In this 1939 French dictionary “Palestine” is clearly identified as a Jewish term. (Credit: Alamy Stock Photo)
Maoz Israel Report March 2020

The Hijacking of “Palestine”

There is often confusion in regards to the term “Palestine” mostly because its ancient and modern meanings are very different from each other. You might be surprised to learn the historical context of what "Palestine" actually means.

Shani Ferguson
By Shani Ferguson

There is often confusion in regards to the term “Palestine” mostly because its ancient and modern meanings are very different from each other.  In ancient times, when the Romans ruled over vast lands, the conquered region of Judea was always a source of consternation as Jews refused to accept Rome’s pagan practices and Caesar as their god.

Fed up with the scuffles and uprisings by religious zealots, Rome finally crushed Jerusalem and banished most of its Jewish inhabitants. As a parting shot for the endless troubles those people had caused Caesar, Rome renamed Israel “Palestine” after Israel’s infamous arch enemy, the Philistines. The term wouldn’t technically allot the land to any particular people group since the Philistines had ceased to exist hundreds of years before (and had no relation to the Arab race). But it was the insult that counted. The name Palestine stuck from the time the Israelites were banished soon after 70 A.D. to 1948 when their descendants returned and declared independence. The area would never become a sovereign state to anyone else.

Even after Israel’s rebirth, the term “Palestinian” would not be used on any official documentation until the 1960’s. And it would be used mostly to describe Jews who lived in the area. Even dictionaries in the early 20th century had a decidedly Jewish looking flag under the name “Palestine.” Jews had no problem referring to themselves as Palestinian Jews – as the name wasn’t associated with anything else other than its historical reference. The 73-piece Palestine Orchestra would consist entirely of Jews, and the local paper, run by Jews, was called the Palestine Post. In 1950 the paper would change its name to become the now famous Jerusalem Post. The Jews would, however, replace the term with “Israeli” once Israel became a nation.

In a stroke of genius, frustrated Arabs would snatch up the term and redefine it from describing a group of people to describing a people group. Branding themselves Palestinian gave Arabs two main advantages in the war over the Holy Land. First, it gave them an automatic historical association with the location as if the land was named after them rather than the other way around.  Second, it marketed them as a much smaller, underdog type group rather than the diverse Arab clans from all around the Middle East that they were. And that is how in the 1960’s the meaning of the term “Palestine” changed and the “ancient” story of the Palestinian people was born.

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