Many right-wing Jews detest the term “West Bank.” They insist on “Judea and Samaria.”
I have never understood this insistence, however. Some claim “West Bank” implies that the area really belongs to Jordan. If anything, however, it implies the opposite. The term “West Bank” reminds us that the Jordan River also has an east bank that Moshe Rabbeinu gave to the tribes of Reuven and Gad and half the tribe of Menashe. In other words, it reminds us – or at least should remind us – of Jewish territory that is currently under foreign control.
None of our leaders – political or religious – advise launching a war of conquest to liberate the East Bank from Arab control, but that doesn’t make it any less ours. And perhaps in a future defensive war, under the right leadership, we should considering conquering it.
As matters stand now, most of us have completely abandoned the East Bank. Even the most radical Zionist of the last 70 years, Rabbi Meir Kahane, never had any ambitions to conquer the East Bank. He even publicly stated that he was willing to help establish a Palestinian state on the East Bank (for all the Arabs he wished to transfer out of Israel).
But the East Bank is ours, and the early Zionist movement recognized it as such. It bought land on the East Bank, and the official British Mandate for Palestine included this territory. In other words, both the West Bank and the East Bank were supposed to be part of the Jewish state that England promised the Zionist movement.
But in 1921, Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, peremptorily decided to give the East Bank to Abdullah I bin Al-Hussein (great-grandfather of Jordan’s present king). He did it, Churchill later boasted, “with the stroke of a pen, one Sunday afternoon.”
Soon thereafter, most Zionists gave up hope of the future Jewish state including the East Bank. The Revisionist Zionists, however, led by Ze’ev Jabotinsky and later Menachem Begin, never did. In fact, Irgun’s logo featured a Jewish state on both banks of the Jordan River with the motto “rak kach – only thus” beneath it. The Irgun never accepted England’s betrayal and demanded a Jewish state on both the west and east banks.
After the 1948 War of Independence – when we lost ancient Jerusalem and the entire West Bank – even right-wing Zionists apparently stopped dreaming of controlling the East Bank. But it remains ours all the same.
So yes, while the traditional name of the territories we liberated in 1967 is Judea and Samaria, the “West Bank” is a perfectly legitimate – and Zionist – name for the region as well. For every time the term is used, it recalls the long-abandoned East Bank, which we should never forget.
And when is the time is right, perhaps we should seek its return. Perhaps we can insist on applying sovereignty over portions of it in exchange for sitting down at a negotiation table with the Arabs. After all, why should the Arabs be the only ones demanding land for peace? We can play that game too.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the full editorial board of The Jewish Press.