“Wiping Israel off the map….”: what’s new?

Published: 30 October 2005
Briefing Number 158

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Summary: The call by Iran’s President on 26 October 2005 for Israel to be “wiped off the map” triggered international condemnation.  But this call is nothing new – this attitude has featured in the Middle East for over 60 years, and had a decisive impact on events in the region.

This Briefing highlights how this attitude shaped Arab reaction to the UN Partition plan of 1947 and Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, and how it caused the Six Day War of June 1967. We highlight rejectionist attitudes among Palestinian terrorist groups today; the rejection of Israel in Palestinian culture; the torrent of anti-Israel incitement from Palestinian mosques; rejection of Israel on the international diplomatic circuit; and how calls for a Palestinian ‘right of return’, and for a ‘binational Arab-Jewish state’, are formulas for the elimination of Israel as it currently exists. 

While there have signs of acceptance of Israel in the region in recent years, the mindset that desires Israel to be “wiped off the map” remains hugely influential, dangerous to Israel, and damaging to Palestinian human rights.

Ironically, Iran’s President has reminded the world of these fundamental facts.

“Wipe Israel off the map”: the call by Iran’s President

On 26 October 2005, Iran’s new President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressed an audience of 3000 in Teheran, at a conference called ‘The World Without Zionism’.  He praised Palestinian suicide bombers and then stated (as quoted in The Times, 28 October 2005):-

“Anybody who recognises Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury [while] any [Islamic] leader who recognises the Zionist regime means he is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world… as the Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] said, Israel must be wiped off the map…..”

His words were condemned internationally. British Prime Minister Tony Blair commented angrily, at the conclusion of an EU Summit, that he had “never come across a situation of a president of a country saying that he wanted to wipe out another country”.  UN Secretary-General Annan voiced “dismay”.   

To Israelis, if not to the British Prime Minister, the words of Iran’s President had a familiar ring.  The call for Israel to be “wiped out” has been a recurring feature of Middle Eastern politics for over 60 years, decisively shaping events in the region.

The UN Partition Plan 1947-8, and Israel’s War of Independence   

In November 1947 the United Nations formally adopted its Partition Plan for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict. 

Arab rejection of Israel:  The Jewish leadership accepted the plan. But the Arab leadership unanimously opposed the creation of Israel and rejected the UN plan.  Subsequently, after months of violence and mounting conflict, five Arab armies invaded the new State of Israel in May 1948, to eliminate it at birth.

Impact: The Arab desire to “wipe Israel off the map” (or, more precisely, to prevent it ever appearing) lost them the opportunity to create an Arab-Palestinian state in 1947.  Instead, what resulted was war and the death of thousands of Jews and Arabs.  Opposition to the creation of Israel also hugely exacerbated the Palestinian refugee problem. 

For more see: Beyond Images Briefing 34 on the Palestinian Right of Return.

The quest to destroy Israel – June 1967

The desire to destroy Israel underpinned the Egyptian–Syrian military build-up against Israel in May–June 1967, and triggered the Six-Day war.

Quotes: (taken from Michael Oren’s Six Days of War (2002)): 

“If war comes it will be total, and the goal will be Israel’s destruction… (Egyptian President Nasser, May 1967). 

“Our goal is clear, to wipe Israel off the face of the map….” (Iraqi president Ar’ef, June 1967)   

Impact: As a result of the Six-Day war, Israel took control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Old City of Jerusalem.  Israel’s occupation of those territories was the result of the Arab aim to “wipe Israel off the face of the map….”

For more see: Beyond Images Briefing 103 on the 1967 war.

Aiming to destroy Israel - Palestinian terrorist groups 1993 – 2005

The aim of destroying Israel is the explicit strategic goal of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Fatah Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, and the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine).  This goal is frequently repeated by their leaders and  spokesmen, and on their websites.    

Impact: These groups sabotage prospects for reconciliation, and a two-state solution.  They exploit Israeli territorial concessions and relaxations in security measures to carry out more attacks against civilians. They encourage a sense of victimhood and hopelessness among the Palestinian population, and wreck Israeli and international efforts to improve Palestinian human rights.  

Negating Israel – Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin December 2003

In December 2003, the then-leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was asked by the German news magazine Der Spiegel whether there was any place for a Jewish state.  “They could set up a state in Europe”, Yassin replied – in other words, Israel as it currently exists should be eliminated. 

Impact: In the previous 8 years, Palestinian suicide bombers inspired by Yassin had killed over 400 Israeli civilians in 42 bomb attacks, as well as many taking many more lives in drive-by shootings, machine-gun attacks, stabbings, and other acts of violence. Yassin’s denial of Israel’s right to exist, and his desire to replace it with an Islamic state in all of Palestine, is the fundamental pillar of Hamas ideology.           

For more see: Beyond Images Briefing 74

Hamas leaders in August 2005: our aim is to eliminate Israel

In the aftermath of Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, Hamas leaders restated their ambition to destroy Israel. 

Quotes: “Israel has no right to hold on to one inch of Palestine….” (Muhammed Zahar, Hamas leader, Gaza City); “We make no distinction between Jaffa and Gaza, between Galilee and Hebron… Oh sons of Zion, the defeat you suffered in Gaza is just the beginning…” (Radio Al-Aqsa).

