Was there ever a country called Palestine?

One of the common assertions one finds in Zionist propaganda is that there “was never any Palestine.” This odd allegation is simply not true.

– Professor Juan Cole 1

Wasn’t there a country called Philistine?

The word Palestine is a perversion of Philistine the name of an ancient people that lived in the Gaza area. The Philistines were an Aegean (Cypriot) people that became extinct nearly 3,000 years ago. They didn’t refer to themselves as Philistines as this was the Jewish term for them. The Hebrew bible refers to them as “Plishtim” which means “invaders” (this was later translated into Latin as Philistinus), ironically, in an attempt to claim they’re indigenous the Palestinians named their national movement after a people that were not indigenous.

philistine-was-not-palestine

Wasn’t there a country called Syria-Palestina?

2,000 years ago the region was under Roman occupation and between the years 66 and 132 CE the Jews waged continuous rebellions against the Romans. Upon crushing the Jewish Revolt of 132 CE the Romans exiled the majority of the Jews and renamed Israel “Syria-Palestina”. The idea was to erase the Jewish presence from Israel by exiling and renaming their homeland after their Biblical enemies. It was a final humiliation.

Geographically Syria-Palestina stretched from Egypt to Turkey and from Israel to Jordan, it had a diverse demography but with the Jews exiled the majority population was Phoenician, Greek and Roman… not Arab, like the Palestinians of today.

syria-palestina-in-roman-times

Where does the word Palestine come from then?

Various empires came and went in the Middle East, each of them swallowing up this tiny tract of land. Some of these empires preserved the Roman names of Syria and Palestina using them in reference to provinces in that region. By the 17th the name had almost dropped out of common parlance in the Muslim world (which favoured the names Syria and Southern Syria for that region). The name was largely kept alive by Europeans who continued their ancestral tradition of calling the region Palestine.2

One of the longest empires in the land was the Turkish Ottoman Empire which stood for 400 years (1517 – 1917). To control their giant empire they divided it into provinces, but there was no province of Palestine, instead there was the Sanjak of Nablus, the Sanjak and of Acre and the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem. When referring to this region collectively the Ottomans preferred the term Southern Syria and on very rare occasions Palestine (Filastin), but this was not an identity the inhabitants of the region took on (people remained aligned to their religious identities).

ottoman-sanjak-jerusalem-acre-nablus

After the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I the conquering European powers divided the land and labelled part of it Palestine – resurrecting the European historic name for the region. The borders of the British Mandate of Palestine bore no resemblance to the Roman province and instead incorporated all of Jordan, Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

The term was so sparsely used that in 1937 a Nablus born proto-Palestinian leader declared:

There is no such country as Palestine! ‘Palestine’ is a term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria.

– Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi 3

If Palestine was the name of a country his people originated from, why on earth would one of the most prominent leaders of the anti-Zionist movement be so unfamiliar with it that he believed it to be a Zionist creation?! His confusion stemmed from the fact that many of the first Zionist organisations used the term Palestine (such as the Palestine Wine Company) and it was the name that Europeans favoured to refer to the region.

british-mandate-of-palestine-un-partition-proposal-1947

Furthermore if the British Mandate of Palestine included Jordan (a country three times the size of Israel and the disputed territories) why is there no movement to free Palestine from Jordan? This is probably best explained by King Hussein of Jordan words, “The truth is that Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan”.4 There was never a country called Jordan which is another corruption of Hebrew (“trans” is latin for “beyond”, while “Jordan” is a latin for the Hebrew name “Yarden” of the river). Palestine and Jordan never existed and their leaders see them as part of the same entity – there is nothing which makes the two distinct.

