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What is the West Bank?

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As you drive around the area surrounding Jerusalem you see a very conspicuous 26-foot concrete wall. There are many such walls in the State of Israel, and they are part of what Israel calls a security barrier between the part of Israel that is The West Bank, and the part that isn’t. 

Most of the security barrier isn’t a wall at all, but rather a security fence, and all roads between the two have check points with varying degrees of security at each one. The walls and the checkpoints are very obvious to anyone who visits the state of Israel, so I should probably explain what this is all about.

If you live on this Israel side of the wall, you call it a security wall. If you live on the other side, you call it a separation wall. The State of Israel believes that the wall is important to protect its citizens, and it has actually proven to be effective, since bombings have dramatically decreased since the wall was put up.

To talk about the West Bank, we have to start with a little history lesson. As you may know, Palestine (that is, the entire country, as it was once called) was once part of the British Empire, which controlled Palestine between 1917 and 1948. This control was approved by the League of Nations (42 member nations at its peak). After the collapse of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations passed down a mandate for Great Britain to control Palestine. This was called, quite understandably, The British Palestinian Mandate. From the very beginning it was the intention of Great Britain to help the Jews establish for themselves a homeland.

Years earlier, the Jews had already gotten the idea that they wanted to establish their own self-governed Jewish homeland. This ideology was called Zionism, and it's a political initiative that officially started back in the late 1890’s.  

After centuries of Persian, Turkish and Egyptian control, and after 2000 years of not even having a country of their own, the Jews were very happy to have the British in power at this particular moment, and Zionism was the goal.

Understandably, the Arabs in Palestine didn’t like the idea of Zionism at all, and almost immediately started rioting. Waves and waves of Jews started immigrating to Palestine, especially during the rise of Nazism in Europe in the 1930’s.

After World War II, and after seeing the extermination of 6 million Jews in Europe, the Jews were all the more interested in securing their own homeland. Simultaneously, the British became fed up with the constant conflict between the Jews and the Arabs, so they said, “In 1948 we’re going to get out of Palestine.”  

One year before that happened, in 1947, the newly formed United Nations proposed a plan to develop two states in Palestine – a Jewish state and an Arab state, with the City of Jerusalem becoming kind of a separate entity, which would be controlled by something called an International Trusteeship System, made up of many nations. This was called Resolution 181. 

But take note, the UN did not want Jerusalem to be the capital city of Israel. They wanted it to be an international city, and not absorbed into the political orbit of any of its neighboring states.

This means that in 1947 the two-state-solutions was already being proposed by the United Nations.

The Jews informally accepted the plan, because a smaller country for them was better than no country at all. However, the Arabs didn’t accept the plan. The ideology of the Palestinians was that the Palestinians should have everything, and the Jews should have nothing.

If the Palestinians had accepted the plan, they would have total control of the West Bank today. But they wanted everything, and so they missed an opportunity right there. The goals of the Palestinians, and the Arab world in general, has never changed – that they want everything.  

Insofar as the Arabs missed an opportunity in 1947, they have since changed their minds, and they are now willing to accept the West Bank as their homeland. 

But is their goal any different? According to Israel, the Palestinians would simply use their position in the west bank to attempt to take over what’s left of Israel. If this is true, then the goal of the Palestinians is not actually to have the West Bank. Their goal is for the Jews to have nothing, and to be permanently expelled from the land entirely.  

There are people who believe that a two-state solution will be a peaceful solution, but if you understand the psychology involved here you will realize that a two-state solution will be a very unstable and bloody scenario, and it will not be a two-state solution for long. The two sides would fight until one of them is eliminated.  

Because the Palestinians rejected the two-state solution in 1947, in 1948 Prime Minister David Ben Gurion declared all of Israel to be a free and independent state, with no mention of what the boundaries were. The very next day, the State of Israel was attacked by Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. This was the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, called the war of Independence.  

After fighting for one year, Jordan had succeeded in capturing the west bank, which was the land that the UN recommended to be under Palestinian control. Egypt had succeeded in capturing the Gaza strip. The Palestinians then demanded that both of these Arab countries pull out, but they refused, and retained control of these lands. 

This means that the Palestinian state was not born in 1948, not because of the Jews, but because Jordan and Egypt refused to turn these lands over to the Palestinians. 

At any time between 1949 and 1967, the country of Jordan could have given the West Bank to the Palestinians, but they refused to, because they wanted it for themselves. This means that the reason that the Palestinians don’t have the west bank today is not because of Israel. It’s because of another Arab country.

After the war of independence, the population flip-flopped. 700,000 more Palestinians either fled or were expelled from Israel, and 1.2 million Jews moved to Israel.

By 1967, many surrounding nations were calling for the destruction of the Israeli nation, and they were mobilizing their forces. In a preemptive move, Israel attacked first, and within six days, they took over the Golan Heights to the north, the West Bank in the middle of the country, the Gaza strip, East Jerusalem, and the entire Sinai Penninsula. 

In the Six-Day War Israel secured the west bank, and this is now within the country of Israel.  

In 1979 Israel gave the Sinai peninsula back to Egypt, and in exchange, Egypt released any claim to the Gaza strip. Similarly, Jordan symbolically gave up any claim to the West Bank. 

One thing should be understood. At no time in history have the Palestinians ever controlled a portion of the land currently called Israel. This land has always been controlled by another foreign state. Three times it has been self-ruled by the Jews, but the Palestinians have never governed any part of this land. So to say that Israel is occupying the land of the Palestinians is untrue. Moreover, to say that Israel is illegally possessing the land is equally untrue, because the United Nation’s Resolution 181 was merely a “plan”, and was never formally agreed to by any party.

The Six-Day War was actually one of the best things that ever happened to the Palestinians, because now they live in a country that gives them freedoms, assistance, and financial aid. They now live in a democracy. 

Now the wall. Understand that only about 7% of the wall is actually a concrete wall. It is a fence. The wall is only in places where Jewish targets, such as homes and businesses outside of the west bank could be shot at from within.

What has the wall done? It has dramatically decreased violence in Israel. Bombings have been reduced. Lives have been saved. From the standpoint of saving lives, the wall has been a good thing.  

Yes, the wall has hurt people. People have been forced to do more driving to get in and out. But let’s not underrate the importance of the lives that this security border has saved. Any argument that the wall imposes separation must be considered against the separation that occurs when people’s loved ones are killed by suicide bombers. Which kind of separation would be worse? Any argument that the wall threatens people’s livelihood must be weighed against the fact that absence of such security threatens people's lives. 

So which is more important – livelihood or lives? I’m sorry that there is a wall. At the very least it’s ugly and it’s inconvenient. But I can think of something uglier and more inconvenient – it’s the death of people you love and depend on.

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