You can check the map of the West Bank and find out the distances from north to south and east to west. But to give you an idea of the total area of the West Bank, Switzerland is more than 7 times bigger than the West Bank!
For Jews, this area was called Judea and Samaria more than 2,000 years ago, part of the ancient land of the Israelites that Jews believe had been promised to them by God. For Palestinians, this is where many fled after the creation of Israel and the war that broke out between Israel and neighboring Arab countries in 1948. The West Bank became part of Jordan, but when Egypt and Jordan attacked Israel in 1967, Israel got control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Although still occupied by the Israeli military, in the 1990’s, Israel allowed most of the West Bank to be governed by Palestinian authorities. After a second Palestinian uprising (called the ‘Intifada’) took place in the year 2000, the Israeli government soon began to construct a barrier of fences and walls in an attempt to restrict, or cut back, the movement of Palestinians who might plan acts of violence against Israeli civilians and soldiers.
One main dilemma for Israel in deciding what to do about the West Bank is all about demographics, in this case, the population profile of the people living in the West Bank. Right now the population of the West Bank is about 2,500,000. Of this number, about 75% are Palestinian Arabs, mostly Sunni Muslims. About 17% of the West Bank population is made up of Israeli Jews.
If Israel remains in control of the West Bank, or if Israel decides that the West Bank is officially part of Israel, you can see that a large percent of Israel’s population would be non-Jewish. This problem for Israel is especially highlighted when considering the fact that an estimated 24% of Israel’s population of about 7 million is Arab. Thus, the idea of Israel as a Jewish nation would be definitely challenged simply by the reality of demographics.
One other factor that complicates the situation in the West Bank is the growing number of Jewish ‘settlers,’ now about 190,000. The settlers moved into the West Bank from areas of Israel as well as from other countries such as the U.S. These Jewish settlers believe that it is important for them to live in the mostly-Arab territory because the settlers believe the West Bank is part of the land that God promised to the Jewish people.
Here is a video clip from an American TV network (ABC) about Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Although the story is from 1999, the issue is still relevant to what is happening today. What do you think the reporter meant when he said that for Palestinians, the Jewish settlements in the West Bank were a ‘provocation’? (video is also available in Mr. Kenney’s StuShare folder.)
To show you how relevant that 1999 news story is, here’s a recent photo in Time magazine of May 2009! Israeli soldiers are trying to remove some Jewish settlers in the West Bank. (Click on the image and you get a clearer view of the text.) Why do you think this action may have taken place just after the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, visited the U.S. for talks with President Obama?
Another major issue that is part of the West Bank news story is the barrier that Israel started constructing in the West Bank in 2002. The barrier consists mostly of fences and 60-meter exclusion zones but also concrete walls up to 8 meters high. Here’s a map that shows the boundaries of the Israeli barrier. (The Israeli government said that the barrier was about 60% complete in 2007.) The map also indicates the locations of Jewish settlements, which were mentioned earlier in this post.
Even the name for the barrier is controversial. The Israeli government refers to it as the ‘separation fence,’ ‘anti-terrorist fence,’ or ‘security fence.’ On the other hand, Palestinians refer to the barrier as the ‘racial segregation wall,’ and some people who are against the barrier call it the ‘Apartheid Wall.’
Here are three political cartoons that reflect varying opinions about the barrier. Which do you think Palestinians would most relate to and which would the Israeli government say reflects their opinion?