Antisemitic Pragmatics: What’s behind “Free Palestine” ?

“Free Palestine.” One of the most common slogans of anti-Semitic organizations around the world. A slogan with which many people refer to the State of Israel, the only existing Jewish state, blaming it with racism, apartheid, and the like. For those who do not research deeper, it is easy to get carried away by such calls, which are part of a general campaign of slander against the State of Israel in particular, and against Jews, in general. But trying to trace the basic literal meaning of these words – you may be surprised.

In the summer of 2012, on a sunny day, I was walking in the main pedestrian street of Vienna, Austria. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a large group of demonstrators appeared, carrying red-black-green-white flags and “Free Palestine” signs, shouting loudly. There was something a little barbaric in this half-hour presentation in the heart of a civilized city like Vienna. The demonstrators shouted slogans condemning the State of Israel, and after half an hour they disappeared as if they had never been there. A short, one-time incident, during the eight days I spent there. But very unpleasant for Israelis who were touring around the area.

It was hard for me to avoid comparing very similar events, which are the daily routine of the residents of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, with one big difference: in Amsterdam, such incidents are not single-time incidents. They are a daily routine, and are very long lasting – usually a few hours. This is despite the fact that the slogans raised there violate the Dutch law that prohibits incitement. And this is not only a routine, but a routine supported by the local authorities. Yes, the same authorities that are supposed to enforce it.

The call “Free Palestine,” along with the “flags,” which are nothing more than banners of the PLO terrorist organization, plays a crucial role in the entire range of slogans, apparently directed towards the State of Israel, but practically directed towards the Jewish people.

Arabs calling themselves “Palestinians” claim a historical connection between the name “Palestine” and ancient Philistine. Ancient Philistine was a geographical area, where a people called “Philistines” was situated, located in the southern coastal plain – today’s Gaza area, within a slightly wider radius. The phonetic similarity between the two names has nothing to do with historical facts, but is only another, deliberated, means, to convince the world that there are some historical rights of a non-existing people on a non-existing land.

“Palestinians” and “Philistines”, as well as “Palestine” and “Philistine,” have nothing to do with one another. According to archaeological findings, and based on DNA tests carried out lately, the Philistines originated in Europe and were given their local name by the Romans, after the latter had conquered Judea, expelled the Jews, and gave it a new name – Philistine. The source of the name is unclear. Some say it is derived from the Semitic root P.L.Š ‘invade,’ and it was used as a derogatory term, but there is no proof of this claim. The Philistines lived in the Philistine region for several hundred years, and Israel haters have identified it as an irreplaceable opportunity to use it for anti-Semitic propaganda. Phonetically, it does sound quite persuasive. Yet, the so called Palestinians have nothing to do with ancient Philistine, which was the name of a geographical area in the historic land of Canaan, nor with the Philistines, who ruled that area; neither historically nor biologically.

“Palestine” was a geographical area, which was given its name by the British, when they received the Mandate for the land of Israel. They called it that way, because of its partial location in the original, historical, Philistine region. All the inhabitants of Palestine – Jews and Arabs – were called “Palestinians” during the British Mandate. But those who actually used that name as their official nationality were the local Jews, whereas the Arab inhabitants refused to use it, and preferred to use “Arabs” as their nation.

The name “Palestine” in Arabic is pronounced, and written, differently from the original “Philistine”. It uses an emphatic consonant instead of the original “t”. In European languages there is no use of emphatic consonants at all, nor was such a sound change known from the linguistic history of a Philistine’s language. Therefore, the claim that the two names are connected has no scientific basis. Since European languages cannot recognize emphatic consonants, absent from European languages, the so called “Palestinians” use the similarity between the two names for political purposes.

And the word “free”? According to Miriam Webster’s dictionary, it can be interpreted in three ways: as an adjective, as an adverb, or as a verb. As an adjective it means “not subject to the control or domination of another.” As an adverb it means “freely” or “with no charge.” As a verb it means “to relieve or rid of what restrains.” But as a verb it has one more meaning: to banish.

The combination “Free Palestine” can be interpreted in several ways, most of which indicate that “Palestine is free.” But the anti-Semitic brainwashing is aimed at interpreting the one meaning that would make Israel “the bad guys” in this story: Free (as a verb) Palestine. And the fact that there is a universal agreement on this interpretation suggests that anti-Semitism is so deeply rooted in so many people, that out of all the possible interpretations of this combination, the least expected meaning has been chosen. Both among the spreaders of the hate message, and among the potential interpreters. All this, when there is no entity called “Palestine,” and has never been one, nor a people called “Palestinians.” A state by the name of “Palestine” is an invention; there have never been any national symbols of such a state – no Prime minister, president or king; no flag, no currency, no postage stamps, and no many other features that characterize states. As the national anthem of “Palestine” the PLO’s anthem is used, yes – the same terrorist organization that I mentioned earlier, whose goal is to destroy Israel. “Palestine” is a term used to define a geographical area, that has been intentionally distorted, phonetically and politically, that has been using the anthem of a terrorist organization. That invented entity “Palestine” hoists as a flag the banner of the same terrorist organization that was established by an Egyptian student, and whose agenda consisted mainly of the destruction of another state, the Jewish state; and not surprisingly, it emerged only after the establishment of the State of Israel.

And to this entity, with all its anti-Semitic slogans, the world gives a stage with a generous hand. No lesson has been learned.

About the Author
Holding a PhD degree in linguistics from the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, I am the Principal Linguist in an Israeli Hi-Tech company, dealing with artificial intelligence. Also, I give enrichment lectures in language issues to all audiences. I have a previous experience in writing several guest-columns for various Jewish journals in the US and Canada. I am based in Israel.
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