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Reclaiming Judea and Samaria: Israel's Biblical Heartland

Jewish community in the 'West Bank' CBN News image

JERUSALEM, Israel – More than 430,000 Israelis live in Judea and Samaria, 750,000 if you include those living in eastern Jerusalem. It's an area much of the world calls the West Bank or "occupied territories."

Israel argues the land is not occupied but disputed because it never was a modern country and its status has never been resolved.

In 1967, Israel took back this area, known as its biblical heartland, in the Six-Day War.

"It wasn't just about a victory in the war," Sondra Oster Baras told CBN News. "This was a return to our roots."

The modern-day community of Beit-El, established in 1977, is home to some 6,500 Israelis. It's in the same area and named after its biblical ancestor, known in English as Bethel, the house of God.

Some 4,000 years ago, the Bible says Jacob dreamed of a ladder ascending to heaven and God appeared to him and promised the land of Israel to him and his descendants.

Settling the land wasn't easy. It was barren and rocky. Initially, the government didn't approve, but Israelis from all sides of the political and religious spectrum supported the idea.

"And I believe then almost all the population of Israel was with us," Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, one of the founders of Kiryat Arba and a former Knesset member, told CBN News.

The first settlement was Kfar Etzion, established in 1927, some 20 years before the establishment of the modern nation-state of Israel.

Arabs destroyed Kfar Etzion three times over the years. The 1948 siege led to the evacuation of women and children and an eventual massacre of the fighters left behind.

The young evacuees – like Jerry Katz – never lost hope they would one day return. In 1967, the government allowed them to do so.

"As little children we said that we gonna return," Katz recalled. "Like little children repeat stories all the time to make it (so). Maybe they think it's gonna become true and they repeat it, but this time it really did become true."

Even with this history, the so-called settlements remain under attack. While some of the communities are isolated, others are much closer to sometimes hostile Arab villages and cities.

Some are small. Others have thousands or tens of thousands of residents, commercial centers, schools and swimming pools.
If Israel gave up this land, especially Samaria, it would be just nine miles wide in some places. Military experts say the Jewish state would be indefensible.

"It's not the settlements that are a stumbling block for the people of the world, it's the establishment of the settlement of a Jewish state in the Middle East that is a stumbling block in the eyes of the nations of the world," Rabbi Waldman said.

Many supporters point out that almost all Israeli "settlements" are built on state, not private land. And there is confusion when Palestinians claim sovereignty there.

"It's very important to understand that personal property, ownership rights of the Arabs, have been completely respected. But we don't agree that they have sovereign rights to this land," Baras said.

At one time, many Israelis were ready to give up the land in return for the promise of peace. Now after Israel uprooted 21 Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip and four in the northwestern West Bank in the 2005 disengagement, they've changed their minds.

"The wake-up call has sent a message to all Israelis that settlements are not the root cause of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and certainly not an obstacle for peace," Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, former Israeli liaison to Congress in Washington, said. "The message to the terrorists has been that not only has terrorism paid off, but in fact you get more and more recognition by the international community."

Although the United States has had a long-standing policy against Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, Israel believes that may be changing under President Trump. Years ago, Trump even gave a donation to Beit El.

And while much of the world is still pushing Israel to give up its heartland, those who live there hope they can continue reclaiming their biblical heritage.

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