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May 26, 2010
The misnomer of the 'Occupied' West Bank
It has turned into an automatic Pavlovian part of the vocabulary of New York Times reporters and editors. "It," in this instance, is the West Bank. But notice that it never is merely the "West Bank." This geographic term clearly doesn't meet the ideological test of the paper's copy mavens.
No, the Times has forbidden its use. Without failing, it must be referred to as the "occupied West Bank." All three words have become obligatory
The latest example: A May 24 dispatch by Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem that tells readers that Noam Chomsky, a fierce critic of Israel, was "barred by Israel from entering the occupied West Bank."
Why append "occupied" to the West Bank when, under the Oslo agreements, Israel ceded effective control of major portions of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority? Why "occupied" when more than 90 percent of West Bank Palestinians are under PA rule? Why "occupied" when Palestinian mayors and councils govern West Bank cities and towns? Why "occupied" when the PA exercises full authority to name public places and public squares after terrorist killers? Would a real occupying power allow such discretion?
In 2004, after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the allied coalition handed authority over to the interim Iraqi government. Since then, the Times and other mainstream media no longer refer instinctively to "occupied Iraq." But long after the PA gained local control, the Times still insists that the West Bank remains "occupied."
There's another reason why "occupied," when referring to the West Bank, is unreal. "Occupied" infers that Israel has no claim to the West Bank, in part or in whole, and that it took over the territory from some previous, legitimate owner like the Palestinians. But the Palestinians never exercised sovereign authority over the West Bank. So, occasionally, the Times will refer to the "occupied West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan." But that's not satisfactory either, since Jordan seized this territory in a war of aggression against Israel in 1948 and Jordan's 19-year occupation was never recognized internationally.
In fact, since the demise of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the West Bank has been in limbo in terms of who eventually might become its sovereign. If anything, while the West Bank remains disputed territory, Israel has superior claims to sovereignty since the West Bank was part of the British Mandate of Palestine, recognized under the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations, as an eventual "national" home of the Jewish people.
The reason the Times ignores all this history and these legalisms is that its coverage follows its own ideological agenda -- that Jews have no business in the West Bank, that in the superior wisdom of the Times, it belong to the Palestinians,who should be free to rule there as a sovereign and turn it into a Judenrein piece of real estate.
The irony of ironies, given long-standing Jewish rights to this piece of land, is that even "West Bank" as a stand-alone formulation reflects such ethnic cleansing. Until Jordan captured this territory and occupied it for 19 years, it was known for thousands of years as Judea and Samaria. "Judea" is first mentioned in the book of Joshua and "Samaria" in the annals of King Jeroboam, the first monarch of the northern breakaway tribes after the death of King Solomon.
It was Jordan, post-1948, that renamed Judea and Samaria "West Bank" and the term stuck with Western media, which gladly obliged Jordan in erasing Jewish history from this land. "West Bank" is a convenient term to ignore the presence of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Judaism's second holiest site. It's a convenient way of camouflaging the presence of Rachel's Tomb near Bethlehem, Joseph's Tomb near Nablus and countless other Jewish biblical places -- all in the West Bank.
So what would be a fairly accurate way of describing the West Bank? Well, taking a leaf from the Times, I would refer to it as "the West Bank, known to Jews as Judea and Samaria." After all, Kerhsner and other Times correspondents, when referring to Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest shrine, find it politically correct to describe it as "the Temple Mount, or the Noble Sanctuary, a site holy to both Muslims and Jews."
Since the Times readily defers to Muslim sensibilities, shouldn't it show equal deference to Jewish sensibilities? If it's OK to accord Muslims parity with Jews in describing Temple Mount, why not similarly accord parity to Jews when referring to the West Bank?