Times of Israel Pushes West Bank Over Judea and Samaria
In today’s edition of the Times of Israel (TOI), an article talks about an incident happening in the ‘West Bank’. Granted, the article appears below-the-fold, an Internet term meaning that it is not what visitors to the site first see when they open the site, but anyone who browses the site or who finds the article shared on social media will be greeted by a headline that implies that the West Bank is a real place name:
We have all got used to/inured to the use of the term ‘Palestinian’ and it makes sense to refer thus to those Arabs living in the Palestinian Authority (PA). When the term is used to label Arab citizens of Israel, it is a perjorative that hints at a desire that Israel cease to exist as a Jewish state. I have not (yet) examined the use of ‘Palestinian’, whether hyphenated (Palestinian-Israeli) or not, when referring to the Arab citizens of Israel on the pages of TOI.
But ‘West Bank’? That is a term that should have been set aside long ago, at least in Israeli journalism, with the demise of the Jordanian occupation of the region. West Bank was never a term indicating a political entity, but a descriptive one – the west bank of the Jordan River, similar to the south bank of the St. Lawrence River. Continual use of the term in Israeli journalism reifies it as if it is historically correct. It is not. And the Israeli press should not be giving in to the lie perpetuated by those who want to see Jews lose control of our land.
The So-Called West Bank in History
The region has been known as Judea and Samaria since Biblical times, after the break-up of the Jewish kingdom into two, the former being the southern kingdom and the latter the northern one. You cannot find the term ‘west bank’ either as a political term or even a geographical one until Jordan called it that in order to disconnect it from its Jewish history. They seem to have taken a page out of the Roman Empire guidelines for destroying the Jews (Remember, the Romans renamed our land ‘Palestine’ after one of our worst enemies of Biblical times, the Pleshtim, invaders from the Aegean, a name that has stuck, unfortunately, just as the term ‘west bank’ has stuck, albeit for a much shorter time so far.)
Interestingly, even in the 1947 Partition Plan, there is no mention of the term ‘west bank’. Boundaries of the proposed Jewish and Arab states (note that they say Arab state and not Palestinian) are defined by reference to the true historic name:
The boundary of the hill country of Samaria and Judea starts on the Jordan River at the Wadi Malih. . .
— IsraelNetwork (@israelnetwork) January 5, 2015
TOI and the West Bank versus Judea and Samaria
Given this history, I was curious about how often TOI used the term ‘West Bank’ versus how often they used the term Judea and Samaria in their articles. This is easy enough to do using the search function on their site. TOI used the former 64,900 times and the latter 6480 times. But this latter figure is deceptive in that they used BOTH terms in single articles 5830 times. That means that only 650 articles on their site use the correct name for Judea and Samaria exclusively.
They have a special news section dedicated to the ‘Judea and Samaria District’. Even in this section, the articles write about the ‘West Bank’. For example:
The deceased was later identified as Ahuvia Sandak, from the southern West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin.
If a large Israeli news website refers to Bat Ayin as a West Bank settlement rather than as a community (it is too small to be called a village) in Judea and Samaria, then we cannot expect the world to do otherwise.
In their ‘West Bank’ section, they even have a category labelled ‘West Bank Settlements’ referring to the Jewish communities and villages. This leaves no doubt regarding the political views of the owner and editors of the news site.
Do other Israeli news websites fare differently on this point?
The Jerusalem Post (JPost) does not provide us with numbers of articles drawn by a search so I had to use Google to see if there is a difference in use of the two terms. Google provided 33,600,000 hits for the West Bank and 657,000 for Judea and Samaria (These numbers are greatly inflated but what is important is the relative, not absolute, numbers.). Of the latter, 429,000 included reference to both J&S and the WB (thus a small number of articles use J&S exclusivesly). For example, in an article concerned with the extension of Israeli law to Judea and Samaria, the headline reads:
Some people, of course, only read headlines so the use of both ‘West Bank’ and ‘annexation’ in the headline continue the lie that Israel has no legal right to Judea and Samaria. The word, annexation, merits a separate article on its own.
JPost, like TOI, has categories on their sites labelled ‘West Bank’ and ‘Judea and Samaria’. This suggests an equivalence between the two names.
The other Israeli news sites in English that I checked did not have reliable search functions and the Google searches were likewise not helpful so I cannot say anything about them The one exception was the right leaning site Arutz Sheva (Israel National News). They did have articles using the term ‘West Bank’ but they put it in scare quotes or they added it in brackets after writing Judea and Samaria, indicating that J&S is also known by many as the WB.
The Name and Politics
The two terms are not synonymous. Using either has become a political statement when there should be no politics involved in using the correct name for a location on the map. Moreover, one would expect that Israelis who care about the country would at least properly name parts of the land upon which our history developed millenia ago, even if they believe in giving up some of this land for a peace deal. I do not believe that true peace can be built upon lies. It is possible to call Judea and Samaria by that name and still believe in the two-state-solution. As I wrote in an article in 2016:
It is one of the tools of occupation to replace indigenous place names with colonial ones. The West Bank is a colonial occupation label for the indigenous territory Judea and Samaria. Before we can engage in any peace negotiations, the facts on the ground must be accurate in order to have an even playing field. Names are important. While the rest of the world may not agree, let us at least refer to our own historical sites by their true names. Then we can argue about whether or not to give them up in exchange for peace. Only then.
Five years ago, Aryeh Green, writing on the Israel Forever Foundation site had the same idea:
Describing this area as the “West Bank” is a political act, as much as many would say “but that’s what everyone calls it”. So went the argument against returning to a (historically more rigorous and justifiable) use of the names Myanmar, Sri Lanka, etc. Just because Jordan used the term to assert its claim for the ‘other’ side of the river and it was adopted by the Arabs and then most of the rest of the world is no excuse.
It is well past time for Israel to insist on the proper naming of this most important region in Jewish political and spiritual history. Given the propaganda war for the consciousness of peoples around the globe, this is not an insignificant matter. Letters to the editor, shaming and calling out the news sites on this issue just do not seem to have any effect at all. Perhaps the Knesset can pass a law insisting on it in publications based in our own land. Not in the current coalition, however. So we must just keep harping on the matter wherever we can. Spinning our wheels in the dust? Perhaps. But let us keep on calling them out on the mis-naming. And make sure we do not use the WB shortcut in our own private conversations.