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What’s In A Name: Judea and Samaria
by Hugh Fitzgerald
In 1950, the government of Jordan, having seized that part of “Palestine” that had been known in the Western world for 3,000 years as “Judea” and “Samaria,” wanted to efface, as best it could, the Jewish connection to that land. It decided that those areas would from now on be known as “the West Bank.” In doing this, Jordan was emulating the Romans who, when they conquered the Jewish “Kingdom of Judea,” decided to rename it “Syria Palestina” — “Palestinian Syria” – which then became shortened to “Palestine.” The Romans also renamed Jerusalem “Aelia Capitolina,” but that toponym, fortunately, never caught on, and for the non-Muslim world, Jerusalem remained Jerusalem.
More on the significance of the widespread use of the toponym “the West Bank” is here: “Why Rename Judea and Samaria?,” by Dov Fischer, JNS.org, August 22, 2021:
There is good reason that the Arab world and the anti-Israel left insist on using the mendacious and geographically inaccurate term “West Bank” when they refer to Judea and Samaria.
It is not only the Arab world that now uses the term “West Bank,” but the entire world. It has been an astonishing propaganda success. It is as if, in 1950, the whole world suffered sudden amnesia, forgetting the millennial-old “Judea and Samaria” and immediately adopting instead the toponym “the West Bank.” In place names, the word “bank” ordinarily refers to a territory that is of a similar width all along the length of a river (cf. “the Left Bank” of the Seine, in Paris), but the “West Bank,” as a glance at the map shows, is a most irregular, ear-shaped area.
Think about it: Imagine a human-rights movement built around the slogan: Ban Arabs from Arabia! Such a slogan and movement would raise many questions. For instance, where else would Arabs have a right to be if not Arabia, and who could have a greater claim to Arabia than Arabs?
Although freedom-loving Americans have endless reasons to squirm when contemplating Saudi Arabia (as do freedom-hating Americans), we all tend to agree that Arabs who want to live there have an assumed right to do so. Arabia for Arabs.
India for Indians. Russia for Russians. Mongolia for Mongolians—some outer, some inner. Austria for Austrians. Guatemala for Guatemalans. Cuba for Cubans. Sounds right.
Somewhere along the litany it would make sense to say: Yehuda for Yehudim—i.e., Judea for Jews. Even antisemites would find it hard to get behind slogans such as “Ban Jews from Judea! Jews Never Lived in Judea!” The Jews (Yehudim in Hebrew) of the tribe of Judah (Yehudah) gave the land of Yehudah its name: Judea, as transliterated in the King James Version of the Bible.
It has “always been preposterous to call Judea and Samaria the “West Bank.” Think of the most famous locations in the Bible: Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Beth El, Jericho, Shiloh, Shechem (Nablus), Galilee, Tekoa—all the places where the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs, the kings and prophets walked and lived. Jesus and the Apostles, too. Their lives all centered in Judea and in Samaria. Those terms are all over the Bible, with more than 100 mentions just of “Samaria” in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and in the Christian Gospels.
All of these Biblical names of cities in Judea and Samaria – Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, Galilee, and so on – have remained in use until today. The Jordanians did not attempt to rename these places so as to “de-Judaize” them, but were content to limit themselves to renaming the whole territory of Judea and Samaria as the “West Bank.”
In those days there was no Tel Aviv, no Herzliya, no Haifa, no Netanya. Sure, the Zionists occupied those lands, too. But it was in the cities of Judea and Samaria that the seeds of Western civilization were planted and took root.
Visit virtually any of the 140 Jewish communities where 800,000 Jews now reside in Judea and Samaria, and you will not see any river banks. It is not like Jersey City, New Jersey, which is on the west bank of the Hudson River. No one calls Jersey City “the West Bank.” Why not? Too much history there? Too many biblical memories of Moses and Aaron buying shoes at Journal Square or using the PATH trains at the Grove Street station?
The Arab world and their woke allies have no problem calling every other location in the Middle East by their biblical names: Beersheva, Galilee, Jordan River, Gaza, Damascus, Lebanon, Tyre, Sidon and of course Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem and Nazareth. Even Americans comfortably employ biblical names for so many of their cities: Hebron, Maryland; the Jericho Turnpike, New York; Bethel, Indiana; the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee; Manassas (Menashe), Virginia.
Judea and Samaria—Yehuda and Shomron—should be called by their real names and not by the ersatz woke term that seeks to divest 800,000 Jews now living there of their heritage and of their land. When a newborn child is due to arrive, think of the hours, the contemplating, even the inter-family wrangling and negotiating that often precede naming the newcomer. Names have great power and meaning. That is why Israel’s enemies call Judea and Samaria “The West Bank.”
And why we should call it Judea and Samaria.
To emphasize the thousands of years of the Jewish connection to, and presence in, what we have absurdly been persuaded to call the “West Bank,” Israeli leaders and government spokesmen have to insist, in their every reference to the area, on using the terms “Judea” and “Samaria.” So should all those who, not necessarily pro-Israel, simply care for historical accuracy, and deplore the effacing, for propagandistic purposes, of those ancient toponyms. And the next time there is an anti-Israel resolution being considered for adoption by the UN General Assembly, the Israeli and American ambassadors should take the lead in insisting that the place names “Judea and Samaria” be employed, ideally instead of, but more likely alongside, as an alternative designation, the “West Bank.”
The battle to efface the “West Bank” could also be taken up in Congress, where a bill requiring the American government – especially important for the State Department’s communiques — to use the terms “Judea and Samaria” could be passed. Imagine the effect if President Biden and Secretary Blinken started to speak about “Judea and Samaria.” E.g.: “In our meetings with Prime Minister Bennett, we discussed the recent troubles in Judea and Samaria.” Or: “No matter what the final agreement for a two-state solution turns out to be, the Jewish cities in Judea and Samaria will undoubtedly remain as part of Israel.”
By dint of repetition, the Arab-invented “West Bank” took sinister root. By dint of repetition of the Biblical place names, the “West Bank” can fall into desuetude, and be replaced, as it should be, by the 3,000-year-old “Judea and Samaria.”
First published in Jihad Watch.