For as long as I can remember I have, until recently, always referred to the area known as Judea and Samaria as the “West Bank,” or the “Occupied Territories,” or its Hebrew equivalent, “the Shtachim.” More recently I started to refer to the area as the “disputed territories,” as this appeared as a good alternative to not using the term “occupied.” It seemed to be more acceptable to both supporters on the “left” and “right” of Israeli politics when referring to the area of land that came under Israeli control following the defensive Six Day War. Yet even this term is problematic. Left, right, centralist, anyone who is pro-Israel, anyone who is a Zionist should start using the term “Judea and Samaria,” and I’ll explain why.
The use of term “occupied territories” with regards to the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict became a widely used term by centralist and left wing Zionists in the ’80s at a time when political correctness was high on many people’s agenda. And so for the Left and Centre of Zionist politics, the term become a politically correct way to acknowledge Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria whilst also recognising Palestinian rights. At the same time, the term “Judea and Samaria” become the domain of the Zionist Right and often of the Modern Orthodox Zionist movement. Just as what type of kippah (skull cap) a religious Jewish male was wearing became a symbol of their political view, so did the decision to use the term “occupied territories” or “Judea and Samaria”.
Yet, whilst guilty myself of falling into this self-defining politically motivated assessment, we have unwittingly feed into the narrative of the anti-Israel movement and the those wishing to delegitimise any Jewish connection to Judea and Samaria. The consistent use of the term “Occupied Territories” and in our attempt to empathise with Palestinian rights has led to many in the Zionist community to, intentionally or not, ignore the deep rooted Jewish connection to the area. Not only is the term “Judea and Samaria” the historical name given to this part of the Middle East, just as is the case for the areas known as the Arabian Peninsula or Mesopotamia, but it is also the areas of key historical Jewish importance.
Judea and Samaria is where we have the Cave of the Patriachs in Hebron — the resting place of Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah, and where Jews also believe that Adam and Eve are buried, and it is also where David was anointed king. We have Rachel’s tomb in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David, the city of Shechem (now known as Nablus) where Abraham first set foot in the land of Israel, and where Jacob and his family settled after returning from Padan Aram, whilst just outside of Nablus is Joseph’s tomb. There is Shiloh in the heart of Samaria, which is where the ancient Tabernacle (the Holy Sanctuary) stood for about 400 years during the era of the Judges. And then of course we have Jerusalem itself. The site of King David’s City (David’s Citadel), the place where the binding of Isaac took place, the site of the First and Second Temples, the place where the Bar Kochva revolt happened between 132 and 136 CE (AD). I could go on.
By using the term “occupied territories” or even “disputed territories,” we have helped feed the false narrative that the Jews do not have any rights to the land, let alone have the audacity to live there. We have inadvertently helped advance the incorrect notion that we have no connection to the area, that the “West Bank”, as it became known after Jordan occupied it between 1948 and 1967, is purely the domain of the Palestinian Arabs. That is not to say that Palestinian Arabs do not have any connections either, only that it is not an all or nothing scenario. We have to be clear and honest to ourselves and those we speak to that we have a very strong historical and spiritual connection to the land. That the Jews have the same indigenous connection and rights to the area as do the Aborigine in Australia, the Cherokee of South-Eastern USA, or the Maori in New Zealand, a connection which was even acknowledged in Article 80 of the United Nations during the San Remo Conference in 1920.
Language and semantics play in important role in our lives, no more so than when it comes to Israel. So in order to ensure that the Jewish connection to Judea and Samaria is not lost or forgotten all of us who believe in Zionism, ie the rights of the Jewish people to self-determination in our historical homeland, whether on the far left or the far right of Israeli politics and anywhere in between, should de-politicise the terminology of “Occupied Territories” and “Disputed Territories” and should start referring to the area as it has been known for centuries — Judea and Samaria.