There was never a country called Palestine, check the timeline:

  • Pre 1272 BCE
    Canaanite kingdoms
  • 1272 BCE
    Kingdom of Israel, its rulers were Jewish.
  • 1272 BCE
    Israel splits into two Jewish Kingdoms (Judea and Israel)
  • 510 BCE
    Babylonians conquer Israel
  • 333 BCE
    Greek Seleucids conquer Israel
  • 174 BCE
    Jewish Hasmoneans re-establish Israel
  • 73 CE
    Romans conquer Israel, they rename an area which stretches from Turkey to Egypt as Syria-Palestina. This was a province of the Roman empire and had no connection to modern day Palestine or the Palestinians
  • 330 CE
    The area becomes part of the Christian Byzantine Empire, a Greek empire.
  • 650 CE
    Umayyad Sunni Muslims conquer Israel, incorporating it into their Arab empire
  • 750 CE
    Abbasid Sunni Muslims conquer Israel, incorporating it into their Arab empire
  • 868 CE
    Tulunid Sunni Muslims conquer Israel, incorporating it into their Turkish empire
  • 905 CE
    Abbasid Sunni Muslims conquer Israel, incorporating it into their Arab empire
  • 969 CE
    Fatimid Shia Muslims conquer Israel, incorporating it into their Arab empire
  • 1099 CE
    Christian Crusaders conquer Israel, incorporating it into their European empire
  • 1187 CE
    Ayyubid Sunni Muslims conquer Israel, incorporating it into their Kurdish empire
  • 1250 CE
    Bahri Sunni Muslims conquer Israel, incorporating it into their Turkish empire
  • 1382 CE
    Burji Sunni Muslims conquer Israel
  • 1517 CE
    Ottoman Sunni Muslims conquer Israel, incorporating it into their Turkish empire
  • 1917 CE
    Britain conquers Israel from the Ottomans in Israel
  • 1920 CE
    Britain awarded Mandate over the region by the League of Nations
  • 1945 CE
    Britain hands political decision making for Mandate over to the United Nations
  • 1947 CE
    The United of Nations voted to partition the land into Jewish and Arab States
  • 1948 CE
    Britain pulls out of the Mandate. The Jews declare independence, the Arabs reject the partition plan and several Arab nations invade Israel. The Palestinians refuse to declare independence.
    • The Jordanians conquer the West Bank and make it part of Jordan, granting all the Arabs Jordanian citizenship. They do not establish a Palestinian state.
    • The Egyptians conquer the Gaza Strip but and also fail to establish a Palestinian state (they do setup a pseudo-Palestinian government which they later shut down).

How this graph actually looked in images:

historical-sovereignty-of-israel-in-maps

There may not have been a country, but perhaps there was people

Many will argue that although there was never a country named Palestine, there were a people that lived there for thousands of years. This is a gross distortion of Palestinian nationalism and the history of the Levant.

  • The Palestinians are not an ancient people
  • Before the 60s they were not a national people

Most Palestinians today descend from recent migrants to region, the majority of the population were attracted to the economic opporutnities Zionist and British enterprise created.

The strive for Palestinian self-determination is unlike any other in history. Usually self-determination requires a people in an area determining their own political independence. If we look at some of the more notable examples in modern history:

  • Kurdistan
    The Kurds are an ethnic group, they have a shared history, language and culture that make them distinct from the ethnicities that surround them.
  • Chechnya
    The Chechens are also an ethnic group, they have a shared history, language and culture that make them distinct from the ethnicities that surround them.
  • Basque Country
    The Basques are an ethnic group, they have a shared history, language and culture that make them distinct from the ethnicities that surround them.

The Palestinians are not and never were a distinct people. They are a mixed multitude of people that settled in the region over the centuries (it should be noted the majority descend from recent migrants). A Greek Orthodox Christian whose forefather came from Europe does not belong to the same ethnic group as a Sunni Muslim whose forefathers came from Jordan.

Before 1900 there is no example of these groups Jews, Samaritan Jews, Karaite Jews, Arab Muslims, Arab Bedouins, Arab Ahmadis, Arab Christians, Arab Druze, Aramean Christian, Assyrian Christians, Greek Christians, Russian Christians, Catholic Christians, Armenian Christians, Circassian Christians and Baha’is collectively referring to themselves as “Palestinians”.

It is foolish to force these ethnicities together and claim them to be the same people. To understand what we mean by this, there is no Palestinian language, no Palestinian culture, no Palestinian history and before the birth of Zionism – there were no Palestinian people.

