The term “Palestine” has conjured up many images and meanings throughout the centuries. In the Christian West, the term was synonymous for the “Promised Land,” or the “Holy Land,” that is, the Land of the Jews. Throughout the centuries, the terms “Palestine” and “Palestinian” were analogous to the terms “Israel” and “Jew.” This is quite evident from reading books, articles, newspapers, and encyclopedias. “Palestinian” was used to identify Jews living in the Holy Land as opposed to Jews living elsewhere, such as in Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome, or elsewhere. In fact, within Judaism there is even a Talmud (ancient composition of commentary on the Bible) that is called by historians the “Palestinian Talmud,” as opposed to the “Babylonian Talmud.”
Nevertheless, within the last forty to fifty years, a perverse and vicious transmogrification of the term “Palestine” has taken root among anti-Jews and anti-Israel haters around the globe, most notably in the Arab/Muslim world, and in the increasingly “dhimmified” European world. A name in Arabic - “Filastin” - that has no historical connotations or etymological meaning for Arabs and other Muslims - has now taken on the properties of a wholesale myth that could fill volumes of vitriolic and venomous propaganda. Indeed, the whole distortion and myth of an Arab “Palestine” has become a virtual religion unto itself.
How did this myth of a non-existent people and non-existent land of “Filastin” ever come to be? The answer lies in the tragic history of the Roman-Jewish “encounter” during the 1st and 2nd centuries, when Israel (then called Judea) was occupied by the Roman Empire.
The Jews bitterly resented being ruled by the pagan Romans, and for over a century fought to regain their independence. Twice during Roman rule, an independent Kingdom of Judea existed. First, under Herod the Great (while Augustus was emperor), and then under Herod’s grandson, Herod Agrippa, (while Claudius was emperor). Regardless, all ended in disaster when the Jews rose in revolt in 66 A.D., and fought a four year war with Rome that resulted – according to the eyewitness historian Josephus – with close to a million Jewish deaths, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
Yet Judea, while conquered, remained a restive province in the Roman Empire. This changed dramatically and drastically in 132 A.D. when a Jewish warrior by the name of Simeon bar Kokhba raised another revolt against Rome. The war lasted for three years and was so intense, that the Emperor Hadrian had to recall his greatest general, Julius Severus from Britain. It took close to a dozen Roman legions to put down the revolt, but when it was finished, so was Judea. Hadrian had had enough of the Jews and their revolts and decided to rename Judea “Syria Palestina.” The name “Palestina” was chosen after the Philistines – ancient enemies of the Israelites. It was nothing more than pouring salt into the wounds of the already defeated Jews. Jerusalem’s name was not spared either and was renamed “Aelia Capitolina.” And so it appeared that the “Jewish Question” of the 1st and 2nd centuries had been “solved.” However, Jews continued to remain as a majority in their conquered land.
The situation remained static until the Arabs marched out of the Arabian desert conquering every country in sight for Allah and Muhammad. In 635 A.D., the Arabs conquered the Holy Land from Byzantium. However, it appears that the Muslims had no real interest in the land. In fact, when they entered Jerusalem, they apparently did not realize where they were, as they first called the city “Iliyas,” nothing more than an Arabicized form of the Latin “Aelia” (which, as previously stated, was substituted for the name of Jerusalem). In an ironic twist of fate, it was a Jew who had converted to Islam that pointed out to the Caliph Omar where he and his occupation army were now standing; namely, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. It was then that the Arabs decided to call the city “Al Quds” and “Beit al Muqdas.” Once again, these are nothing but Arabicized terms from the original Hebrew: “Ha-Qodesh” and “Beit ha-Miqdash” which respectively mean “the Holy (City)” and “the Holy House” (i.e., “Holy Temple”).
The Arab-Muslims now called the land “Jund Filastin” (Province of Palestine) – a direct borrowing from the Greco-Roman term. But because Arabic has no “p” sound in it language, “Palestina” became “Filastin.” Indeed, every name of every so-called “Arab village” in Israel is nothing more than an Arabic perversion of the original Hebrew, Greek or Latin names for a city. (To name just two: “Habrun” – from the Hebrew “Hevron”, and “Nablus” –Nea Polis, (“New City”) built on the ruins of biblical Shechem.) The Arab Muslim disinterest in the land was so great that with the exception of the city of Ramleh (perhaps built on the Jewish ruins of the city Ramathaim Zophim, according to some archaeologists) no other city was ever built by the Arabs or the other Muslim conquerors. Even more ironic, it was Ramleh that became the provincial capital of “Filastin.” Jerusalem played absolutely no significance with the major exception of the building of Masjid Al-Aqsa (the Mosque of Al Aqsa) and Qubbat as-Sahra (the Dome of the Rock) over the ruins of the Jewish Temple. And the reason for building these structures was to show the superiority of Islam over Judaism, and to be in “competition” with the Christian Holy Sepulchre which had been built nearby, centuries earlier.
