The world calls it the West Bank. But the 350,000-plus Israelis living here use the region’s biblical name: Judea and Samaria.
According to a recent United Nations report, international law calls for Israel to evacuate all existing settlements and dismantle Jewish communities in the eastern half of Jerusalem.
The U.N. considers all the neighborhoods in Judea and Samaria “illegal” settlements that will one day be included in a Palestinian state.
Global pressure to hand this territory over to the Palestinians is mounting against Israel by the day, including tough words from the Obama administration.
A Thriving Community
Yet on a recent tour of Judea and Samaria, CBN News found a much different picture than what is often portrayed in the media and world forums.
“The Jewish communities here in the Shomron are thriving, are building, are growing,” David Ha’ivri, spokesman for the Shomron Regional Council in Samaria, told CBN News.
“The population is growing. We’re growing at four times greater, five times greater, than the national average in Israel,” he said.
Haivri said a growing number of Israelis are relocating to the area for the same reasons Americans move from the city to the suburbs: family friendly communities, fresh air, and land at affordable prices.
“Young families who wish to establish themselves and raise children look around and say, ‘Where are we going to get a good standard of living?'” Ha’ivri said. “It’s beautiful scenery. We’re out here on the mountains. It’s great weather. It’s cool in the summer.”
“But aside from that, and even more important, there’s a godly process of fulfilling prophecy that’s beyond explanation,” Ha’ivri told CBN News. “The prophets promised that the children of Israel would return to these mountains and rebuild these Jewish cities and Jewish towns. And that’s what happening.”
While Ha’ivri, like many here, is an observant Jew, 60 percent of those living in Samaria are secular.
Ariel University is the region’s educational hub and its 16,000 students come from all backgrounds. Arab students here are free to wear Muslim religious attire and they study alongside Jews.
CBN News found a similar story at the nearby Barkan Industrial Park, home to some 150 businesses where Israelis work side-by-side with their Palestinian neighbors.
An Arab working in these businesses makes double or three times as much, in some cases, as he would make working for the Palestinian Authority in the Palestinian areas.
Palestinian workers at Barkan also receive full benefits, full vacation time and the ability to move up the ladder into a supervisory or management position.
Targets for Terror
Life here is not without its challenges. The Jewish communities of Samaria are frequent targets for Palestinian terror attacks.
The 2011 massacre of Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their small children in the Samarian town of Itamar was one horrific example. They were murdered in their sleep by two local Palestinians.
Further south, in the Judean city of Hebron, the situation is also difficult.
“There are security threats, security problems we have to deal with here,” David Wilder, spokesman for Hebron’s small Jewish community, told CBN News.
“During the second intifada [armed Palestinian uprising], we were shot at for two and half years here. There are still terrorist attacks here,” he said.
Hebron, which is mostly Palestinian Arab, is home to Judaism’s second holiest site: the Cave of the Patriarchs, also known as the Cave of Machpela. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca, Sarah, and Leah — the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Land of Israel and of the Bible — are all buried in Hebron.
It was also the city where King David ruled for seven years before moving his kingdom to Jerusalem.
“You cannot let terrorism determine how you live and where you live if you know that this is your home and this is where you are supposed to be. What can be more normal for a Jew than living in the city of Hebron?” Wilder said.
In withdrawing from Judea and Samaria, Israel would not only be giving up a huge part of its past, it could be harming its future.
“God forbid, Palestinian terrorists, Hamas terrorists, would be standing here,” Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s minister of Public Diplomacy, said. “They would basically be in total control. And they won’t need long-range missiles. They could reach basically to every town and city in this area.”
Edelstein, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, lives not far from Jerusalem in the Judean town of Gush Etzion, another area the U.N. wants cleared of Jews.
“I know that strategically, many things have changed in modern war,” Edelstein told CBN News. “But on the other hand, without our total control here in these areas, I don’t think we’d be able even to run a normal country.”
A Warning for the US
Edelstein told CBN News some of the same forces that oppose Israel’s presence in these areas are also hostile to the United States.
“If the bad guys can do it to Israel as a democracy and turn us into demons and apartheid and fascists, you name it — basically, they can do it to every democracy, United States included,” Edelstein said.
President Obama will make his first presidential visit to Israel in March. Discussions over the future of Judea and Samaria are sure to be on his agenda with Israel’s prime minister.