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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The West Bank is not occupied

Published: January 18, 2008
Section: Opinions

What is the status of the West Bank? This territory is home to many people of various walks of life, chiefly Christians, Muslims and Jews. Within this territory lies the city of Hebron, one of Judaism’s four holiest cities, and home to the burial site of the three patriarchs, and three of the matriarchs. Another city laying in the boundaries of this territory is Bethlehem, a city holy to Christians as they believe it to be the birthplace of Jesus. Muslims claim ownership of this land since their population is a majority within it, and for many years it has been under Muslim control. Needless to say, there is a great deal of contention regarding this territory commonly referred to as the West Bank.

Biblically, this land is referred to as Judea and Samaria. The land south of Jerusalem is Judea. This has been so ever since Joshua entered the land with the Israelites. Once conquered, these hills surrounding Jerusalem were part of the land designated for the tribe of Judah, hence its name. Samaria, the land north of Jerusalem, was the name of the capital city of the northern Israel kingdom during the reign of King Jeroboam, and was located in the area known today as Samaria. Even in the modern day, groups of religious Jews continue to refer to the land in this way.

However, the more common name is the West Bank. With this I have no issue. However, the adjective too often appended to the name is what is incorrect. Quite often we hear the word ‘occupied’ in conjunction with this territory. This notion is completely false, though. The definition of occupied territory according to international law was composed at the fourth Geneva Convention in 1949. In this definition, two conditions must be met for a parcel of land to be considered occupied. The first condition is that a sovereign nation must have military rule over another sovereign nation. Since 1948 there has not been a sovereign nation in the West Bank. Following the 1948 war, Jordan gained control over the West Bank and annexed it. However, this annexation was never internationally recognized. Therefore, when Israel conquered that territory in 1967 it was not entering the officially internationally recognized territory of a sovereign nation. Furthermore, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority are not sovereign nations. This condition of occupation is completely unsound.

The fact that this first condition of occupation does not hold true is reason enough to dismiss the adjective as false. However, the second condition also does not hold. The second condition laid out by the Geneva Convention is that the “occupied” land must be captured in an offensive war. The war in 1967 was far from offensive, especially on the Jordanian front where the West Bank was captured. Once the war broke out, Israel begged Jordan to stay out of the war. There are countless accounts of Israeli officials contacting King Hussein and others in the kingdom requesting that Jordan not attack, a decision that would be repaid by Israel not attacking Jordan either. However, with a preference to the alliance made with Nasser of Egypt, Jordan decided to join the war and attacked Israel. Therefore, the front of the war in which the West Bank was captured is without question part of a defensive war. This then makes the second condition of “occupation” invalid. Using international law, it is simply incorrect to refer to the West Bank as occupied.

If you must append an adjective to the West Bank territory, then the most neutral word is disputed. The current political and military situation in the West Bank is quite complex. In certain areas, civilian affairs are conducted by the Palestinian Authority while the Israeli government sets protocol in other areas. The Israel Defense Forces are in charge of security in some regions while the PA police are responsible in others. Needless to say it is impossible to attribute the West bank to one group or another. However, one point is clear: the land is not occupied. Those who call it occupied are simply ignorant. There is a clear definition of occupied presented in the Geneva Convention, a beacon of international law and the Israeli presence in the West Bank DOES NOT fit this description. Not every place needs an adjective to describe it, but if you must use one for the West Bank, at least be neutral in your choice of words. The territory is disputed.