On the trip to Israel in February our guide Sam gave us a map of Israel. The Israeli-published map from Sam describes complicated borders with the Palestinians on the interior of the country, as well as, differences from the UN-generated map describing the border with Syria to the north.
Geographically, Israel’s politics are A-B, but mostly -C, described in color-coded areas on the map below:
Lilac colored areas are under Palestinian control, Area A; blue colored areas (harder to see here) have both Israeli and Palestinian authorities as described in the Legend (quoted below), Area B; the balance of the map is under Israeli control. The map’s Legend explains it like this:
Area A – Palestinian responsibility for civil affairs, internal security and public order.
Area B – Palestinian responsibility for civil affairs and public order of Palestinians. Israeli responsibility for security of Israelis.
Our road trip from the southern tip of the Dead Sea took us north and westward into Area A, the West Bank. (Bethlehem, just a few miles south of Jerusalem is located in Area A.) We knew we were approaching area A when rolls of barbed wire protecting the boundary and a sign at the military checkpoint announced “Area A Entry Forbidden to Israeli Citizens.”
We had no trouble dealing with the several armed soldiers at the checkpoint because our guide, who is an Israeli, had applied for and was granted entree into Area A; he being a professional guide had his “papers” with him. We tourists were granted entree without showing any papers, mostly because the soldiers easily identified us as a tourist group, they knew Sam as a trusted guide and their government is dependent on tourist dollars.
The West Bank is so named because it is the geographic area on the western side–the west bank–of the Jordan River, just across the river from the Kingdom of Jordan occupied by the Palestinians. The roads are controlled by the Israeli government. (You can see on the map above that the lilac areas do not include the main highways.) Within the West Bank (Palestinian) are many towns populating the desert hillsides that are called “settlements;” these settlements are Israeli. They occur in blue areas on the map, Area B. In the English dictionary “settlement” means simply a place where people establish a community. In the mid-East, the definition is generally understood as: “. . . illegal houses built on illegal land” (information from Sam).
The word Palestine derives from Philistia, the name given by the Greeks to the land of the Philistines, who in the 12th century BCE occupied a small pocket of land on the southern Mediterranean coast, between modern Tel Aviv and Gaza. (The Gaza strip is still Palestinian, the lilac-colored small area on the southern Mediterranean coast, Area A.¹)
Biblical history provides the first prediction about how the Israeli/Palestinian relationship would develop. Exodus 13.17 (NIV) reads:
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.
The Philistines of the Old Testament are best known to us in the story of Sampson and Delilah from Judges 13-16.
The Roman emperor Hadrian first called the region of the Holy Land Palestine in the early second century CE. After the Romans were conquered the region continued to be called Palestine, the word gaining its current form from the Arabic during the early Islamic period (600s CE).
The name had no official status until after World War I. After that war, the region identified as Israel on the map above was called “Palestine” and was one of the regions mandated to and occupied by Great Britain as an outcome of that war. The mandate included the territory east of the Jordan River now constituting the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan.²
Of course, the word “Israel” comes from Abraham’s grandson Jacob who was renamed “Israel” when he stopped in the desert to worship God before meeting his estranged brother Esau. Jacob had 12 sons whose descendants became the nation Israel and were rescued from Egyptian bondage by Moses. Moses and the Israelites spent 40 years reaching the Promised Land of Canaan; ironically, wandering in the desert of Paran, the southern third of modern-day Israel. When they finally arrived in Canaan, they conquered all the Canaanite cities, and the region became theirs — Israel. Some few centuries later, Israel was divided into two, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Both were populated by descendants of Jacob. This was the political division for many centuries. When Jesus was born the area was Roman and the Bible refers to the area as Judea, Samaria and Galilee.
In post-war agreements in 1947, after massive immigration by the Jews fleeing Naziism during WWII, British occupying forces left the region, and Palestine was divided by the United Nations giving birth to the modern nation of Israel.²