Depending on which side of the Middle East fence you are on, Palestine and the Palestinians can be defined in very different ways. Of course, your understanding and supporting of the Arab/Israeli conflict will vary greatly based on which definition you adhere to.
One of the major reasons why there is so much strife in the region is because of the lack of clarity in these definitions as well as the amount of historical inaccuracy supporting them. Modern day Palestinians and their supporters often speak of “historic Palestine” in an attempt at validating its existence prior to that of the Jewish people. But was there such a thing as a historic Palestine and if there was, how could it be defined?
Let us start with what we know from history and define a geographical Palestine. At this point, my use of the word Palestine will only be to describe geographical boundaries in the Middle East. It is therefore critical to differentiate between the “Land of Palestine” as a geographical area and the “State of Palestine” as a political entity. Palestine is a piece of land in Eastern Asia between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, squeezed in a very strategic region between Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Iraq.
The word “Palestine” has been etymologically altered over the last 50 years. Until then, it was simply the name of a region. Biblically, it was actually NEVER called Palestine but “The Land of Canaan”. It was God’s choice to give the Land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants as we read in Genesis 17:8: “I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
Nevertheless, the first use of the word itself might go back to the 5th century BCE out of Greece. It came from Herodotus who penned The Histories, considered a foundational work on history in Western literature. In Book III of The Histories, he calls it Palaestine. Many authors and historians such as Aristotle, Plutarch and Josephus followed Herodotus in the use of the name which always described a geographical area.
Fast forward to the last Jewish revolt against the Romans known as the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-135 CE) and you now have the official renaming of that area as Palaestina to further humiliate the remaining Jewish people after their defeat. Additionally, Jerusalem was renamed Aelia Capitolina by emperor Hadrian. There is no archeological or historical evidence for the survival of the people known as the Canaanites–from whom many believe the Palestinians come from. On the other hand, we can trace the first Hebrews in the Land of Canaan back to 1,300 BCE.
The name Palestine continued to be used for that area of the world through the centuries, and Jewish presence was never put into question. In the early 1880s, Diaspora Jews who had been spread out all over the world since the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, had started to return to Palestine in a series of Aliyot due to intense persecution. In 1916, the region was divided under the Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Grand Britain. Lebanon and Syria were assigned to France and Palestine was assigned or “mandated” to Great Britain. The 1917 Balfour Declaration established that because of the “historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine”, The Jewish people were entitled to return to the area. The statement was very clear: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.”
While there might have been some tension as to who really belonged in the land and its exact boundaries, Palestine remained a descriptive for a geographical area and not a political movement or people group. It is then accurate to say that historically we can support geographical Palestine.
The area known as Palestine under the British Mandate actually included what was then known as Trans-Jordan (East of Jewish Palestine). One is to wonder why Trans-Jordan or “Eastern Palestine” is never mentioned and never included in the modern quest for the Palestinian State? That area known today as Jordan, represented 85% of the Entire British Mandate, yet it apparently wasn’t enough! Incidentally, the Palestinian flag is almost identical to the Jordanian flag.
The tide began to turn in 1929 during the Hebron Massacres and the Arab revolt of 1936-39. Around that time, it was still appropriate to speak of ” Palestinian Jews” and “Palestinian Arabs”. In 1948, Palestinian Jews became known as Israelis and Palestinian Arabs started to be called Palestinians as the narrative switched from geographical Palestine to “historic” Palestine. Yet many arabs from neighboring countries continued to call themselves Arabs and not Palestinians for a while longer.
Yassir Arafat (born in Egypt) came on the scene and the pressure was increased on the modern state of Israel. The terms Palestine and Palestinian continued to be deconstructed and re-defined. Today Egyptians and Jordanians of the past are calling themselves Palestinians and claiming right to the Land of Palestine in the name of “self-determination.” Arab victims of the War of Independence (1948), the Six-Day War (1967) and the Kippur War (1973) have been made into political refugees, forcing Israel to become the “occupier.”
Historical revisionism will work for two reasons. On one hand, the lies propagated by its supporters are constantly placated on the news, in books, interviews and the internet. On the other hand they are for the most part never challenged. A repeated lie that is never challenged eventually will become the new accepted truth.
This new truth of a displaced people [the Palestinians] and an occupier [the Israelis] is what currently punctuates the news. Unfortunately, it also dictates the world’s response to the Middle East crisis. But it is based on revisionism and not on historical facts. Any serious student of history, while not blindly exonerating Israel of all guilt over the last 67 years, will recognize Israel’s right to exist and be in the land. Israel’s right to the land can be proven biblically, historically, geographically and archeologically.
You can choose to call that land the Holy Land, Eretz Yisrael, Jewish Palestine or even Western Palestine as we could agree that all these term are inter-changeable, as long as the name refers to a geographical area. From that angle, I support Palestine. The moment that Palestine becomes a political entity with a fictitious displaced people is the moment that I draw the line.
Geographical Palestine exists while historic Palestine never did. More than the Israelis, the real victims are the Jordanians, Egyptians and other Arab neighbors of Israel who were made into something they are not. Of course, their children and grand-children, innocently born as “refugees” only exacerbates the problem. We might not be able to come-up with a viable solution any time soon, but this shouldn’t give us the liberty to ignore the problem and its root cause.