[there's] a particular false assumption which I put down to an ignorance which is widespread. It is an ignorance about the history of Israel, and in particular the land known as the West Bank. People assume Israel itself was an artificial creation resulting from Holocaust guilt, when a load of European Jews were transplanted into a land owned for millennia by Palestinian Arabs. That itself is false. Israel was the nation state of the Jews centuries before the Arabs took it by force, and an unbroken Jewish presence remained in Jerusalem and other cities, some of which, indeed, had a Jewish majority.
And even if people don’t make this false assumption about Israel itself, they certainly believe...that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is illegal and illegitimate because Israel has no claim to that land which it has, in [an]...incendiary word, ‘stolen’ from the Palestinians whose land it rightfully was. The animus against Israel’s occupation of this territory after the 1967 war is therefore not really about the behaviour or attitudes of the settlers or the Israeli military. It is based on the perception of gross injustice – of a land that has been stolen from its rightful owners. It is not surprising therefore that people with perfectly decent instincts are enraged by the continued ‘occupation’ of the West Bank. But they have been led to believe something that is not true.
For a start, Israel’s occupation of this territory is perfectly legal and legitimate as an act of self defence, after a war of aggression against it in 1967, against an enemy that refused to abandon its aggression. But at a deeper level still, the idea that Israel had no locus in this territory until 1967 is simply false. This West Bank land was never owned by the Palestinians. It was part of the post-Ottoman Empire Mandate administered by Britain until Israel’s creation in 1948. Following the war of extermination waged by the Arabs against the fledgling Israel at its creation, Judea and Samaria – as they then were – were illegally occupied by Jordan, and became ‘the West Bank’ as a result.
Furthermore, and even more significant, Judea and Samaria were part of Mandatory Palestine, within which Britain was enjoined to re-establish a Jewish national home. That’s right – the ‘West Bank’ was part of the territory to which the Jews had such a strong historical claim that Britain and the League of Nations decided they should be restored to it. It might astonish...to learn that Hebron, for example, is actually one of the four most sacred Jewish cities. Jews lived there continuously for some 38 centuries — Abraham settled there some 1800 years before Christ – until they were driven out by an Arab pogrom. In 1929, Palestinian Arabs committed a massacre in Hebron in which more than 60 Jews were murdered. Babies were beheaded, rabbis were castrated and there were incidents of rape, torture and mutilation with hands and fingers torn off apparently to rob the bodies of jewellery. The atrocity was so severe that the surviving Jews were evacuated, although some later returned and lived there until the Arab riots in 1936 finally ethnically cleansed this sacred place of its Jews.
To be told that Hebron is a place where Jews have no claim is therefore nauseating beyond belief. The fact is that Hebron and many other places to which the Jews could lay rightful claim were either renounced by the Zionist leadership, which was always prepared to compromise and give up territorial claims in order to get a small piece of the Jews’ inheritance restored to them, or were lost in battle. Before anyone gets the wrong idea (again), let me reiterate that I do not advocate Israel’s retention of the whole of Judea and Samaria. I have always thought it was not in Israel’s interests to retain it. But it is very important that the world should realise that Israel has a legitimate claim to it, and yet it has been and still is prepared to give up territory to which it has a right, if the outcome is that Israel can finally be allowed to exist in peace. It is very important that people come to understand that – whatever legitimate criticisms may be levelled at aspects of Israel’s behaviour – its core claim is one of justice, and the way this has been misrepresented is profoundly unjust. Indeed, it is monstrous.
And see here and also here and also Howard Grief's article and his monograph as well as the relevant documents.