In the 1960s the anti-Zionist movement presented the “Palestinian” identity as the national identity of the indigenous people of the land. However, this was a complete fabrication as their leaders brazenly declared:

[T]he Palestinian people have no national identity. I, Yasser Arafat, man of destiny, will give them that identity through conflict with Israel.

– Yasser Arafat 5

Today millions of people have taken on this identity and their right to self-determination should be respected. However, to present this identity as being an ancient one is completely dishonest.

You can read more about the fabrication of the Palestinian people here.

Palestine may have been diverse but it was an Arab land

We often hear that Palestine has always been an Arab country, what they mean is that Palestine has always been under Arab rule. The biggest problem with this logic is that it suggests that if a minority have oppressed the majority – the majority should be denied the right to self-determination. In the case of Israel/Palestine it is absolutely incorrect. The two ethnic groups that have ruled the land longer than any other are Jews and Turks.

ethnic-groups-that-have-ruled-israel

In fact when we look at how long each dynasty has ruled the land, it is strikingly obvious that the Jews reigned longer than any other people in the land. They are also the people with oldest and strongest claim to sovereignty over the land. Despite this, they have always been willing to share the land.

how-long-each-dynasty-has-ruled-israel

Wasn’t there a country called Palestine between 1917 and 1947

No, British mandatory Palestine was never a country – it was Mandate that was awarded to Britain so that Britain could help the Jewish people in that region establish a Jewish National Home (and later an Arab National Home). Many objects and business from that period that mention Palestine are often flaunted as proof that there was a country named Palestine, we would like to dispel some of these myths below:

palestine-brigade

palestine-currency-board

palestine-post

palestine-checkpoint

palestine-airways-hebrew\\

palestine-stamp-hebrew-arabic

palestine-coin-hebrew-arabic

Summary

  • There was never a country called Palestine
    • Philistine was the Hebrew word for an ancient people with no connection to the Palestinians
    • Syria-Palestina was a Roman province which bore no resemblance to Palestine people present today
    • British Mandatory Palestine was not a country, but an entity that was invented by the international community to help establish a Jewish National Home
  • Jews are the ethnic group that ruled the land for the longest
  • There was never a Palestinian people
    • Palestinian national identity was born in the 20th century
    • The inhabitants of the land had been very diverse and there was no language, history or culture that would tie them together as an ethnicity or a people

