The importance of lexicon

The words we use are important, especially when explaining a situation or making an argument. Evidently, Israelis haven’t read Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass.” It was Humpty Dumpty who said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” A large part of Israel’s failure to gain the world’s understanding of the rights of Jews’ in Israel is down to ignoring Humpty Dumpty’s maxim. The outstanding example is the wide-spread acceptance of the term “West Bank” and the rejection of the place names Judea and Samaria.

What is the origin of the names Judea and Samaria? After the death of King Solomon in the 9th century BCE, Israel split into two kingdoms, the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Samaria was the capital of the Kingdom of Israel, which is often called the Kingdom of Samaria to differentiate it from the Southern Kingdom. About 722 BCE, Samaria/Israel was conquered by the Assyrians: “In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria…” (2 Kings 17.5-6)

Judah remained independent until about 586 BCE, when it was conquered by the Babylonians, who replaced the Assyrians as the regional power. (2 Kings 25:9-12). Later, Alexander the Great and then the Greeks controlled Judah, until the victory of the Maccabees, who began the Hasmonean dynasty (140 BCE – 63 CE). The Hasmoneans eventually became Roman puppet rulers. Judah was renamed Judea when it officially became a Roman province in 6 CE.

The names Judea and Samaria were in common use throughout the centuries as place names for areas of Palestine, a newer name which was applied to the area in 135 CE by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who renamed Judea, “Provincia Syria Palaestina,” in an attempt to erase the Jewish connotations of the region. When the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, used the name “Palestine” in the seminal, 1917 “Balfour Declaration,” all its inhabitants, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, became known as “Palestinians.” The Jews adopted the term and used it to describe themselves and their institutions, i.e. Bank of Palestine, The Palestine Post, etc.

The Arabs disdained the term and continued to call themselves Arabs, not Palestinians, and identified with their individual tribes. “There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not.” – Professor Philip Hitti, Arab historian

Judea and Samaria were commonly used during the 19th century to describe the hill country of Palestine. Probably the best know usage to modern readers is Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad” (1867). Ottoman, and then British records, used these familiar terms until the mid-20th century, as did the United Nations: General Assembly Resolution 181, known as the the UN Partition Plan for Palestine (November 29, 1947). This resolution contains the geographical description: “The boundary of the hill country of Samaria and Judea.”

What is the origin of the name West Bank? At the conclusion of Israel’s War of Independence in 1949, an armistice line – emphatically not a border – was established, and is still known informally as the Green Line. (That name derives from the line of green ink on the map dividing the territory of Palestine between Israel and Jordan, which occupied it.) Soon after, Transjordan’s King Abdullah1 changed his country’s name to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

In 1950, the territory west of the Jordan River which the king had conquered during the war with Israel was annexed and renamed the “West Bank.” King Abdullah1 used the same strategy as had the Roman Emperor Hadrian, after crushing the Jewish Revolt led by Bar-Kochba in 135 CE. Abdullah replaced the Jewish names, Judea-Samaria, and Judaea, respectively, with the non-Jewish “West Bank.” (During the 1967 Six Day War, Israel expelled Jordan from Judea and Samaria.)

Unfortunately, most of this information is esoteric. Nearly everyone believes that the hill country of Israel has been called the West Bank “from time immemorial” and that Judea and Samaria are archaic, “Biblical” place names, tinged with jingoism. This misunderstanding has vast importance in framing the debate about Israel’s borders.

By using the name West Bank (even by Israeli media and government figures) the identification of this Jewish, not Arab, land with the Arabs has become the standard. Adding to the confusion is that the Arabs began to adopt the name “Palestinians” for themselves in the 1960s.

“This name [Palestinian] was created by the Soviet disinformation masters in 1964 when they created the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The term ‘Palestinian People’ as a description of Arabs in Palestine appeared for the first time in the preamble of the 1964 PLO Charter, drafted in Moscow.” (

Conversely, the use of Judea and Samaria is thought to be a device of Jewish right wing “settlers,” who are abhorred by the West as interlopers on “Arab land.” To understand this, consider the misuse of “Occupied Territories,” “Occupied Palestine,” and similar labels. If Israel insisted on the legitimate usage of the common term Judea, instead of the recently-coined West Bank, it would be accurate to say, “Occupied Judea,” connoting that it’s the Arabs who are occupying Jewish land.

Today Jews live in Judea and Samaria, along with Arabs. Israelis are not occupying land that legitimately belongs to anyone else. The reasoning behind this statement is multi-faceted:
The Jews were given the land thousands of years ago in a Covenant with the Lord.
The Jews have lived in the land for 4,000 years and a remnant never left it.
The previous inhabitants (Canaanites) ceased to exist thousands of years ago.
The Jews had two independent kingdoms in the land, while the Arabs had no such kingdom.
The Jews have never stopped claiming Israel as their homeland, while the Muslims always treated it as a backwater.
The Jews accepted the 1947 UN Partition Plan, which divided Palestine between a Jewish and an Arab (not Palestinian) state, with an internationalized Jerusalem. The Yishuv (pre-state Israel) was immediately attacked by the surrounding Arab nations, who vehemently rejected the plan. The Jews won extra territory in a defensive war in 1948-49. The Jews won additional territory in a second defensive war in 1967.
The Arabs rejected declaring an Arab State in Palestine in 1947 and failed to establish a state even when Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria between 1949-1967.
National boundaries of existing states have commonly been set by military battles and their aftermath, ie. the southwestern border of the United States.

One might object to one or more of the above reasons for Israel’s legitimacy in Judea and Samaria and in the lowlands, but to dismiss all of them by accepting the Arab version of history is, in my opinion, misinformed.

Because Israel has allowed the Arabs to set the terms of reference by the use of “West Bank” (and “Arab land” or “Arab East Jerusalem), it has diminished Jewish legitimacy to the Land of Israel in the eyes of the media and the majority of media consumers.

“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less, Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone. The question is, said Alice, whether you can make words mean so many different things. The question is, said Humpty Dumpty, which is to be master — that’s all.” (

About the Author
Steve Kramer grew up in Atlantic City, graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1967, adopted the hippie lifestyle until 1973, then joined the family business for 15 years. Steve moved to Israel from Margate, NJ in 1991 with his family. He has written more than 1100 articles about Israel and Jews since making Aliyah. Steve and his wife Michal live in Kfar Saba.
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