Klaus Bloemker asks if I, as a convert to Judaism, “have a right of return and rightful claim to the ‘promised land’ (this piece of real estate called Palestine)?
Let me reflect on this. No, I don’t think so. For one thing, I already have a place to live, in America. And as I am not being persecuted as a Jew I have no need to take refuge in Israel. If I were being persecuted I would like to know that I might have a legal right to move to Israel to escape persecution. But of course legal rights and moral rights are two different things.
But for those Jews already living in Israel the question is a little different. The most they can hope for is that they might have a recognized legal right to live in certain parts of Palestine not in the eyes of the so-called “international community” — they already have that — but in the eyes of the Palestinians themselves and of the Arab world and the world of Islam in general. Once they obtain that legal recognition then I think they would have a moral right to remain there so long as they did not attack their neighbors are do anything else to nullify that right.
Because part of European Jewry fled Europe for Palestine to escape persecution, indeed annihilation, they (or rather their descendants) find themselves there, thanks to the Balfour Declaration and the encouragement of the victors in World Wars I and II. This is a matter of historical fact. They remain there as a matter of necessity, because they have no other place to go, no other country to call their own. The only right they can claim is the right of self-preservation. Some people, Lubos Motl for example, say they are there by right of conquest but I don’t believe there is any such thing as a right of conquest in a civilized world, no matter how often it may have been invoked in ages past.
So the real question is how can the Israeli Jews living in their own sovereign state become acceptable in the eyes of their neighbors. This was essentially the problem faced by a small band of West Semitic people at the end of the Bronze Age, escaping the collapse of an ancient civilization in which they had lived for many generations. The solution to that problem was a principle discovered by the first genius in Jewish history, who remains one of the greatest geniuses in all of world history. The situation on the ground is very different now than it was in the days of the Patriarchs, it is a much more crowded place today (as indeed it was in the days of Moses) but the same principle still applies. It is the principle of reason (and justice) in place of force and fraud as the means of settling international disputes. It is no accident that a tiny and therefore relatively powerless people (“few in numbers”) discovered the potential of this approach nor is it surprising that it eventually appealed to the oppressed majorities in the surrounding states: the very notion of a universal standard of justice and equity by its very nature appeals to the weak. Nor is it surprising that this principle has had such a long, hard time getting established as the only legitimate basis of a civilized state. To me at least it seems little short of a miracle — a miracle for which the Jewish people can take a certain amount of credit I suppose. It is certainly their best hope for survival now as it was in the beginning some 3500 years ago.
I hope this answers your question. You really should read that paper I referenced*, a completely foot-noted version of which you can find in your local library (Judaism, 1987, Summer Issue, published by the American Jewish Congress). The footnotes are the best part.