Commentary | The name is a justification

Using “Judea and Samaria” masks a land-grab

In response to “Revisionism Hurts” (Commentary, October 7), I would like to avoid the question of the Jews’ right to live in the land of Israel, within or without Judea and Samaria, and instead discuss the way articles like Russell Sitrit-Leibovich’s obfuscate and complicate the reality of modern-day Arab-Israeli politics.

Contrary to the majority of stories we read in the newspapers that focus on the use of religious propaganda, historical narrative, and negative hate speech, the issue of land involves mostly one thing: land. The land, and who it’s going to belong to, is key to the question of peace in the region. Names, religion, and historical right are tools wielded by both the Palestinians and the Israelis to create better arguments for land. When we cut away the fat from the carcass of this issue, we see that Israel is usurping land, and the Palestinians are becoming further disenfranchised, and effectively caged into smaller and smaller turfs. What might surprise the optimistic or uninitiated observer is that this is happening during the first direct peace talks in two years.

Consider Netanyahu’s desire for peace. Sitrit-Leibovich’s article blamed Palestine, as controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA), for a failed peace process doomed from its inception. Using the premise of Judea and Samaria, Sitrit-Leibovich says: “If there is any hope for peace in the Middle East, it will come when 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.” Who, of the two sides, is making this coexistence impossible? And who within the region has the capacity to build or destroy homes?
One of the few prerequisites for peace talks imposed by the PA, a restricted political party forcibly and illegally put into power by the U.S. and Israel, was the cessation of settlement building in the Occupied Territories. Considering that the active usurpation of land would mean that the terms of peace and land allotment would need to be perpetually renegotiated, this is a reasonable request. Despite the fact that many journalists and political pundits felt that Netanyahu had been pressured into the negotiations by the Obama administration, even American pressure paled in comparison with Israeli desire for land. For this reason, Netanyahu allowed the settlement freeze to lapse, abrogating the peace talks before they really even began.

The freeze on settlement building meant both symbolically and physically that the Palestinians would be recognized as having a right to a “presence” in Israel. The end of the settlement freeze revokes this right, revealing the blatant contradictions of Sitrit-Leibovich’s conclusion. Netanyahu, after letting the freeze lapse, offered to resume the already-confirmed-as-a-precondition settlement freeze at an even higher cost: that the PA acknowledges Israel as a Jewish state.

Since the PA already acknowledges the state of Israel, this may appear to be a battle concerning ideology alone; however, for the Palestinians it comes with real repercussions in terms of denaturalization and expulsion. The “Jewish state” is like “Judea and Samaria” – they are all religiously-charged terms that supposedly, by virtue of the Bible or Torah, eradicate the right of a people that aren’t Jewish to live on the land. Yet, as many Jews would point out, it isn’t “religion” that has given the right to settle or expunge, or moreover condoned it, but only those that covet the land.

Marie-Jeanne Berger is a U3 Middle Eastern Studies (Honours), Middle Eastern Studies Students’ Association co-president, and editor-in-chief of the McGill Middle Eastern Studies Journal. Write to her at marie.jeanne.berger@mail.mcgill.ca.


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