What to Call the 'West Bank'.

Author:Guttman, Nathan

Back in 2014, then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was considered a leading Republican candidate for president when he flew out to Las Vegas for the so-called Republican Jewish primary, hosted by gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson. In a speech describing his admiration for Israel, Christie mentioned a recent trip he had gone on with his family to the Jewish state. "I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day," he said. The audience of hundreds of Republican Jewish donors gasped. Christie had used the words "occupied territories," a term rejected by Adelson and other pro-settler Zionists who believe it gives the Palestinian cause validity. Although Christie quickly apologized to Adelson, the faux pas is considered one of several factors that doomed the governor's bid for the nomination.

Had Christie done his homework, he would have known that Adelson's preferred term is Judea and Samaria, the biblical names for the region during the Second Temple period (530 BCE-70 CE). The southern part of the land was Judea, named after the tribe of Judah; the northern part, Samaria, later became a separate kingdom. But in Christie's defense, what to call the 2,173 square-mile piece of rugged terrain that came under Israeli control during the Six-Day War is confusing to the average American--Jewish or not--and in the year and a half since the Trump administration took over, the decision has only become more fraught.

The Occupied Territories, the West Bank and Judea and Samaria are the most common terms. But like the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the history of these terms is complicated. Pre-1967, when the land was under Jordanian rule, it was known as the West Bank, since it was west of the Jordan River. (Even then, a tiny minority of extremist religious Jews referred to it as Judea and Samaria.) The 1967 Israeli military order to take over the territory was titled "Occupation of the West Bank." For everyday use, Israelis generally deferred to "the territories" or ha'shtachim, a shorter and more neutral-sounding version of what was then the official Occupied Territories. The United Nations, immediately after the 1967 war, adapted this to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, a term it still uses. The U.S. State Department called the same area the West Bank, although it refers to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East...

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