Letter from Prime Minister Begin to Senator Charles H. Percy on Israeli settlements, 10 June 1979
Speaking in the U.S. Senate, Charles H. Percy of Illinois, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, made certain remarks questioning the right of Jews to settle in the West Bank. While expressing full support for the existence of Israel, the Senator said he wanted to exchange views with the Prime Minister of Israel on this issue. Following is the reply of Mr. Begin to Senator Percy:
I have read in extenso the statement you made from the floor of the Senate on June 5. May I, at the outset, readily and fully reciprocate your expressions of friendship.
I understand from your statement that you would like to exchange views with me on the matter of Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District. I, therefore, take this initiative to present to you my view as Prime Minister of Israel.
Dear Senator Percy: Jews have a perfect right to live in any area of Eretz Israel which foreigners, since the days of Emperor Hadrianus, renamed or misnamed, Palestine. This is the land of our forefathers to which we returned as of right. Just as we are entitled to dwell in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem so, no less, do we have the absolute right to live in Judea, Samaria and the District of Gaza.
This right is inseparably bound up with the needs and demands of our vital national security. I would ask you, dear Senator, to take a glimpse at the map. You will understand that from those areas mentioned above come the professional killers of the so-called PLO. They came to a town called Petah Tikva and killed a mother and her baby girl, just to mention one example of many throughout the country relating to recent terrorist atrocities and attempted attacks.
What, therefore, is the security importance of Jewish settlements? In answering this question five Justices of our Supreme Court handed down the following unanimous opinion. I quote:
“One does not have to be a military and a security expert to realize that terrorist elements operate more easily in an area inhabited only by a population that is indifferent or is sympathetic towards the enemy than in an area where there are also persons likely to look out for them and to report any suspicious movement to the authorities. Such persons will offer them no hideout, assistance or supplies. The matter is simple and needs no elaboration.”
If anybody should ask me, as the head of the Government of Israel, to forego any effort humanly possible to prevent or to stem the movement of these professional killers – who, in Nahariya, for instance, smashed in the head of a four-year old child – I would never assume responsibility for such a gross dereliction of duty. True, I cannot guarantee that despite all the measures we undertake such atrocities will not be repeated. The reason is mathematically simple: when the civilian population is the target of attack then you have more than three million targets in the Land of Israel. But not to try, by every means to prevent such atrocities?!
Senator Percy, I gave an oath of allegiance in the Knesset to faithfully carry out my duties as Prime Minister of Israel. I am determined to do so. My generation witnessed one and a half million Jewish children dragged to a wanton death whilst nobody in the whole world did anything to try and rescue even one Jewish child. It is our responsibility therefore, to care for our own children and grandchildren. As I have said, Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel is an inalienable right per-se. It is also, however, crucially important for the protection of the lives of our children and grandchildren.
President Sadat and I signed a treaty of peace between our two countries. What our contribution has been to the achievement of this treaty is known. I am a friend of President Sadat and, of course, we should help each other. But what about my difficulties? President Sadat was cheered in El-Arish, my friends and I were jeered, and worse, at Neot Sinai.
In the presence of President Sadat, in Beersheba, I said:
“The constructive idea of autonomy is ours. At Camp David it was accepted by both the American and the Egyptian delegations. It is a progressive, noble idea. The Arab inhabitants of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District will elect their own Administrative Council, which will deal with all the aspects of their daily lives, without interference. We shall reserve security, which under the circumstances of the destructive, inhuman, bloodthirsty rampage of the genocidal so-called PLO is an absolute inescapable necessity of life, already recognized by every man of goodwill.”
I believe with all my heart that you, Mr. Senator, feel goodwill towards Israel and its absolute need to live in peace. Please, consider our unique situation.
I must add that in pursuing this policy not one Arab is being evicted from his village or town. We want Jews and Arabs in the land to live together in peace, in security and in human dignity.
With my best wishes,
Yours in friendship,