An Eye-Opening Trip Through Samaria
I traveled to Samaria (Shomron in Hebrew) recently. Wikipedia tells us Samaria “is a historical and biblical name used for the central region of ancient Palestine, bordered by Galilee to the north and Judaea to the south.” Most of the world simply refers to this area as the West Bank.
But think about that paragraph for a moment. This was a region in ancient Palestine that was inhabited by the Jewish people since the conquest of the Canaanites, roughly 3,000 years ago. The Palestinians sometimes make the specious claim that they are descendants of the Canaanites, but their arrival was, at the earliest, after the founding of Islam, when Arabs left the Arabian Peninsula and began conquering the surrounding lands.
The people who now refer to themselves as Palestinians are primarily from families that immigrated to Palestine in the early 20th century, many of whom came there to take advantage of the favorable conditions (e.g., a strong economy and better health care) created by the Jewish pioneers.
Anyone who refers to this area as Samaria or uses the name Judea to describe the area to the south is immediately written off as a right-wing zealot who believes that all of the land belongs to the Jewish people. But these people are only accurately describing the geography. “West Bank” denotes the area relative to the Jordan River.
Driving through Shomron, the first thoughts that usually occur to me are how desolate and vacant it is. I suspect that most people who hear that more than one million (some claim two million) Palestinians live in Judea and Samaria imagine the area as a collection of metropolises adjacent to each other, like cities along the east coast of the United States. Given that image, it is not surprising that many people are horrified when they hear that Israel is building new communities — settlements — in the area, because these communities must surely force out Palestinians already living there.
But this is not the case. With the exception of a few large cities, such as Ramallah and Nablus, most Palestinians live in small, isolated villages and towns. The Jewish communities, also mostly small, are often equally remote. Sometimes Jews and Arabs are close enough to see each other’s homes and fields, but they are not abutting each other.
The view from the road is mostly rolling, rocky hills, with occasional groves of olive or fruit trees. When you enter some of the larger, older settlements, you discover oases filled with trees, green space, playgrounds, synagogues, schools, and social centers. Close-knit communities have developed, and residents enjoy a comfortable lifestyle a short drive from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
My wife and I visited the lovely home of our tour guide in the community of Havot Yair. It was a mansion compared to where most people live in the big cities. Instead of cramped apartments, many of the settlers live in lovely single-family homes for a fraction of what they would pay for a couple of bedrooms in a high-rise in Tel Aviv.
We also drove through the industrial zone in Barkan just outside Ariel. I was told it employs 4,000 Palestinians. They are protected by the same labor laws as Israeli employees and make significantly more money than they could in Palestinian-run businesses. You can be sure that none of them support the BDS movement and you can be equally sure that BDS advocates do not care if they ruin those Palestinians’ lives by forcing them to give up their jobs.
Visiting Har Gerizim, it was possible to overlook the city of Nablus, Shechem in Hebrew. Again, a few things were striking.
First, the nearby settlements were high on a hill above the city and in no way did they harm the Palestinians living below.
Second, Nablus is growing. While international critics become hysterical when Israel considers constructing a new home in Samaria, the world is silent while Palestinians build as much as they want on disputed territory.
Third, you can see Joseph’s Tomb in the heart of the city. The Palestinians are obligated to allow Jews to visit the shrine and protect it, but Jews do not have unfettered access to this holy place — something that Palestinians demand of their sacred sites. Worse, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has allowed the tomb to be repeatedly attacked and desecrated.
Fourth, the Balata refugee camp in Nablus is easily visible from the overlook, which raises the question: Why does this camp exist? The Palestinians have been in control of the city for more than 20 years and yet have done nothing to eliminate this slum where 27,000 people live in poverty.
The PA has received billions of dollars, but has not spent a single dollar to build permanent housing so that the “refugees” can escape their squalor. Instead of spending 7% of its budget to pay salaries to terrorists in Israeli prisons and the families of suicide bombers, the PA could be improving the lives of their people in Balata. The PA prefers, however, to keep the camp open to promote festering hatred of Israel and serve as an incubator for terrorists.
Meanwhile, the champions of the Palestinian cause remain silent. Unless Israel can somehow be blamed, the denial of the Palestinians’ human rights does not interest them.
The Palestinians’ demand for the land in Judea and Samaria is based on nothing more than their desire to have it for a state. Wanting something is not the same as being entitled to it. No Palestinian state has ever existed. The Palestinians never had sovereignty over the land, so it could not have been taken from them. Israel is under no obligation to turn over any more land or authority to them than what was mutually agreed to in the Oslo Accords.
Sadly, the Palestinians show no sign of being satisfied with controlling the West Bank. Their maps and rhetoric indicate that they believe all of Israel should be theirs. The questions for Israelis remain whether they believe peace can be achieved by sacrificing their claim to part of the land, whether a peace that cannot be assured for the long-term is worth the cost, and whether continued settlement — and possibly annexation — of Judea and Samaria will make them safer without jeopardizing their democratic and Jewish values.
Mitchell Bard, Executive Director of AICE and Jewish Virtual Library, has written 24 books including: The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews, and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.