by: Ilse Posselt, BFP News Correspondent
I grew up during the days when the Second Intifada (uprising) raged in Israel. Night after night, the 7 o’clock news brought tidings of terror attacks and suicide bombers. In the mornings, newspaper headlines screamed that the prospects for peace looked increasingly grim and clashes between Israel and Palestinians continued. While cities like Tel Aviv and Eilat suffered their share of terror, the epicenter of the hostilities, the media claimed, was an area they referred to as the West Bank. By the time I was all grown up, I believed the so-called West Bank to be a terrifying place where the din of violence never fully quieted down.
The Intifada ended in 2005 and a semblance of peace returned to Israel. Yet the West Bank did not disappear from the headlines. In fact, it claimed an increasingly prominent place on the international agenda. Now the 7 o’clock news brought reports of Palestinian leaders declaring it their historic own, while world leaders pointed accusatory fingers at Israel’s presence in the area. Little wonder that the only frame of reference I had for what I knew as the West Bank was one of contention, strife and bloodshed.
Yet time and truth has a way of setting skewed perceptions straight. For me it started while planning a road trip through Israel with stops at the spots where my favorite Bible stories played out. As I plotted my course, I realized that many of the events in Scripture happened in the very area that the Palestinians claimed as their own and world leaders called occupied territory.
The proverbial penny dropped as I traveled past the fields where David shepherded his father’s flocks in preparation for shepherding his heavenly Father’s people; as I walked among the ruins of Shiloh, where the Tabernacle—and the presence of the Almighty—dwelt for nearly 400 years and as I ran my fingers along the ancient stones of the burial spot where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives are buried. Every nook and cranny of what I had believed to be the West Bank echoed with the memory of Hebrew prophets, kings and ordinary men and women who rose to fame—and infamy—in the pages of Scripture. In fact this particular plot of land served as the stage for some 80% of the events in the Old Testament.
While the name “West Bank” is often mentioned in the same breath as places such as Jerusalem and Hebron, the term is surprisingly new. In fact, the first time it appeared was less than 70 years ago.
The State of Israel was but a day old when the army of Jordan joined forces with four other Arab countries to annihilate the Jewish people. Against all odds, Israel’s ragtag army triumphed. Yet when the ceasefire lines were drawn, Jordan, a country located solely on the east bank of the Jordan River, had managed to seize a patch of the Promised Land. The Hashemite Kingdom renamed the occupied area the “West Bank,” a name chosen due to its location on the western bank of the Jordan River.
Yet centuries before the Jordanians came and generations before “West Bank” formed part of our vocabulary, the area was known as Judea and Samaria, home of the tribes of Benjamin, Judah, Ephraim and Manasseh and the biblical heartland of Israel. Millennia before it became one of the most reported-on pieces of real estate on earth, Judea and Samaria was famous for something far weightier: the spot where Abraham stood when he received the title deed from the Almighty for the land stretched out around him.
From there, the history of Israel continued to unfold. In Hebron, a city in the Judean hills, the father of the Jews pitched his tents and purchased a plot of land. After spending much of their lives roaming Judea and Samaria, Hebron became the final resting place for the patriarchs and matriarchs. From the rocky slopes of Samaria, 11 of Jacob’s sons turned against their dreamer brother and sold Joseph into slavery—only to follow in his footsteps years later, driven by famine and news of grain in Egypt. Then, some 200 years later, Joshua led the nation born from the 12 sons of Israel back into the land.
In Shiloh, their first spiritual capital in the land after their return, God answered the silent prayer of a barren woman, and Israel’s great prophet, Samuel, was born. Meanwhile, the fields of Bethlehem saw a weary widow return after leaving her husband and sons buried in Moab. The Moabite daughter-in-law who followed Naomi home caught the eye of Boaz, and two generations later, their grandson, David, was born. In the pastures of Judea, this ruddy youth rose from shepherd’s field to battlefield and later to the throne. After reigning from Hebron, David chose Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There, in the city tucked into the Judean hills, Solomon built a Temple to the Almighty. Years later, Judah heard and shunned the warnings of destruction spoken by Isaiah and Jeremiah. When Babylon came, sowing the terrible fulfilment of those prophecies, the people of Judah went into exile, vowing to return. Seventy years later, Ezra, Nehemiah and a handful of their countrymen returned to the city in the Judean hills to rebuild the ruins.
If the above chronology serves as a mere overview of the biblical events that played out in Judea and Samaria, the question becomes: how did the very land of promise, the patch of earth embedded with the fingerprints of Israel’s biblical history—and ours as Christians—become a place of such vehement contention and fervent claims? Perhaps the answer is simple. Perhaps the attack of the enemy is always fiercest against the promise, against the handiwork that shows the presence of the God of Israel clearest.
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