Russell Sitrit-Leibovich is right: the names we use for geographic regions have a tremendous influence on political realities. All that we need to do is take a cursory glance at relations between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia and we will see just how true this is. Sitrit-Leibovich raises important questions in his recent piece on the names of the West Bank by investigating the genealogies of the multitude of names we have for places in Palestine. However, what he forgot to do was to ask from where the name “Judea and Samaria” originated and, historically, who used it.
Sitrit-Leibovich provides an extremely telling portrayal of just who knew the region we know now as the West Bank as Judea and Samaria. He lists eminent travellers and intellectuals such as H. B. Tristram, Mark Twain, A. P. Stanley, and Felix Bovet. There is an important commonality between all these thinkers: not a one of them was Arab. While Westerners were using the term “Judea and Samaria,” the majority of that region’s inhabitants were calling it “al-Ard ul-Muqaddasah.” It is as preposterous to assert that the historical exonym for the West Bank is its correct appellation as it would be to tell Germans that they are wrong to call their country “Deutschland” and not “Germany.”
The term “Judea and Samaria” may have a long history among foreigners to the region. But when the Palestinian people reject the names given to their lands by their occupiers, they are not the ones engaging in massive revisionism. True, the term “the West Bank” may be much younger than “Judea and Samaria.” However, “the West Bank” has the considerable advantage of being the term that the majority of its inhabitants prefer.