“The delta variant.”
Who knows how many times over the course of the past few months that phrase has been uttered or written by media, by pundits, and by just plain folk on social media?
What we never hear or read is “the India variant” — India was the source of the virus mutation that seems to be sweeping and confounding the globe today. It was decided early on by someone that the use of “the India variant” would offend or even incite hatred toward people from India — and down the memory hole it went. Everyone fell into line and complied.
This essay is certainly not a plea to reinstate the geographic or nation label to the virus variant or to necessarily attach a country name to the source of the original COVID strain. Rather, it is to comment on politically motivated usage and how some terms become universally accepted while others — even when historically more accurate and by no means offensive — are discarded and also sent down the memory hole, and perhaps to venture a guess as to why.
For literally thousands of years, there were two small regions in the Middle East that bordered one another: Judea and Samaria. Also literally for thousands of years, cartographers who mapped these areas among the broader Middle East consistently labeled them Samaria (the northern region) and Judea (the southern territory), with slight language modifications to accommodate the nationality of the cartographer or of the nation or party who commissioned the map-makers.
Many ancient, medieval, and even twentieth-century maps of the Middle East from a variety of nations are readily available on the internet for anyone to see to verify this fact.
What were Samaria and Judea?
Throughout time, both Samaria and Judea were associated with the Jewish people.
Perhaps the best-known city in Samaria was Shechem, the site where Jewish patriarch Abraham first built an altar to make an offering to HaShem, as well as the site of Joseph’s tomb. It has other significance to the Jewish people as well. Samaria was where the tribe of Ephraim and half of the tribe of Manasseh resided (the other half of the Tribe of Manasseh resided in what is today Jordan).
Perhaps the best-known cities in Judea are Hebron, site of the tombs of all but one of Judaism’s patriarchs and matriarchs, as well as the first capital of the first Jewish commonwealth; Modi’in, home of the Maccabees, who saved Judaism from the Hellenists and the Seleucids; Jericho, the first Israelite city, where “the walls came tumbling down”; and Beit Lechem (AKA Bethlehem), where David was anointed as king and the location of Jewish matriarch Rachel’s tomb. The tribes Judah, Simeon, Benjamin, and Dan were located in Judea.
The United Nations, in General Assembly Resolution 181, which advised in 1947 dividing the remnant (22%) of the original Palestine Mandate into a Jewish state and an Arab state, uses the terms “Samaria” and “Judea” to refer to the geographic areas.
But by 1950, the usage for the two place names changed, as Samaria and Judea morphed into “the West Bank.” Up to that point, there was no such place as “the West Bank” in the Middle East. Two years earlier, the Jordanian Army, as part of a full-scale onslaught by surrounding Arab nations, attacked nascent Israel from the east immediately after the Jewish state declared its independence from Great Britain.
For 19 years, Jordan illegally occupied Judea and Samaria. Jordan committed population transfers and ethnic cleansing as it murdered or drove the Jewish people out of these longtime Jewish lands.
The new name, “the West Bank,” achieved two purposes: it differentiated the new, illegally gained territories from the rest of Jordan (“the East Bank”), and, more importantly, it sought to eliminate the Jewish people’s connection to those lands. After all, Jews come from Judea.
Along with attempting to erase the Jewish connection to these lands before the world, the Jordanians and the Arab League sought to create a fictitious history of their own to claim that they were historically Arab lands.
In 1967, Jordan again attacked Israel. This occurred as Israel was defending itself after Egypt committed multiple acts of war against the Jewish state. This became known as the Six-Day War, for in the brief span, Israel defeated the Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, Lebanese, and Iraqi militaries. The Israel defense forces pushed the Jordanians back across the River Jordan, liberating the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem and reunifying the city, as well as freeing the Jewish heartland.
Israel also restored the names Judea (Yehudah) and Samaria (Shomron) to the lands it liberated.
But the rest of the world — led by the media — largely has clung to the name “the West Bank,” as it seeks to delegitimize the Jewish claims to the lands and obliterate the Jewish connection.
Thus, media, politicians right and left throughout the world, academia, and others uniformly insist on using a term that was operational for only nineteen years among thousands. Yet on a dime, in unison, all of the above adopted and embraced “delta” rather than “India” when referring to a new strain of COVID-19. Clearly, names matter.
There has been no such fear of or concern about insulting the Jewish people for the past 54 years.
Yes, we are offended that the world has wiped our history from its maps and that this erasure is largely accepted. Unfortunately, for the most part, relatively few Jews have fought to restore the proper names to these areas in lexicons the world over.
It is well past time for the Jewish people — one of the world’s tiniest minorities — to fight back: to press for the world’s recognition of our connection to these lands and to call them by their rightful names. Part of that requires Jews and especially Israelis to use the terms Judea (Yehuda) and Samaria (Shomron), and for us to educate ourselves and the broader community about our history in these lands. Simultaneously, we must strongly encourage media, political figures, and academia to use them as well.