The Land of Israel has been contested by many groups who have tried to wrestle control from the Jewish people throughout history. Though Israel’s government and borders are well defined, many have disputed its authority in the land. Even today, in the middle of the Land of Israel, there are places that have broken free of Israel’s influence. Gaza and the West Bank, two well-known geographic areas in Israel, remain controversial for good reason.
Setting the Stage
Let’s start with some history. The Mandate for Palestine declared the land known as Palestine (the name the Romans gave the Jewish, not Arab, Kingdom of Judea after conquering it) would become the homeland for the Jewish people in the 1920s. This is because Jewish people were the indigenous residents of this land. The Mandate also gave Israel sovereign claims to its homeland including all of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and Gaza when the Jewish state declared independence in 1948.
Immediately after Israel became an independent nation, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq attacked. But Israel survived and was mostly victorious, though Jordan did seize areas in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, which it called “the West Bank.” Jewish people were temporarily expelled from these regions, but Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War resulted in the liberation of these territories, regaining its own land which had been taken by Jordan.
Seeking peace, the Jewish state deliberated over what to do with the West Bank and Gaza. Half of Israel’s government wanted to give the West Bank to Jordan and Gaza to Egypt to establish peace, while the other half wanted to give these territories to the Arabs, who wanted to build their own state in Israel for the Palestinians, a name they began using for themselves at this time. Israel proceeded with the second option. But Palestinian leadership refused to even recognize or negotiate with Israel.
The PA showed no interest in peace with Israel, so it rejected the two-state solution, something it has done on all five occasions Israel has offered such a solution.
Ultimately, in 1994, Israel agreed to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Twice, first in 2000 and then in 2008, Israel offered to give nearly all of the West Bank to the PA to build a Palestinian state in return for the chance to live in peace. Still the PA showed no interest in peace with Israel, so it rejected the two-state solution, something it has done on all five occasions Israel has offered such a solution. Though Israel still is ultimately sovereign over the West Bank, it has granted the PA the freedom to govern the Palestinians in this area.
In 2005, Israel unilaterally left Gaza, abandoning every structure it had ever created in the area. This meant 9,000 Israeli residents, most of whom had lived in Gaza for years, had to leave their homes under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s initiative. Immediately after this (and repeatedly since), the Palestinians who took control of Gaza used the land as a base for terrorism, firing thousands of rockets from the area into Israel, instead of developing it to help their own people.
Gaza: Violence and Hatred
While Gaza is located geographically in Israel, today Hamas holds the governmental authority over the region. It borders Egypt to the south and Israel to the north and east. Just under 2 million people live within Gaza’s densely populated borders. It has a youth unemployment rate of 42 percent. Along with high unemployment, it has more than 10 terrorist organizations, which become recruiting sources for launching terror attacks in Israel.
Throughout their education Palestinian children in Gaza learn that there is no Israel, Jewish people are their enemies, Israel must be annihilated, and their highest aim is to give their lives for Allah. “It becomes their life’s goal and a national duty to become a soldier of Allah and give up their lives and that of innocent people worldwide for the preservation and conquest of Islam.”1 The UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) has fueled Palestinian resentment toward Israel by helping publish educational materials used in the schools in addition to providing funds. For example, in 2020, 20 nations, headed by Germany, provided about $500 million dollars to Gaza.
Because of the unemployment and the indoctrination of the children on how to view Israel, violence has become synonymous with Gaza. Just in May 2021, Hamas launched 4,368 rockets into Israel from Gaza. Also, incendiary balloons have ignited acres of Israeli farms and land, becoming a new form of attacking Israel. The primary donor for the terror funding is Iran, as it provides both arms and funds to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
Because of the unemployment and the indoctrination of the children on how to view Israel, violence has become synonymous with Gaza.
Israel and Egypt monitor Hamas’s activities in Gaza, including Israel’s navy overseeing from the Mediterranean Sea. Israel allows goods and services to flow into the Gaza Strip, the only prohibition being either weapons or explosives. One of Hamas’s most blatant offenses in Gaza is its use of terror tunnels. Because its operatives can’t simply walk over the border to set up shop in Israel’s land for attacks, Hamas digs tunnels from Gaza into Israel to commit terrorist attacks, including rocket strikes. Israel remains on high alert for the construction of these tunnels, each of which costs $1 million to build.
The West Bank: Division and Dispute
The West Bank receives its name from its geographic location, as it is situated west of the Jordan River, including East Jerusalem. Today it is home to more than 3.2 million people, both Israelis and Arabs. Palestinians make up the biggest percentage of the population, while there are also hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in West Bank communities built by the Jewish state after the 1967 war. The largest city in the area is East Jerusalem, while Ramallah is the headquarters of the PA.
The United Nations has labeled this region as “the Disputed Territories,” while government and media sources refer to it as the “Occupied Territories.” However, the Jewish residents largely call it by its correct, biblical name “Judea (Yehuda) and Samaria (Shomron),” where most Jewish history and life occurred.
The region has three areas, designated as Areas A, B, and C, decided by the Oslo II Accords. The separation was meant to improve Israel’s security efforts over its divided population in the West Bank and help the nation better care for its Arab inhabitants. Area A is under sole Palestinian rule. The Palestinian Authority and Israel administer Area B. Israel exclusively administers Area C. These divisions have helped Israeli security in the West Bank and allowed a large portion of the area’s Palestinians to live under Palestinian rule, but there is still much contention between the West Bank’s Israelis and Palestinians.
To be a good friend of Israel, we must know its history and the ongoing struggles it faces. This includes learning about the divisive neighbors who live within its borders. It’s no wonder Psalm 122:6 urges us, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you.’”
1 Brigitte Gabriel, They Must be Stopped (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin, January 5, 2010), 112–113.