The History and Meaning of 'Palestine' and 'Palestinian'
By Michael Bussio
"From the end of the Jewish state in antiquity to the beginning of British rule, the area now designated by the name Palestine was not a country and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries..." - Professor Bernard Lewis, Princeton University
"There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not." -- Professor Philip Hatti, Arab historian to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, 1946.
"It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria." - Delegate of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations Security Council, 1956
"Keep in mind that the Arabs control 99.9 percent of the Middle East lands. Israel represents one-tenth of one percent of the landmass. But that's too much for the Arabs. They want it all. And that is ultimately what the fighting in Israel is about today... No matter how many land concessions the Israelis make, it will never be enough." -- Joseph Farah, Arab-American editor and journalist, author of "Myths of the Middle East"
There has never been a Palestinian state in the history of the region. Palestine has never existed as an autonomous entity.
There is no language known as Palestinian.
There is no distinct Palestinian culture.
There has never been a land known as Palestine governed by Palestinians.
The "so-called" Palestinians are Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians (another recent invention), Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians, etc.
Even the name Palestine came from the Roman Emperor Hadrian around 135 A.D. after Rome put down yet another Jewish revolt.
The Emperor, increasingly angered by the rebellious nature of Judah, Judea, and Samaria, became determined to break the back of the stiff-necked Jews once and for all.
When asked who the Jews most ardent enemies of the distant past were, the Emperor was told the Philistines; thus the name Palestina, which would later be morphed into the word Palestine.
(Alan Note: the Philistines have since become EXTINCT as a race or people)
Nearly eighteen hundred years later, Great Britain took over that part of the Middle East as a mandate from the League of Nations. The British chose to call the land Palestine.
It wasn't long before the various Arab tribes, native Egyptians, Syrians, and Turks living in the area adopted the word Palestine as if it were some ancient name passed down from their forefathers.
Strangely, the Arabs couldn't even pronounce it correctly, and used the fictional entity, Falastine.
The word Palestine has never been used as a name of a nation or state, but rather as a geographical term, used to designate the region at those times in history.
The word Palestine comes from the name Peleshet. Peleshet appears frequently in the Bible and entered into English as "Philistine." It dates to the thirteenth century B.C. These people were thought to be the dangerous "Sea Peoples" that so threaten the Aegean, Egypt, Syria, and present day Israel, Turkey, and Lebanon.
Historians and archeologist believe these "Sea Peoples" originated from Greece and many of the Greek Islands.
From there they would raid the region for plunder and general destruction. Eventually, they would establish five independent city-states (including Gaza) on a narrow strip of land that came to be known as "Philistia."
The Greeks and Romans would call it Palestina. At no time were the Philistines of old ever considered to be Arabs.
They were not even Semites. They had no connection, ethnic, linguistic, or historical with Arabia or Arabs. The name "Falastin" that Arabs today use for "Palestine" is not an Arabic name. It is the Arab pronunciation of the Greco-Roman "Palestina" derived from Peleshet.
How Did The Land Of Israel Become "Palestine"?
In the First Century after the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Romans crushed the independent kingdom of Judea. Though the Jews had successfully created a nation state for the second time in their history (the first being that of King David and King Solomon), it was eventually smashed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
In the Emperor's haste to wipe out the identity of Israel-Judah-Judea-Samaria (those areas that make up much of Israel today), Hadrian not only defeated the Israelite armies, slaughtered countless hundred thousands of Jews, and sent many more into exile, but took the name Palestina and imposed it on all the Land of Israel to further humiliate the Jews.
At the same time, he changed the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina.
Though the Romans killed many Jews and sold many more into slavery, there was never a complete abandonment of the Land by its people. There was never a time when there were not Jews and Jewish communities living on the land.
A Short History of Palestine
Before the Greeks, before the Romans, before the land was known by its invented Roman name of "Palestina," more than a millennium ago, the region had been called the land of "Canaan."
The people known as Canaanites had the unique ability of creating small vibrant city-states, though none ever reached the grandeur and efficiency of the Greek city-states of antiquity. At times these small states were independent, but for much of their history, the Canaanite city-states were vassals of an Egyptian or Hittite king. In their entire history, the Canaanites never united into a single nation.
After the Hebrews were granted their freedom in the Exodus from Egypt nearly 3,300 years ago, they wandered the desert for the next 40 years before settling in the lands of Canaan. There they would form the first Jewish government, the first Jewish nation, out of the kingdoms of Israel, Judah, and later those of Judea and Samaria.
Israel-Judah-Judea and parts of Samaria united into one nation, thus forming the "only" independent, sovereign nation-state that has ever existed in the entire history of "Palestine" west of the Jordan River. (In Biblical times, Ammon, Moab, and Edom as well as Israel, had land east of the Jordan, but they disappeared in antiquity and no other nation took their place until the British invented Trans-Jordan in the 1920's.)
