by: Kate Norman, BFP Staff Writer
“Judea and Samaria—the name Judea says it all—is territory that historically had an important Jewish presence,” former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in 2020. “As they say, it is the biblical heartland of Israel. It includes Hebron, where Abraham purchased a burial cave for his wife Sarah; Shiloh, where the Tabernacle rested for 369 years before the Temple was built by King Solomon in Jerusalem; Beth El, where Jacob had his dream of the ladder ascending to heaven; Kasr al-Yahud, where Joshua led the Israelite nation into the Promised Land and John the Baptist baptized Jesus [Yeshua], and so many other famous locations.”
“So,” Friedman asked, “intuitively, who has a good claim to the land?”
Despite the obvious answer, Judea and Samaria is one of the most contested regions in the world. The name “West Bank” dates back to when the parcel of land, located on the “west bank” of the Jordan River, was under Jordanian control from 1948 to 1967. It is home to half a million Jewish people and over 2.7 million Arabs. It is the main portion of land that the Palestinians say they want for an independent state, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital.
But the battle for control over Israel’s heartland is much more complex than Israelis versus Palestinians—and takes place against the backdrop of an ongoing power struggle among the Palestinians.
Just north of Jerusalem lies Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs the Palestinian population in parts of Judea and Samaria.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas is currently serving the 17th year of his four-year term. Though the president proclaims words of peace at the United Nations and international audiences, at home he incites violence among his own people, praising and financially rewarding “martyrs” who spill Jewish blood. However, Abbas is 86 years old, and his declining health has sparked a competition for the coveted role of his successor.
Meanwhile, Hamas maintains control of the more than two million people living in the Gaza Strip. Yet the terror group is no longer content being relegated to the coastal enclave, and is extending its reach into the biblical heartland.
Hamas ended a power struggle for the Gaza Strip in 2007, when it violently ousted Fatah officials from the enclave. Fatah, the leading secular Palestinian political party, comprises most of the PA. The two have been rivals since then to win the Palestinian throne.
The puppet master behind Hamas—as well as behind the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Hamas’s rival and the second largest terror group in Gaza—is Iran. The regime in Tehran provides money, weapons and training for these terror proxies, who, in turn, do Iran’s bidding. Tehran’s terror puppets extending their reach into Israel’s biblical heartland furthers the regime’s dream of expanding its Shia Crescent across the Middle East.
A deadly terror wave broke over Israel between March and May of 2020, when 19 people were killed in six separate terror attacks across the country.
Though Hamas did not claim any of the terrorists involved in the bloody wave, the group issued statements after each attack, praising the bravery and heroism of each “martyr” for their part in the “resistance” and calling for more blood.
In March, the Israeli military launched “Operation Break the Wave” to curb the flood of terror. The operation entails frequent counterterrorism raids, mostly in the Samarian cities of Jenin and Nablus, both hotbeds of terrorist activity. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi announced in September that 1,500 wanted Palestinians had been arrested and hundreds of terror attacks thwarted.
The Palestinians are not taking the operation lying down, as terrorists—reportedly funded by Hamas and PIJ—are regularly ready and waiting for the incoming Israeli soldiers.
At the end of September, when the Jewish people were celebrating the fall festivals, the counterterror raids were met with fierce resistance, sparking a gunfight that saw four terror suspects killed. The Israeli military identified them as the brother of a terrorist who murdered three people in Tel Aviv in April as well as a terrorist behind shooting attacks in Judea and Samaria. According to the military, they were planning “significant attacks against Israel in the near future.” Israel’s leaders have vowed to continue the fight against terrorism as long as the threat remains.
Such a complicated situation negates the seemingly simple two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Who would be Israel’s partner in peace—the PA? Hamas? The PIJ? Iran?
Most people turn to the PA as Israel’s most likely peace partner, viewing it as a moderate Palestinian entity. They overlook the groups’ ties to terror and its “Pay-for-Slay” financial reward program for terrorists. Yet even if the PA were a willing peace partner, Abbas and his leadership—who advocate for peace and diplomacy before the United Nations and incite to bloodshed back home—have governed their people with corruption and mismanagement. That has left a bad taste in the mouths of the next generation of Palestinians.
As a result, more young Palestinians are turning to Hamas and the PIJ for less talk and more action. And Hamas is wielding its growing influence and preparing for a takeover in Israel’s heartland, an expert on Israeli and Palestinian relations warned in September.
Col. (res.) Grisha Yakubovich served as head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the IDF’s organization that promotes coordination between Israelis and Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.
“Hamas has been silent recently; we are not hearing them,” Yakubovich told JNS. “On the Palestinian street, this silence is being interpreted as preparations by Hamas to attempt a repeat of their 2007 takeover of Gaza—this time in Judea and Samaria.”
Yakubovich added that Hamas seeks to “become the primary leader of the Palestinians, and it is skillfully navigating a path towards that goal,” cautioning that the power struggle could even result in a Palestinian civil war.
In fact, each Palestinian group attempting to manipulate the escalating violence for its own ambitions could spark an all-out war, with Israel fighting for its ancient heartland while Hamas, the PIJ and the PA duke it out for the Palestinian throne—all while Iran pulls the strings from behind the scenes.
In the battle for the biblical heartland, will the Israeli counterterror operations bring the violence under control, or will the Palestinian power struggle explode on the land where the patriarchs, prophets and kings walked?
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