Israel not ‘occupier’ of Judea and Samaria, say experts

Israel has never referred to Judea and Samaria, territories conquered in the Six Day War, as “occupied.”

By Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

The US State Department is continuing to deny it has any difference of opinion with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman over the usage of the word “occupied” to describe the territories of Judea and Samaria.

Officials in Washington say that the Trump administration remains committed to facilitating a comprehensive peace agreement and calls reports that Friedman has asked that they drop the word “occupied” as “misleading.”

The controversy began when Israel Radio reported on Tuesday that Friedman had asked the US State Department to stop calling Israel’s control over Judea and Samaria an “occupation” in official documents and statements. Friedman has used the term “alleged occupation” when speaking about the territories in the Israeli media.

“Occupied” is a loaded political phrase that indicates, just by its usage, that Israel is the “occupier” and not the legal sovereign in territories in the Land of Israel that were captured by the Israeli army during the Six Day War in 1967. The “territories” remain in dispute and have been the subject of a series of peace negotiations and a few partial agreements including the Oslo accords signed in 1995 between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel uses the biblically and geographically correct term “Judea and Samaria” when referring to the territories in question.

Judea and Samaria Not ‘Occupied’

International legal expert and former Israeli ambassador to Canada Alan Baker told World Israel News (WIN), “Friedman is completely correct. The word ‘occupation’ refers to an army taking military control over some other countries sovereign territory. Israel has a unique historic connection to Judea and Samaria.” According to Baker, “The correct term should be ‘disputed territory.’”

Dan Diker from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) told WIN, “We at the JCPA use the term ‘disputed territories’ to refer to Judea and Samaria or the so-called ‘West Bank.’ Friedman is advancing Trump administration policy to correct past mistakes and misconceptions of American diplomats. Since the Oslo Accords in 1995, the most densely Palestinian populated areas in the territories are designated as ‘Area A’ and ‘Area B,’ which are under Palestinian autonomy, and are certainly not legally occupied, ” Diker says.

“It makes perfect sense that the phraseology be changed. ‘Occupied’ is correct for example when the allied forces occupied Nazi Germany during World War Two, or when Germany occupied nations in Europe. Quite simply, it’s when the army of one country occupies another sovereign country.”

Veteran Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger says that it is correct to use the term “occupation” when referring to Judea and Samaria, but only when referring to Jordanian occupation between 1948-1967.

“In the War of Independence Jordan invaded and occupied Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem,” said Ettinger adding, “These were areas designated by the League of Nations to be part of the Jewish homeland. After the war, Jordan went even further by formally annexing the disputed land in 1950. Israel captured the territory from the illegal Jordanian occupiers who tried to invade Israel in 1967.

State Department Arabists vs. US Ambassador to Israel

Mark Zell, who heads Republicans in Israel, told WIN, “Ambassador Friedman is fighting back against bureaucratic inertia and State Department Arabists. I am glad that he took this initiative even though he is only taking the half-way approach by using the term ‘West Bank territories’ instead of ‘occupied territories.’”

According to Zell, Friedman is not the first US official to challenge the State Department terminology. “When Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense he used the phrase ‘so-called occupied territories.’ It’s worthwhile and gets people thinking about the State Department prejudices and Friedman is to be credited,” Zell said.

Judea and Samaria activist Yisrael Medad says that Israel can help change the terminology by taking action. “Israel must officially declare sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. Until they do its unreasonable to expect the State Department to stop calling it ‘occupied territory.’ Even after Trump announced his recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, the State Department still does not recognize Israeli sovereignty even in the western side of Jerusalem. They say borders must be determined in negotiations so even Jerusalem remains ‘occupied.’”