For more see Beyond Images Briefing 154: ‘Our Aim is To Eliminate Israel’

Leading Palestinian cartoonist – “Israel should not exist….”

The refusal to accept the existence of Israel, and the recurring desire to obliterate it, is a prevailing theme of Palestinian political culture. Typical are the  following comments of leading Palestinian newspaper cartoonist Ommaya Juha, made in January 2003:-

Quote: “I believe Israel should not exist…. Jews should live in the land as citizens but not as a country…. Hamas, Fatah, all these factions have the same ideology…. They want all the homeland, all Palestine… I don’t accept a division of the land. I don’t want a return only to the 1967 borders….”

Impact: Juha’s candid statement reflects widely held Palestinian feeling. Such views set the tone of Palestinian media, education, literature and the arts.

For more see: Beyond Images Briefing 39

Incitement in Palestinian mosques to hate Israel and “wipe it off the map”

Outright rejection of Israel features routinely in sermons delivered in mosques throughout Gaza and the West Bank.  Israel and its people are vilified; preachers call for war against the country until it is eliminated from the land. 

Quote: A notorious example came in May 2005 with the weekly Palestinian Authority sermon of Ibrahim Mdeiras, reproduced by Memri (Briefing No 908 availabe at www.memri.org). In the course of his inflammatory sermon, broadcast on PA radio, Mdeiras stated:-

“Allah has tormented us with the ‘people most hostile to the believers’ – the Jews.  With the establishment of the State of Israel, the entire Islamic nation was lost, because Israel is a cancer spreading through the body of the Islamic nation, and because the Jews are a virus spreading like AIDS, from which the entire world suffers…. Listen to the prophet Muhammed, who tells you about the evil end that awaits Jews. The stones and trees will want the Muslims to finish off every Jew….”

One Palestinian politician, Nabil Sha’ath, protested Mdeiras’s comments. But Mdeiras remains a mosque preacher on the payroll of the Palestinian Authority.  

Impact: Such words feed a culture of Israel-hatred and fanatical violence against the country, cloaked in supposedly religious language. Not only Israel but, it seems, the Jews, are to be “wiped off the map”.   

Rejection of Israel on the Middle Eastern diplomatic circuit

There is an undercurrent of rejection of Israel in the Middle Eastern diplomatic arena. On the one hand, Israel has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan,  evolving diplomatic ties with Pakistan and certain Gulf states, and strategic arrangements with Turkey, and there are fundamental political changes underway in Syria and Iraq. But there remains a prevailing undercurrent of rejectionism of Israel in diplomatic circles in the region. 

An insight into this was recently provided by Judea Pearl, father of the murdered US journalist Daniel Pearl, who has attended many diplomatic forums about Middle Eastern dialogue, but who has nevertheless concluded: “In 2005 I still cannot name a single Muslim leader (or journalist or intellectual) who has publicly acknowledged the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a dispute between two legitimate national movements…..”

Quote: As an example, Pearl quotes comments made to him in early 2005 by an Egyptian scholar “noted for his liberal-minded and progressive beliefs”:

“The Jews should build themselves a Vatican, a spiritual centre somewhere near Jerusalem. But there is no place for a Jewish state in Palestine, not even a national-Jewish state. The Jews were driven out 2000 years ago, and that should be final, similar to the expulsion of the Moors from Spain 500 years ago….”

On this view, Israel should be “wiped from the map” as a Jewish nation and replaced by a small religious village.

For more see Beyond Images Briefing 145: Rejection of Israel in the Muslim World

The Palestinian ‘right of return’ is a sanitised version of “wiping Israel off the map….”

Palestinian spokesmen and leaders continue to demand an unconditional right of return into Israel for what they claim to be over four million Palestinian refugees. They never admit that the logical consequence of this demand would be the elimination of the State of Israel as a state for the Jewish people. Israel would be “wiped off the map”, by other means.  

For more see: Beyond Images Briefing 34 on the Palestinian Right of Return.

The call for a ‘binational Jewish-Arab state’ is a formula for “wiping Israel off the map….” by other means

Many Palestinians and Western sympathisers now call for a so-called binational Jewish-Arab state. Once again, they never explain that this is tantamount to the dismantling of the State of Israel. Nor do they explain how a ‘binational state’ is meant to be achieved when the entire Israeli Jewish population rejects the idea.

Calls for a ‘binational state’ are a sanitised, liberal-sounding, supposedly non-violent formula for “wiping Israel off the map” as a sovereign Jewish entity.


The call by Iran’s President for Israel to be “wiped off the map” was widely deplored, internationally.  But, regrettably, his words had an all-too-familiar ring for Israelis who yearn for peace and recognition in the region, but have instead had to face decades of hatred and rejection.  

Calls for Israel to be eliminated take many forms: from brazen threats of war by heads of state, to proposals by intellectuals for the Jewish state to be voluntarily dismantled as a sovereign nation.  

These calls are all ultimately built on the same idea: Israel as a sovereign nation for the Jewish people has no place anywhere in the Middle East.

Rejection of Israel remains at the very heart of the conflict. And, ironically, Iran’s President has drawn the attention of the world to this fundamental fact.      

Related Beyond Images resources

Briefing 6: Recognising Israel’s Right to Exist: Actions and Words