Judea and Samaria District? Wikipedia in Hebrew Can't Find the West Bank

When the contentious legal status of Israeli settlements fails to pass Wikipedia’s vetting process

Maps of the West Bank, from Wikipedia's Judea and Samaria page.

In theory, Jewish settlements in the West Bank constitute one of Israel’s seven administrative districts. However, the so-called “Judea and Samaria District” may not actually be a district, or at least does not have the official status of one, according to a recent discovery by Hebrew Wikipedia editors. This is an example of how the contentious legal status of Israeli settlements can sometimes fail to pass Wikipedia’s vetting process.

Judea and Samaria are the biblical names of the two regions that make up the West Bank, and the designations generally used by Israeli politicians and others supportive of the settlement enterprise. In Wikipedia in Hebrew, “Yehuda Veshomron” (Judea and Samaria) is the title of a lengthy article describing the West Bank’s history, geography and even its place in contemporary politics. This article is also linked to the English-language article for the West Bank (a term that refers to the area to the west of the Jordan River that was occupied by the Hashemite Kingdom after 1948).

There is, however, another, second article in Hebrew on Judea and Samaria, one about the administrative district, which outlines Israel’s formal functions in the West Bank’s “Jewish settlements.” In the past few weeks, a discrepancy between the two articles, one that puts in question the size of the area of the West Bank controlled by Israel, caught the attention of Hebrew Wikipedia editors and led to a startling discovery: Despite a wide array of services and officials presiding over the area, no official documentation can be found online attesting to proving its formal existence as a district.

“Not on the website for the Central Bureau of Statistics nor on that of the Interior Ministry can I find any reference to the ‘Judea and Samaria District,’” claimed an editor who initially looked into the matter. “There is some sort of official entity that functions like a district, but that is not one [technically],” the editor went on.

The issue first arose after an editor, Ben Menahem, changed the map on the district’s page from one that presents its territory as the entire West Bank to a more detailed one that delineates the boundaries between Areas A, B and C – as stipulated in the Oslo Accords, which divided up the parts of the West Bank would be, respectively, under Israeli, Palestinian or shared control until a final peace deal is achieved.

The map change led to an argument about the official size of the district and the demarcation of its borders: Israel has never formally annexed the West Bank, and Israeli civil law applies only to Jewish settlements in an ad hoc manner. After some research, the different Wikipedia editors failed to find any official reference within the Interior Ministry to the district’s existence or any delineation of its jurisdiction.

“There seems to be a reference to such a district with the police, the fire services, the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Planning Administration and even the parks and recreations department and the postal service, but no official district” registered with the Interior Ministry, an editor noted, after a failed attempt to find out why the area of the West Bank is larger by 100 square kilometers than that of the district bearing its traditional Hebrew name, according to Wikipedia.

Instead, what the editor found was paperwork indicating the existence of an official “administrator in charge of Judea and Samaria.”

“The Interior Ministry has a phone book section that notes the six districts and afterward an ‘administrator in charge of Judea and Samaria,’” an editor called “eman” noted. “But there seems to be a problem with defining the borders of this entity. Therefore the need for this article seems to be questionable, at least in its current form,” he added.

Consequently, many of the article’s claims were marked with a “citation needed” note, and in the debate that ensued on the article’s talk page – a forum for editors to discuss possible changes to content – editors claimed that while, in practice, there may be no argument about Israel’s day-to-day control over these areas, its official status remains unresolved.

“Maybe the Interior Ministry is reluctant to commit to a specific terminology,” an editor called “Icewhiz,” who was active in the debate, stipulated, adding that, “It is has a status similar to that of any other, [but the] district itself does not exist.”

“There is just no such district because it’s not part of our country,” another editor wrote in an apparent political jab at those who treat the territory as if it was part of the State of Israel, even though it has never been legally annexed to the state.

Currently, there is a note at the top of the “Judea and Samaria District” article warning Hebrew readers, “This article needs to be rewritten. The reason: It is unclear if this district actually exists.”

(For the full Hebrew debate)