former Northern Kingdom into his realm, restoring the classical borders of Israel to «from Dan to Beersheba.»

Some hold that if the promises regarding the land were fulfilled in Joshua’s time or in Solomon’s, the Scriptures which were written later would not appeal to the hope of future possession of the land. Practically every one of the Major and Minor Prophets mention in some form the hope of future possession of the land. All of them were written after Solomon’s day. The original promises of the land involved (1) possession of the land, (2) occupying the land, and (3) permanent possession. Even in Solomon’s day at the height of his kingdom the land was not all possessed. At best it was placed under tribute (1 Kings 4:21). At no time was all the land actually occupied by Israel. Certainly all must agree that possession was not permanent. the Abrahamic Covenant promised Israel that she would possess the land forever (Gen. 17:8).

After a series of foreign rulers, Jews again experienced approximately a century of self-rule under the Maccabees between 166 BC and 63 BC. Although the bounds of this kingdom extended into what is now western Jordan, they did not encompass parts of the Negev and Galilee that are now Israeli territory.

Eretz Israel HaShlema

In his Complete Diaries, Vol. II. p. 711, Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, said that the area of the Jewish State stretches: «From the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates.» The «Brook of Egypt» may be another lesser waterway about 100 miles East of the Nile. Rabbi Fischmann, member of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared in his testimony to the UN Special Committee of Enquiry on 9 July 1947: «The Promised Land extends from the River of Egypt up to the Euphrates, it includes parts of Syria and Lebanon.»

The Revisionist Zionists, an ultra-nationalist Zionist group, openly stated that the establishment of a Zionist state in Palestine was impossible without violence and the forcible transfer of the indigenous population. When war broke out between Britain and Germany in 1939, Avraham Stern argued that the British were the main enemy. His «Stern Gang» was a secret Zionist organization that operated in Palestine under the British mandate. It carried out attacks against both the British and the Arabs. The British killed Stern in February 1942. Stern’s «National Revival Principles» proclaimed a Jewish state from the Nile to the Euphrates. Later named Lehi, the group was dissolved in 1948. One of the three leaders of the Stern Group was Yitzhak Shamir, who became prime minister in 1983 and whose tenure in the highest office in Israel was second only to Ben Gurion. But Revisionists in later years viewed the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and southern Lebanon in strategic terms, not historic ones. In 1989 Shamir called Syrian leader’s Hafiz al-Asad talk on the subject of «from the Nile to the Euphrates» to be «sheer nonsense.»

By the end of the 20th Century, Avrom Shmulevic’s tiny Bead Artzein (For the Homeland) aspired to a Nile-to-Euphrates Israel, as did Ahavat Israel, but between them these marginal groups numbered no more than a few hundred members.

Eretz Israel does not mean «Greater Israel». Eretz is simply the Hebrew word for «Land». The term Israelis of the right wing would use is «Eretz Israel HaShlema«, ie the «whole» or «complete» Land of Israel. This term is not applied by Israelis to the land grant to Abraham, from the Nile to the Euphrates. Nor is it applied to the rather smaller area said to have been occupied by King David or King Solomon. Solomon’s kingdom stretched through modern Syria to the banks of the Euphrates, covering and area vastly greater than the modern State of Israel. The western boundry of these kingdom’s ran barely further to the west of modern Israel, and thus did not approaching the Nile but did reach near the «Brook of Egypt».

Rather the term Eretz Israel HaShlema is used in practice to apply to to some approximation of the territory of the land occupied by the original twelve tribes, or to the two Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, or some fragment of the kingdome of the Macabees. Of course, the boundries of all of these entities are quite speculative, and sources are in deep disagreement on many points.

It is in this Complete Land of Israel («Eretz Israel HaShlema»), from Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, where the Palestinians would be supplanted by settlers. The 1967 Six-Day War was the critical moment. Israel’s victory in that war gave it control over the West Bank and emboldened nationalists and messianists to blind themselves to the Palestinians. Soon afterwards a group of citizens joined forces to establish what they called in Hebrew «Tnuat Eretz Yisrael Hashlema,» and in English » Land of Israel Movement,» ommiting the «Haslema/Whole» part. The movement’s founders understood «Eretz Yisrael Hashlema» to apply only to former «Western Palestine.» Never did any responsible person call that movement «Greater [Land of] Israel» or call for invading the rest of Jordan or Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Iraq.

The settler movement Gush Emunim, founded in 1974, replaced the legal term «State of Israel» with the biblical term «Land of Israel» (Eretz Israel), which justified the settlement of the territories in the name of a special alliance between God and the Chosen People. They consider Zionism a process of cosmic redemption. According to the Gush the advent of the messiah would be delayed if the land were returned to non-Jews. Rahavam Ze’evi, the leader of Ihud Leumi (National Union Party), has advocated the «transfer» — a polite term, in the opinion of some detractors, for forced expulsion of all Palestinians from Greater Israel. The vast majority of the Israelis who go to live in Hebron follow the ideology of «Eretz Israel Hashlema».

Forcing God’s Hand explains the popularity of the Christian element of this End Time doctrine. A Tennessean, Cyrus Scofield, popularized the idea of a Free Rapture, a theology originally imported from England less than 200 years ago. The theology holds that Christians must look to the biblical land of the Jews for their salvation; that the land itself is more important to Christians than the message of Christ. Scofield taught that Christ was held hostage until Jews carried out a preordained plan: they were to leave their native lands, including Russia, Europe, Africa and America, and settle in Palestine. They were to eradicate, with the help of Christians, the most sacred Islamic shrine in Jerusalem, a mosque holy to a billion Muslims around the world; and once Christ returned, the Jews must convert to Christianity. His doctrine, called dispensationalism, was encoded into the Scofield Reference Bible.

But by 2005 public sentiment in Israel seemed to have rejected the ideal of an Israel expanded to biblical proportions (Eretz Yisrael Hashleima). Former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau said he had resigned himself to the possibility that realizing Eretz Yisrael Hashlema may not be attainable in this generation. «It is unreasonable to expect too much of one generation,» he said. «The curses mentioned in Leviticus and Deuteronomy came true during the Holocaust. That same generation experienced the ingathering of the exiles, fought seven wars and built the Jewish state. Perhaps Eretz Yisrael Hashleima will have to wait.»

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