The Roman Empire would eventually extend its borders to the Middle East with the conquest of Judea, Judah, Israel, and Samaria. This region would become a province of the pagan Roman Empire and then of the Christian Byzantine Empire, and very briefly of the Zoroastrian Persian Empire.
After the death of Mohammad in the 600's A.D. the Arab-Muslim Caliph conquered Palastina from the Byzantines, and made it apart of their Arab-Muslim Empire. Because the Arabs had no name of their own for the area, they opted for adopting the name the Romans gave the region-Palastina, which the Arabs pronounced Falastine.
During this time in history, much of the mixed population of Palastina was converted to Islam and eventually was pressured to adopt the Arabic language.
Whether they liked it or not, the people of the region were subject to the whims of a distant dictator, the Caliph. The area of Palastina at no time ever became an Arabic nation, or ever became an independent Arabic state of any kind, or ever developed a distinct Arabic culture and/or society.
The year 1099 A.D. marked the first year of the First Crusade. It was also the year the Christian Crusaders conquered Palastina-Falastin. After 1099, it was never again under Arab rule.
Though the Christian Crusader kingdom was politically independent, it never developed a national identity. For all intents and purposes, it remained only a military outpost of Christian Europe, and lasted less than one century.
Thereafter, Palastina-Falastin would be ruled as a subject province by Syria, then by the Egyptian dominated, ethnically mixed slave-warriors known as Mameluks, and finally by the Ottoman Turks.
Near the end of the First World War, the British, led by the likes of General Allenby and Lawrence of Arabia, took control of Palestine from the Ottomans. Thus with the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the war, its once-subject provinces came under the influence of the European powers.
Palestine was one of those subject provinces, and it came under the control of Great Britain who would now govern the territory on a temporary mandate from the League of Nations.
The Historical Home of the Jews
Over the centuries, many from the West traveled through the region. They gave an excellent account of what they saw there. And what they saw was depressing to say the least.
All mentioned the land as being empty, neglected, abandoned, and desolate. "Everything had fallen into disrepair and ruins," one visitor said. An English pilgrim stated in 1590, "There is nothing there (Jerusalem) to be seen but a little of the old walls which is yet remaining, and all the rest is grass, moss, and weeds".
The British consul to the region stated in 1857, "The country is in considerable degree, empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is of a body of population."
It was not unusual to hear from travelers returning home from this area of the Middle East to assert that, "There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent [Valley of Jezreel]-not for 30 miles in either direction...
One may ride ten miles hereabouts and not see ten human beings." It was reported in Europe and the United States that, "For the sort of solitude to make one dreary, come to the Galilee... Nazareth is forlorn... Jericho lays a moldering ruin... Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and humiliation ... untenanted by any living creature..."
One visitor declared that the "country was desolate whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds ... a silent, mournful expanse ... a desolation... We never saw a human being on the whole route... Hardly a tree or shrub anywhere.
Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil had almost deserted the country..." Even Mark Twain was taken by the devastation of the region, stating in his 1867 trip to the Palestine territory, "Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes ... desolate and unlovely..."
The land would not maintain its "desolate and unlovely" image for long. With the coming of Jewish pioneers in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, who would join with the many Jews who already lived in the region from time immemorial, the land began to turn green. Their hard work and diligence in bringing the land back to life attracted many others in the Middle East who sought employment opportunities and a better lifestyle.
Thus many Arab migrants were drawn to the area in hopes of better conditions for their families.
"His Majesty's government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish National Home, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object..." This was the Balfour Declaration of 1917. It was validated by the League of Nations Mandate, and thereby committed the British Government to the principle that there would be a Jewish state in that portion of the Middle East. It also specified that those Jews living in the region be preserved and protected.
The area in question to which Britain had committed itself, Mandated Palestine, originally included all of what is now Jordan, as well as all of what is now Israel, Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza strip. This would change when Britain's wartime (First World War) ally, Emir Abdullah, was forced out of his Hashemite domain in Arabia by the Saudi family.
In order to preserve their alliance however, Great Britain opted for making the former king ruler of a great portion of Mandated Palestine and lands east of the Jordan River. There was no traditional or historic Arab name for this land, so it was called after the river: first Trans-Jordan and later just Jordan.
With the British violating their own declaration under the mandate, the proposed ancestral and National Home for the Jews was cut by more than 75 percent. From this point on, no Jew has ever been permitted to reside in Trans-Jordan/Jordan. In addition, the British progressively restricted Jews from building, farming, purchasing land, and living where they wanted within the region.
