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Israel’s military response to thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza and infiltrations by terrorists through a maze of Hamas-built tunnels has, somewhat predictably, prompted its enemies and many others around the world to demand the Jewish state stop building what they call “settlements” in areas on the West Bank of the Jordan River, or, more accurately, Judea and Samaria.

As a former Middle East correspondent and an Arab-American, let me explain why Israel must never allow pressure from its enemies or foreigners to deter the building of “settlements” or consider ceding any more land to Palestinian Arab control.

Israel dismantled similar “settlements” in Gaza in exchange for promises of peace. But “settlements” is a loaded word. What the world calls “settlements” are Jewish communities built on historically Jewish land – territory desperately needed by Israel to protect itself from the kind of attacks being perpetrated by Palestinian Arabs in Gaza. In fact, some 9,000 Jews were forcibly removed from Gaza by the Israeli military in 2005.

How did that work out for Israel?

Not so well.

Now the focus of the world’s attention is on so-called “settlements” in and around Jerusalem and throughout Judea and Samaria. Even the U.S. has, at various times, called for Israel to stop construction of houses – and sometimes even repairs on existing structures – in East Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria.

Why do I put quotes around the word “settlements”? Because it’s an ugly word. These “settlements” are nothing but Jewish communities. If Jews don’t have the right to live in historically Jewish lands, where do they have a right to live?

It may be too late for Gaza, but with anti-Semitism rising around the world, Jews need a homeland more than ever. Israel’s population is growing, both from immigration, rising birth rates and increased longevity.

In addition, Israel has experimented with land giveaways, and they have only resulted in more attacks on its population centers. In other words, the land-for-peace gambit has failed miserably.

What’s the solution? Israel needs to do what is right for the Jewish people.

But these communities are a thorn in the side of Arab Palestinians. Why? Simply because they don’t accept the idea that Jews have a right to live there. In fact, polls show most Arab Palestinians don’t believe Jews have a right to live anywhere in Israel – not even Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

That’s not just the overwhelming opinion of the Arab people in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, it’s the opinion of the leadership. The official position of the Palestinian Authority, including those supposedly negotiating “peace” terms with Israel, is that no Jews should be permitted to live in a future Palestinian state.

In other words, the Palestinian Arabs believe in religious and ethnic cleansing of their land.

Back in 1977, when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was negotiating a peace deal with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, then-President Jimmy Carter was already pressuring Israel to halt Jewish “settlements” in Judea and Samaria.

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In a meeting with Carter, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Carter raised the issue with Begin.

“Mr. President,” Begin responded, according to a new book called “Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History” by Joseph Telushkin. “Here in the United States of America, there are 11 places named Hebron, five places named Shiloh, four places named Bethel and six places named Bethlehem.”

Carter: “Indeed there are. Within 20 miles of my home there is a Bethel and a Shiloh.”

Begin: “May I be permitted to visit them one day?”

Carter: “Of course, with pleasure! There are three good Baptist churches there.”

Begin: “In that case, I shall bring along our chief rabbi to protect me. Allow me to put to you a hypothetical question. Imagine one day that the governors of the states in which these Hebrons and Shilohs and Bethels and Bethlehems were located were to issue a decree declaring that any citizen of the United States was free to settle in any one of these places except for one category – the Jews. Jews are forbidden to build homes in the Shilohs and the Hebrons and the Bethels and the Bethlehems of America – so it should be decreed. Oh dear! Everybody is welcome to settle in any of these cities whose names derive from the Book of Books except for the people of the Book. Good women and men everywhere would cry from the rooftops – ‘Scandalous! Discrimination! Bigotry!’ Am I not right?”

Carter: “Hypothetically.”

Begin: “So how can you expect me – a Jewish prime minister of the Jewish state, who heads a cabinet of 15 Jews – to forbid fellow Jews from acquiring a piece of land and building a home in the original Shiloh, in the original Beth El, in the original Bethlehem, and in the original Hebron from where our Jewish forefathers originally came? Would that not be scandalous?”

Indeed, it would be scandalous. In fact, it is scandalous for anyone to suggest that Jews don’t have a God-given right to live wherever they choose to live – but especially in those communities.

Today, as a result of this continuing, unrelenting, unwarranted and immoral international pressure on Israel to cede more territory to its sworn enemies – people who still call for the destruction of the Jewish state – Bethlehem is already devoid of a Jewish community. And this town once dominated by Christians – the little town where Jesus was born – is nearly devoid of Christians.

Tired of religious persecution, the payment of jizya taxes imposed by the new Muslim majority and getting caught in the crossfire of Palestinian Muslim attacks on Israel and the predictable responses, the small Christian community represents less than 10 percent of the population.

This proves Begin’s instincts were right – not only for Jews, but for the Christian Palestinian minority as well.

Can we all agree on one simple premise? Ethnic and religious cleansing is morally wrong. That recognition should be enough to put to rest the heckling for Israel to stop building houses for Jews – anywhere, anytime.

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