By Sondra Oster Baras
May 19, 2020
I was a child in the US in 1967, but I remember vividly the excitement that we all felt when Jerusalem was liberated. And the talk in my house, school and synagogue, was all about the new / ancient places that Jews were now free to visit – Hebron, Shiloh, the mountains of Judea and Samaria. But the excitement was immediately muted by widespread international criticism of Israel for “occupying” Arab territory.
Just a few months later, the daughter of a family friend who was in Israel for the year, studying at Hebrew University, joined a group of young people who were settling in Hebron. These brave pioneers were returning to an ancient Biblical city that had been the center of Jewish life for hundreds of years until 1929, when Arabs massacred hundreds of Jews and the British evacuated the survivors. I knew that young woman – she had been my babysitter – and I was enthralled by the miracle of it all. Imagine, I kept saying to myself, Jews are living in Hebron once again. Jews are making their homes in the very same place where Abraham and Sarah lived and where they and their children and grandchildren are buried.
Much has happened over the years and the initial voices of opposition to Israeli control over these Biblical areas have only grown louder. But, at the same time, Jews have indeed returned to these areas. What began as a handful of brave pioneers has now grown to nearly half a million Jews living and building cities, towns and communities in the Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria. But for me, that same child-like innocence that greeted these developments with excitement has never changed. I and my fellow Jews living in these areas believe strongly that we have not conquered another nation but have returned to the center of our ancient land, settling the land that is ours, that does not rightfully belong to anyone else.
Unfortunately, the legal situation of these areas have long been debated in the United Nations and in the halls of governments everywhere. And while international law clearly supports Israel’s claim to the area, Israel has long hesitated to assert that claim in a definitive, legal way. The entire area of Judea and Samaria (often referred to as the “West Bank”) has been under Israeli military administration and the local Arab residents are not citizens of Israel. Since the advent of the Oslo Process and the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1993, the overwhelming majority of the Arabs living in Judea and Samaria have come under the jurisdiction of the PA.
Israel remained ambivalent for years regarding the ultimate status of this area and attempted repeatedly to reach a peace agreement with the local Arabs. The Oslo Process transferred vast sections of land to the PA, in an arrangement more closely resembling autonomy than statehood. But today, for the first time since 1967, the Israeli government is calling for annexation of part of Judea and Samaria, while the current American government has expressed support for this move.
As a Jew who strongly believes in the word of God, there is no question that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. I don’t need legal actions to prove that. However, the extension of Israeli sovereignty over these areas represents a significant statement on the part of the State of Israel that we intend to hold on to these areas forever. For years, journalists and politicians alike have called upon Israel to “dismantle the settlements” as if they were lego-lands that could be broken up and discarded at will. They have purposely ignored the reality of Jewish life in this area, replete with businesses, schools, colleges, synagogues and centers of culture. Israel has offered tepid assertions at best that we had returned to our native homeland. And that ambivalence has encouraged our Arab neighbors to cling to their hope that one day, we will, indeed, leave the area.
No more. In extending Israeli sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria, we are asserting the Biblical and historical truth of the Jewish claim to the land, dating back 4,000 years. And while the plan under discussion encompasses just a small part of the land, it does include every area where there is Jewish life. And that is an endorsement of our legal and spiritual right to live and grow in this land.
There are those who worry that such a bold step will create unnecessary tensions with the moderate Arab countries or with Europe. But Israel wouldn’t be what it is today without boldness. When Israel annexed East Jerusalem, when it annexed the Golan Heights, when it responded forcefully and aggressively to terrorist attacks, the world threatened us. But we proved stronger than their threats, and today we are stronger because of these bold moves.
We have a small window of opportunity right now, while Benjamin Netanyahu is prime minister and Donald Trump is president of the United States. The movement to extend sovereignty to Judea and Samaria has grown significantly in recent years in Israel and has finally captured the hearts and minds of mainstream Israeli politicians. But what has given our leaders the confidence to move forward on this daring move has been the support of President Trump and the American administration. And there is no question that we have our Christian friends to thank for that.
There is a curious interchange between Israeli and American political leaders and there is no greater window onto that relationship than the sovereignty issue. As Israelis, we know how critical it is for the Israeli Government to pass the relevant legislation to make this happen but we also know that without firm American support, the Israeli Government will hesitate to act.
We need our Christian friends, who have been so effective in moving the Trump Administration in the direction of Annexation, to raise their voices today. This message, that Israel is the rightful owner of the Land of Israel, should be heard loud in clear in churches and in the halls of Government, in the US and around the world. Israel must move forward swiftly and boldly and annex significant areas of Judea and Samaria. And our Christian friends can help ensure that the international community will support this effort. This is a time for boldness. We dare not miss this opportunity.