Sources

1. Pictures Don’t Lie: Refuting #there_was_no_Palestine, Juan Cole, History News Network, 17/4/2014
2. Here are examples of some of the Europeans that kept the term Palestine alive: 1540: Guillaume Postel – Syriae Descriptio, c.1561: Anthony Jenkinson – The Principall Navigations, Voiages, and Discoveries of the English Nation, 1563: Josse van Lom – A treatise of continual fevers, 1563: John Foxe – Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, c.1565: Tilemann Stella’s map, 1570: Abraham Ortelius – Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World), 1570: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum – folio 51, 1577: Holinshed’s Chronicles, 1591: Johannes Löwenklau – Historiae Musulmanae Turcorum Latin, 1591: Giovanni Botero, 1594: Uri ben Shimon and Jakob Christmann, 1596: Giovanni Antonio Magini – Geographia, Cosmographia, or Universal Geography, c.1600: Shakespeare – The Life and Death of King John, 1616: Pietro Della Valle – Viaggi di Pietro della Valle il Pellegrino, 1624: Francis Bacon – New Atlantis, 1625: Samuel Purchas – Hakluytus Posthumus, 1637: Philipp Cluverius – Introductionis in universam Geographiam (Introduction to World Geography), 1639: Thomas Fuller – The Historie of the Holy Warre, c.1649: Evliya Çelebi – Travels in Palestine, 1649: Johann Heinrich Alsted – Scientiarum Omnium Encyclopaedia, 1677: Olfert Dapper – Precise Description of whole Syria, and Palestine or Holy Land, 1681: Olfert Dapper – Asia, c.1682: Zucker Holy Land Travel Manuscript, 1688: John Milner – A Collection of the Church-history of Palestine, 1688: Edmund Bohun – A Geographical Dictionary, 1693: Patrick Gordon (Ma FRS) – Geography Anatomiz’d, 1704: Martin Baumgarten – Travels through Egypt, Arabia, Palestine, and Syria, ‘A Collection of Voyages and Travels, 1709: Matthäus Seutter’s map, 1714: Adriaan Reland – Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata, 1717: Laurent d’Arvieux – Voyage dans la Palestine, 1718: Isaac de Beausobre, David Lenfant – Le Nouveau Testament de notre seigneur Jesus-Christ, 1718: John Toland – Nazarenus, 1730: Joshua Ottens’ map, 1736: Herman Moll’s map, 1743: Richard Pococke – Description of the East, 1746: Modern History Or the Present State of All Nations, 1747: The modern Gazetteer, 1751: The London Magazine, 1759: Johannes Aegidius van Egmont, John Heyman (of Leydon) – Travels Through Part of Europe, Asia Minor, the Islands of the Archipelago, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Mount Sinai, 1763: Voltaire – The Works of M. de Voltaire, 1788: Constantine de Volney – Travels through Syria and Egypt, in the years 1783, 1784, and 1785, 1791: Giovanni Mariti – Travels Through Cyprus, Syria, and Palestine; with a General History of the Levant, 1794: Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville’s map, 1799: Pierre Jacotin’s map, 1805: Palestine Association founded (European), 1806: Lant Carpenter – An Introduction to the Geography of the New Testament, 1809: Reginald Heber – Palestine, 1811: François-René de Chateaubriand – Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem, 1812: William Crotch – Palestine, 1819: George Paxton (Rev) – Illustrations of the Holy Scriptures, 1819: Abraham Rees- Palestine & Syria, The Cyclopædia: Or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature, 1822: Conrad Malte-Brun – Universal Geography, Or, a Description of All the Parts of the World, on a New Plan, 1822: James Silk Buckingham – Travels in Palestine, through the countries of Bashan and Gilead, east of the river Jordan, 1823: Charles Leonard Irby, James Mangles – Travels in Egypt and Nubia, Syria, and Asia Minor, 1824: Robert Watt – Syria, Bibliotheca Britannica, 1827: Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, 1827: Philippe Vandermaelen – Atlas universel de geographie physique, c.1834: Neophytos, monk of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 1837: Lord Lindsay – Letters on Egypt, Edom and the Holy Land, 1838: Charles G. Addison – Damascus and Palmyra: a journey to the East, 1840: George Long – Palestine & Syria, The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, 1840: John Kitto – The Pictorial History of Palestine and The Holy Land including a Complete History Of The Jews, 1841: Charles Henry Churchill in correspondence with Sir Moses Montefiore, 1842: Adriano Balbi, System of universal geography, 1843: Alexander Keith – The Land of Israel, According to the Covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, 1843: Stephen Olin – Travels in Egypt, Arabia Petræa, and the Holy land, 1849: William F. Lynch – Narrative of the United States’ Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea, 1850: Yehoseph Schwarz – A Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine, 1856: James Redhouse – An English and Turkish dictionary, 1858: Josias Leslie Porter – A handbook for travellers in Syria and Palestine, 1859: Samuel Augustus Mitchell’s map, 1859: David Kay (FRGS), ed. Thomas Stewart Traill – Palestine, Encyclopædia Britannica, 1860: Josias Leslie Porter, ed. Thomas Stewart Traill, Syria, Encyclopædia Britannica, 1860: 36th United States Congress – The Massacres in Syria, 1865: William ‘Corky’ Norton – How I Got My Cork Legs, 1875: Isabel Burton – The Inner Life of Syria, Palestine, and the Holy Land, 1890: Reinhold Röhricht – Bibliotheca Geographica Palestine, from the year A.D. 333 to A.D. 1878, 1897: First Zionist Congress
3. Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, Syrian Arab leader to British Peel Commission, 1937
4. King Hussein of Jordan, 1981, quoted in “Unholy War”, Randall Price, p142
5. Terrorist or Peace Maker, by Alan Hart