Jewish Roots Lead Deep into the 'West Bank'

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Palestinians hope to obtain the land known as the West Bank. But the area carries a history that started long before the world ever heard of Palestinians.

"We find it in the Bible that it is not called the West Bank. Although it is on the west bank of the Jordan [River], we know it is Judea and Samaria," said Dean Bye, founder and CEO of Return Ministries.

The modern-day community of Beit-El, named after biblical Bethel -- the house of God -- may not look ancient, but here, 4,000 years ago, the Bible says God appeared to Jacob and promised this land to him and his descendants forever.

"On the hills of Judea [and] Samaria, the Jewish people were born and that's where it all started,"  Naftali Bennett, who leads the Yesha Council, told us. 

"That's where Abraham walked, that's where Isaac and Jacob lived, and that's where Jacob slept and had his famous dream," Bennett said.

Following the 1948 Israeli-Arab War, often referred to as Israel's War of Independence, Jordan annexed the "West Bank."

About 20 years later, Israel regained control of the area as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War.

About 1.6 million Palestinian Arabs and 350,000 Jewish Israelis live here. Now, this area -- known as the biblical heartland -- could become the future Palestinian state.

Highway 60 Then and Now

Highway 60 serves as the main West Bank thoroughfare for both Israelis and Palestinians, but Bye told CBN News it's much more.

"It's probably one of the most amazing roads in all of history because God met with his patriarchs; he met with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He covenanted this land there," Bye said.

"It's along this road that He would say, 'Abraham, look to the north, the south, the east and the west. It's to wherever you see I will give you this land,' He said. 'Wherever your feet step, I will give you this land," He said.

"It's along this road Jesus met with the Samaritan woman. It's along this road that He declared to her who He was," Bye said.

Jerusalem, Shiloh, Anatot

Some biblical places along Highway 60, including Jerusalem and Shiloh -- where the Bible says God's presence dwelt in the Jewish Tabernacle for more than 350 years -- are present-day Jewish communities.

CBN News visited an Israeli park near Anatot, where according to the Bible God told Jeremiah to buy a piece of land and bury the deed in a clay pot as a sign the Jewish people would return to their land one day.

"[God] says I want you to buy from your uncle a piece of land in Anatot and would you do it up legally with a seal and a deed and a title and will you put it in a clay pot so that it will last a long time," Buy said.

"I'm excited to be in this region. In fact, maybe you and I can go looking for that pot. It hasn't been discovered yet," he said with a smile.

But despite the significance of the area, you won't see many visitors here. That's because many West Bank cities are under Palestinian Arab control.

Other than Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and Jericho, the oldest city in the world, tourists tend to stay away from Palestinian areas.

"Holy sites under Arab control, unfortunately time and time again, are ruined," Bennett told CBN News.

For example, long time Israeli-Palestinian agreements protected Joseph's Tomb in Nablus -- biblical Shechem -- as a Jewish holy city.

The city of Nablus was first called Shechem, Bye reminded us.

But at the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, Palestinians forced out the Jewish study center there and ransacked the place.

Then a few months ago, a Palestinian policeman killed a Jewish worshipper there -- Israel called it a terror attack.

Other Controversies

These disputes also include Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, which the Palestinians say is actually a mosque, and there's the cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives are buried.

While some Israelis would be willing to swap Judea and Samaria for the promise of peace with the Palestinians, Bennett objects.

"The only way to bring viable and long-term peace on this land is to deepen our roots into this land, into the source of the Jewish nation. The source of the Bible is here. If, God forbid, we uproot ourselves, there'll never be peace," Bennett said.

"They'll say, 'man these Jews don't feel any connection. So how about wiping them out of this country altogether.' If we're not in Jerusalem, if we're not in Hebron, if we're not in Bethel, we won't be in Tel Aviv," he said.

Bye says it's up to Christians to take the side of God.

"I think God's plan and His purposes were that Israel would allow the stranger to dwell here but He has given this inheritance to Israel -- to be the steward of this land, the least we can do is respect God's choosing," Bye said.

*Original broadcast August 9, 2011.

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Chris Mitchell and Julie Stahl

Chris Mitchell and Julie Stahl

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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