A consistent theme in Palestinian society is a rewriting of Jews out of the history of the region. Even as Mahmoud Abbas conducts “peace” negotiations with Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu, PA-run television aired a documentary on Rosh Hashanah in which, the camera panning to the Western Wall, the narrator explained, “[Israelis] know for certain that our [Arab] roots are deeper than their false history. We, from the balcony of our homes, look out over [Islamic] holiness and on sin and filth [the Jews praying at the Western Wall].”
According to a Fox News interview with Dennis Ross, former Middle East envoy of the Clinton administration, during the Camp David Accords, Bill Clinton stormed out in disgust as Yasser Arafat claimed that there had never been a Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Clearly, to Noah Lanard (“Words hurt,” Commentary, September 30), an attempt by Jews to reclaim their own history is “offensive” and “fear mongering.” In fact, according to his Hyde Park, “words hurt” – and most hurtful of these is the use of the historical terms Judea and Samaria.
The term “West Bank” has not, historically speaking, been in long use. Jordanian authorities coined the term 60 years ago after they conquered this territory during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. By contrast, Judea and Samaria have their origins in Biblical days and were used consistently until very recently.
As Yoram Ettinger, an Israeli diplomat, has written, “World-renowned travelers, historians, and archeologists of earlier centuries, such as H. B. Tristram (The Land of Israel, 1865), Mark Twain (Innocents Abroad, 1867), R. A. MacAlister and Masterman (‘Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly’), A. P. Stanley (Sinai and Palestine, 1887), E. Robinson and E. Smith (Biblical Researches in Palestine, 1841), C. W. Van de Velde (Peise durch Syrien und Paletsinea [sic], 1861), Felix Bovet (Voyage en Taire Sainte [sic], 1864) — as well as Encyclopædia Britannica and official British and Ottoman records (until 1950) refer to ‘Judea and Samaria’ and not to the ‘West Bank.’”
The Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria has continued unbroken to the present day, with the exception of various periods in which the occupying powers did not allow Jews to live there – for example, during Jordan’s illegal occupation from 1948 until 1967.
Following the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of the majority of Jews from the land of Israel, Hebron remained one of the centres of Jewish life in Israel, home to many important rabbis, yeshivot, and synagogues throughout history. It was only in 1929, following Arab riots throughout Israel, when 67 Jews were murdered in a pogrom in Hebron, that the community was destroyed, only to be rebuilt following Hebron’s liberation in 1967. The reason why Jews built settlements in Judea and Samaria following its liberation in 1967 was because the Arabs ethnically cleansed these lands of their Jews during the 1920s and 1930s.
Lanard may find the names “Judea and Samaria” offensive, but more offensive is the dangerous revision of Jewish history. Jews did not live there two thousand years ago, leave, and then show up again in 1967 demanding the Palestinians leave. Jews lived in the Judean and Samarian cities of Hebron, Bethlehem, and Shechem under Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Ottoman, and British rule. Advancing Arab armies during the 1948 war found Jews in Judea and Samaria.
If there is to be any hope for peace in the Middle East, it will come when the Arabs recognize the right and historical presence of the Jewish people in the land of Israel. This refusal, not Jews building homes in Judea and Samaria, makes any peaceful coexistence impossible.
Russell Sitrit-Leibovich is a U1 Political Science student and a senior fellow with Hasbara. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to an editorial error, an earlier version of this article neglected to mention Sitrit-Leibovich’s affiliation with Hasbara.