For years, the international community and the U.S. government have described the West Bank in Israel as “occupied.”

That is, governed by Israel even though Palestinians claim ownership.

But just days ago, the U.S. State Department discontinued that description.

The agency’s new “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017, released Friday, assesses human rights in nearly 200 countries and territories.

“These reports are required by U.S. law and are used by a variety of actors including the U.S. Congress, the executive branch, and the judicial branch as a factual resource for decision making in matters ranging from assistance to asylum,” the department said.

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There still is a reference to the “Israel-occupied Golan Heights,” but that same description for the West Bank has been dropped.

Liberty Counsel, a longtime advocate of Israel, noted that instead of the headline “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” this year’s report titles it “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza.”

Last December, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, asked the State Department to stop calling the West Bank “occupied.”

The move comes amid preparations to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The announcement in December of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital enraged Palestinian interests, but a number of nations have followed Trump’s lead.

Liberty Counsel pointed out the report contains a new note about the status of Jerusalem.

It states that “issues primarily related to Israeli residents of Jerusalem are covered in the ‘Israel and the Golan Heights’ section. It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.'”

Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, president of Christians in Defense of Israel and president of Covenant Journey, said it’s about time that the State Department stopped referring to land in Israel as “occupied territories.”

“I applaud the Trump administration for this welcome change. The media often uses terms like ‘occupied territories’ and ‘refugee camps’ to delegitimize Israel,” he said. “Most people hearing the words ‘refugee camp’ visualize a makeshift tent city, when in reality these places are established neighborhoods with businesses and schools. I am pleased the State Department has eliminated the derogatory and false term ‘occupied territories’ language.”

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The report notes that one of the most significant human rights issues is “terrorist attacks targeting civilians.”

“According to the government and media reports, during the year terrorist attacks killed seven persons and injured 23 others. The locations of attacks included Jerusalem, Yavne, Petah Tikva, Tel Aviv, and Arad. Most of the attackers were Palestinians from the West Bank, and two were Arab citizens of Israel,” the report says.

Liberty Counsel said the contents of the report otherwise remained very much the same as in previous reports.


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