Nonetheless, following the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel finally entered those lands long forbidden to them by the British and later by Jordan. Though one British government after another went about denouncing Jewish settlement as "illegal," the reality of the situation was that it was Great Britain who was acting in an illegal manner by prohibiting Jews from these parts of the ancestral Jewish National Home originally promised to them.
Just Who Is a Palestinian?
While Britain mandated over the region, it was the Jews, not any Arab tribe, who were known as Palestinians, including those Jews who served in the British Army during the Second World War, while various Arab groups aligned themselves with Nazi Germany.
More often than not, it was British policy brought on by fits of anti-Semitism, and Arab oil that continually restricted Jewish immigration. It was the 1939 White Paper that all but put an end to the admission of Jews to Palestine. When Jews needed a helping hand the most, it was this White Paper that became the death knell for Jews fleeing to the Promised Land, from the threat of annihilation at the hands of Hitler's executioners.
Jews-who might have lived, developed the nearly empty lands of Palestine, and prospered-were instead murdered in the death camps that stretched out over Nazi occupied Europe.
While the British, together with their Arab helpers, were closing the door to those Jews attempting to escape certain death in Europe, they were more than willing to permit massive illegal Arab immigration from Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa into the ancestral lands of the Jews.
A famous myth states that the various Arab tribes have long established themselves in Palestine. Then the Jews came and drove them out. This is of course patently false, as any knowledgeable historian will tell us.
History enlightens us to the fact that it was the assortment of Arab tribes who entered the region through illegal immigration, and it was they, who with violence, "displaced" the Jews. In fact, this Arab violence was used against the Jews in areas where they (the Jews) had long been established. For example, the Jewish presence in the city of Hebron goes back to Abraham, and there has been an Israelite/Jewish community there since Joshua, long before it was King David's capital.
In 1929, Arab rioters, with the passive consent of the British, killed or drove out virtually the entire Jewish population.
The world community stood by and did nothing. The U.N. itself, no friend to Israel and certainly no friend to any Jew, declared that the massive increase in Arab population was very recent; that any Arab who had lived in Palestine for two years and then left in 1948 qualifies as a "Palestinian refugee."
In the early 1920's, the British created the state of Trans-Jordan, which eventually seized much of Judea and Samaria (i.e., the West Bank), East Jerusalem, and the old city. They killed or drove out every Jew. And the world community stood by and did nothing.
As far as the British and the Arabs were concerned, all lands from where the Jews had been driven, making the land Judenrein (cleansed of Jews), would remain so forever.
It is interesting to note by contrast, that Israel, eventually allotted only 17 percent of Mandated Palestine, had to absorb a large and growing population of Arab citizens.
From Palestine Back to Israel-Again
By the time of the "third" Jewish nation-Israel, the Arab tribes of the region had still not yet discovered their ancient nation of Falastin. The U.N. offered them (the Arab tribes) half of Palestine in 1947-half!
And what did the Arabs do with this offer to a non-people? They violently rejected it. Soon, all too soon, six Arab nations swept down upon the only Jewish state in the region with the intent of driving every last Jew into the sea.
The Arab goal was the complete eradication of Jewry in that portion of the Middle East. And the stated goal of the Arab tribes in the area was the creation of the 22nd Arab state known as Falastin.The Arabs failed in their attempt to massacre the Jewish population of Israel.
The Arab tribes of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) even forfeited any right to a nation of their own when their brethren in Trans-Jordan invaded the West Bank and East Jerusalem, occupied these territories, and killed or drove out all the Jews who had lived there since time immemorial.
The Jews were banned for life from traveling and praying before Jewish holy places in the region. In the meantime, another Arab nation, Egypt, succeeded in taking the Gaza Strip. Both Egypt and Jordan held onto conquered lands until 1967. In that same year, the Arab nations that surrounded Israel initiated another war of genocide.
The end result, however, was much like the first - the Arabs lost again in their bid to destroy the Jewish nation, and in consequence lost lands they had taken illegally in 1948.
In the nineteen-year span from 1948-1967, Jordan and Egypt never once, not once, offered to hand over Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip to make up an independent state of Falastin. Once more, the so-called "Palestinians" never sought it. And not one nation in the entire world ever suggested it, much less demanded it.
Since the end of the First World War, the Arabs of the Middle East and North Africa have been given independent states in 99.5 percent of the land they claimed. They are determined that the remaining 0.5 percent be developed into yet another Arab nation at the expense of the lone Jewish state. To that end, the Palestine Liberation Organization was set up in 1964 with the express purpose of destroying the State of Israel and driving out of the region all the Jews.
The sad truth today is that history has been thrown aside. Many nations, including the United States, have engineered media and public opinion to accept without question; without any serious analysis, the new myth of an Arab nation of Falastin whose territory is unlawfully occupied by the Jews.
Michael Bussio is a former teacher of history. He has worked for INR at the US Department of State in Washington D.C. and lived in Israel.