clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What is the West Bank?

The West Bank is a chunk of land east of Israel, home to nearly 3 million Palestinians.

The Dead Sea, also called the Salt Sea, is a salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west on May 22, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel.
Frédéric Soltan/Corbis via Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Editor’s note, November 9, 2023: This story has been updated to reflect details of the current Israel-Hamas war. For all of Vox’s latest coverage on Israel and Palestine, see our storystream.

The West Bank is a chunk of land east of Israel. It’s home to nearly 3 million Palestinians, and would make up the heart of any Palestinian state. Israel took control of it from Jordan in 1967 and has allowed Jewish settlers to move in, but Palestinians (and most of the international community) consider it illegally occupied Palestinian land.

In 1967, Israel fought a war with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Israel fired the first shot, but claims it was preempting an imminent Egyptian attack; Arabs disagree, casting Israel as an aggressor. In six days, Israel routed the Arab powers, taking the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan.

Israel has controlled the West Bank since the Six-Day War, as it’s called. For many Jews, this is wonderful news in theory: the West Bank — which Israel also calls Judea and Samaria —was the heartland of the ancient Jewish state. It’s home to many Jewish holy sites, like the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, that Jews were previously cut off from. In practice, Israeli control of the West Bank means military administration of a territory full of Palestinians who chafe under Israeli restrictions.

The border between Israel and the West Bank would probably have to change in any peace deal.

There are about 700,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank, many of whom live near the border with Israel. In a two-state deal, a significant number of settlers — two years ago, the number was estimated around 185,000, a number that’s likely only grown — would have to leave the West Bank, while some border settlements would become Israeli land. In exchange, Israel would give over some of its territory to Palestine. These would be called “land swaps.” No set of Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed during peace negotiations on where, exactly, the borders should be.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.