The District of Judea and Samaria
The name Judea attests to an ancient Jewish presence in this region, with Jews living in Judea at the time of both the first and second exiles. The southern part of the vast kingdom of King David and Solomon was named the Kingdom of Judah after King Solomon died. By the time of King Herod the Great, the southern portion was called Judea, with the northern portion being named Samaria or the Shomron, after her capital city whose ancient ruins still nestle in the hills to the west of Shechem.
Both internationally controversial and yet steeped with biblical history, Judea and Samaria have a unique beauty. Full of ancient archaeological sites and raw nature, much of the agricultural landscape has remained unchanged for millennia. Her olive groves and vineyards perch on the terraces of the hills, just as in the time of King David and Solomon. International boycotts and accusations hang over this region like a shroud and yet she carries so much promise. Living here is for the brave and the idealistic, as well as for those who long for peace between her inhabitants.
The southern part of Judea extends all the way down to Tel Arad in the Negev and the border of the 200mm line, beyond which it is difficult to have agriculture. In contrast, the northern border is formed by the verdant Gilboa mountains, where Saul and Benjamin lost their lives to the Philistines, almost 3000 years ago.
Judea and Samaria is divided into three areas; Area A where the Palestinian Authority has full military and civil jurisdiction, Area B which is shared and includes the majority of the roads, and Area C where the Jewish towns and villages are located.
Maale Adumim is the largest Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, boasting a population of close to forty thousand people. It is located in the Judean desert and there are views towards the Dead Sea and Jordan to the east and the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem to the west. Ariel is the second largest of the settlements, with a population of over twenty thousand. It also has city status, and is the only settlement to boast a university. Ariel is in the heart of Judea and Samaria and to the north east of Maale Adumim, and being located in wine and olive country, Ariel is much greener.
It was only possible to begin building in Judea and Samaria after the six days war in 1967, when Jordan retreated from these lands. Today, there are more than 150 Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria with more than three hundred and sixty thousand residents. There are many schools, businesses, factories, cultural centers, synagogues, libraries, health clinics and shopping centers.
Many residents enjoy a good relationship with their Muslim neighbours, preferring to buy their fresh produce from the shop-lined main streets of their villages and enjoying an occasional falafel or shwarma from their restaurants.
Judea and Samaria is a place of contrasts:
At times there is conflict and yet there are so many examples of reconciliation and good relationships between neighbours.
The different geographical units of this region result in different climates, rainfall and agriculture. For example; from the Judean desert to the Judean mountains, and from the Shomron to the Jordan Valley. There are mountains with cool breezes and low valleys; the Jordan valley being below sea level. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth, and generally one of the hottest places in Israel, with Jericho being the lowest city on earth. (unfortunately Jericho is located in Area A, so Jews cannot live there.) Bananas, sweet oranges and dates are grown in the Jordan valley, while in the cooler mountain breezes you find olives and grape vines. The vineyards of the Shomron have won prizes in international competitions, even competing against the ancient viticulture of France.
Some areas are religious while others are secular or mixed; there is room for everyone.
In Israel, one rule of thumb can be: do first and ask permission later! The bureaucratic processes can be so cumbersome that some take a pragmatic approach. Thus, there are both outposts and government approved settlements.
The Nomadic Bedouins of the Judean desert take the same approach; if they have planted a tree, then in their culture the land belongs to them - this is the wild east! This contrasts with western way of buying land and living in cities, towns and villages. There is a contrast of population density throughout the region.
There are those who work in Agriculture, industry and tourism. Some industrial parks are designed to foster cooperation between Jews and Muslims. Those with a more academic bent may be drawn to the university town of Ariel, which is currently the only university in Judea and Samaria.
There is a rich tapestry of cultures and religions throughout this region; of Jews, Muslims, Christians and even Samaritans who are a small remnant of those from Temple times. They still live on Mount Gerizim where you can visit the ruins of their ancient Temple as well as a modern day museum.
There are many National Parks and springs, as well as outdoor activities such as jeeping in Judea and Samaria. Perhaps the most significant site is Ancient Shiloh; Israel’s first capital for 369 years and resting place of the ark and the tabernacle, from the time of Joshua and the tribes entering the land after their long journey from Egypt in the wilderness. One of the most fascinating archaeological discoveries was made by Adam Zertal of blessed memory, who believed that he had found several Israelite encampments in the shape of a foot, throughout Judea and leading to Shiloh starting at Argaman in the Jordan valley. It can still be clearly seen today and the evidence is striking. If you want to connect to the deep ancient Jewish roots, dating all the way back to the time when Abraham entered the land and built several altars, then this region is for you!