Nothing changed over the centuries as the denuded land of “Palestine” went from one conqueror to another. Finally, in 1917, Britain wrested the land from the Ottomans and after promising the Jews a homeland in their ancestral country, the League of Nations awarded a Mandate to the British which extended over both the western and eastern banks of the Jordan River. It was at this point that the term “Palestine” was revived as a quasi-political entity ruled by a British governor.
While the Jews began to call their newspapers, charities, and organizations such names as the “Palestine Post” and the “United Palestine Appeal,” the Arabs eschewed the term as being “Jewish” and “Zionist.” For them, they were Muslims first, and “Southern Syrians” second. Indeed, many an Arab politician and historian denied that there was ever a country called “Palestine.” To name the amount of Arab political figures and historians who stated this would require an article all by itself. Suffice to say that Arabs such as the late Hashemite monarch Hussein “Chairman” Arafat, and noted Arab historian Philip K. Hitti, have all candidly admitted that no such country as “Palestine” ever existed. In fact, the latter, while appearing in front of a January 11, 1946 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in Washington, D.C. stated “[T]here is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not.” The late King Hussein, who knew about artificial entities (i.e., Transjordan – now “Jordan”) said that “[T]he truth is that Jordan is Palestine, and Palestine is Jordan.” He said this on more than one occasion in the 19070s and as late as December 26, 1981 in an interview with the Paris based Arabic newspaper An-Nahar Al Arabi (“The Arabic Daily”). Many other Hashemites (past and present) have made similar statements. Indeed, without the help of Churchill and Britain, there would never have been a “Hashemite entity” on the East Bank of the Jordan created in 1922 and carved out of the original “Palestine Mandate” for the Jewish National Home. And in one of the most candid admissions ever made, Zuhair Muhsin, little known leader of the PLO splinter gang known as “Al Sa’iqa” (The Storm) and backed by Syria, said in a March 31, 1977 interview with the Dutch newspaper Trouw:
The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct Palestinian people to oppose Zionism.
For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.
Muhsin was eventually assassinated by Israel in 1979.
And of course, there was “Chairman” Arafat who in a 1974 interview with The New Republic stated: “What you call Jordan is actually Palestine.”
Regardless, until the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, “Palestine” and “Palestinian” had no meaning for the Arabs. As an aside, the fact that the PLO was created in 1964 by the League of Arab States and not after the June “Six Day War” of 1967, is telling enough that Ahmad Shuqayri (original founder of the PLO), and his successor Yasser Arafat, were looking for the total extermination of Israel, while Jordan already had the “occupied territories” of the “West Bank,” and Egypt had the “Gaza Strip.” For them and for the PLO (or PA of today), “Palestine” is just a part of the “Arab Muslim national homeland” that has to be liberated from the “infidel” Jews. As late as 1967, even the UN did not refer to the term “Palestinians” merely calling them “refugees.” (Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967.) However, as the late 1960s turned into the 1970s, the historical terminology of “Palestine” began to be turned upside down, and hijacked by the Arabs. It now became terms synonymous with Arabs, but in reality was only a weapon in the fight to extirpate Israel from the world.
The facts are undeniable. “Palestine” has no meaning in Greek, Latin, Arabic, or English. It is a general fact that a people give their name to a country, not vice-versa. Thus, the Arabs call their homeland, “Jazirat al-Arab” or “Island of the Arabians.” The Jews call their land Israel because they were called Israelites; Israel in Hebrew meaning “to strive with God.” Similarly, it was called Judah or Judea after the tribe of Judah (meaning “praise” in Hebrew). Ironically, it is only one language in which the term “Palestine” has a meaning, and that language is Hebrew. The name translated as “Philistia” in the Holy Bible comes from the Hebrew “Peleshet” which means nothing more than “land of the Philistines.” Contrary to Arab propaganda, the Philistines were a non-Semitic, Indo-European people who migrated to what is now Gaza. Historians believe that these “sea peoples” originated in the Aegean area of what is now Crete.
In conclusion, one can only imagine if Hadrian had never changed the name of Israel from Judea to Palestina. We might very well have seen a “Judea Liberation Organization” instead of a “Palestine Liberation Organization” and we might very well be hearing the mantra of the “inalienable rights of the Judean Arab people.” At the same time, if Hadrian had changed the name of Judea to Mars, we would be hearing of the “Martian Arab people.” Of course, this sounds absurd, but not any more absurd than the fictitious mythical land and people of “Palestine.”
Israel would be well advised to learn from the cruel fates of history which has a way of repeating itself. Judea did not exist alongside “Palestina” after Hadrian’s destruction in the 2nd century. Similarly today, in the 21st century, it is impossible for Israel to exist “side by side in peace” with a “Palestine” that seeks to replicate and complete Hadrian’s war against the Jews. One state or the other can exist, but never both. Israel is a historical reality. Arab “Palestine” is an artificial invention. Inevitably, a “two state solution” will lead to nothing less than a final solution for the state of Israel, and perhaps for the Jews of the world. It is time for Israel to take a courageous stand and face the painful facts of reality – and history.