While people may dismiss the relevance of place names germane to the 50-year-old Arab war against Israel, the enormous efforts being made to substantiate the claim of one national identity over another demonstrates the vital importance of maintaining name origins. In the era of "political correctness", this point is clearly illustrated by two names brandished in the Arab-Islamic campaign to eradicate Israel's rightful place in the Middle East:


Pick up any of the Biblical atlases on sale today, and you will find maps entitled "Palestine in the time of the Patriarchs"; "The Exodus from Egypt to Palestine", and "Palestine in the time of Christ". Page through reference books, and you read accounts of "daily life in Palestine in the Talmudic period", and "Nebuchadnezzar's invasion of Palestine". Even a word-search through the King James Version of the Bible will produce a reference in the book of Joel to the "coasts of Palestine".

It is hardly surprising, then, that millions of people believe in the ancient history of a national land called Palestine. And it is a short step from there for one to believe that a people called Palestinians have lived in that land "from time immemorial".

The facts:

Originally an adjective derived from the Hebrew Peleshet, "Palestine" was first used disparagingly by the historian Herodotus (c 5BCE) to describe "the Philistine Syria". Subsequently, the name was shortened and Palaistinei became the proper noun. The Jewish philosopher Philo identified Palaistinei with biblical Canaan.

Under Roman rule, the Land of Israel was divided into three provinces which, from the fourth century on, were referred to as the "First, Second and Third Palestines".

The Islamised Arabs who occupied the Middle East in the mid-seventh century called Rome's "Palestina Prima" —the area today roughly including Judea, Gaza and the coastal plain up to the north of Caesarea—the Jund (district) of Filastin. Samaria and the Galilee, the Golan Heights and a chunk of today's north-western Jordan was called Urdunn (Jordan). These designations did not last long, and the Arabs eventually began referring to provinces by the names of their capital cities.

The Crusader Kingdom again referred to "three Palestines", although their provinces were different from Rome's. With the passing of the Crusader era, Palestine ceased to be an official designation.

Up to that point, the Land of Israel officially had been part of a changing region its contemporaries called "Palestine" for, at most, 400 years. Palestine had never been an independent state or kingdom. Nor was it a distinct administrative unit under the Ottoman Turks, remaining a part of the Province of Syria until the end of World War I.

After the war, the Allied Powers divided up the Ottoman Empire and redrew the borders around the Land of Israel into an area it again officially called "Palestine". In 1920, the League of Nations entrusted Great Britain with a Mandate over Palestine—encompassing lands on both sides of the Jordan River—for the express purpose of establishing a Jewish national home as pledged in the Balfour Declaration. Two years later, Whitehall unilaterally restricted the application of the mandate's terms to the land west of the river, thus creating the emirate of "Trans-Jordan" to the east.

It is this "Palestine" —today's Israel with Judea, Samaria and Gaza—on which the PLO has fixed its sights since Palestinian Arab nationalism was consolidated in 1964. Just 34 years later, its claim to a State of Palestine has won near-universal support.

Judea and Samaria

Pick up any newspaper, tune into any radio or TV station, browse through virtually any modern-day history of the Middle East, and you will read or hear about the "West Bank", often described as "Israeli-occupied Arab land". The only time this mountainous region in the heart of the land of Israel is called anything else, it is referred to as "Judea" and/or "Samaria", in inverted commas, often followed by a variation of the words: "as it is known by religious Jews/ Israeli settlers/fundamentalist Christians…"

Given that multitudes largely regard the Bible as a book of myths and fables, it is not surprising that those who insist on calling the "West Bank" Judea and Samaria are frequently pilloried. Nonetheless, avoiding historic truth is not so easy for those who would question the accuracy and authority of biblical accounts.

The facts:

The mountains of Judah (Hebrew Yehuda, translated Judea or Judah) are first named thus in the book of Joshua, in the account of the conquering of Canaan—thereafter called the land of Israel—by the Israelites.

From that time to the present, for more than 3,000 years, this appellation has been consistently used to describe the territory from Jerusalem down to the south-western regions of upper Israel. The hill country north and west of Jerusalem has been known as Samaria since the days of King Jeroboam, first king of the breakaway ten northern tribes of Israel after the death of King Solomon.

In defiance of the UN's partitioning of Palestine, Jordan, along with four other Arab states, invaded re-born Israel in 1948 and, at the end of that war, extended its sovereignty to Judea and Samaria—only from then on known as Jordan's "West Bank". Despite the fact that virtually the entire world rejected Jordan's annexation, and even after Israel drove the occupiers back across the river in 1967, the phrase "West Bank" has stuck, and is used to the near total exclusion of any other.

In fact, Judea and Samaria have been known by these names for unbroken centuries, and were registered as such on official documents and maps, by international institutions and in authoritative reference books right up to the second half of this century. This common and repeated usage clearly indicates the uncontested designations of these lands until the incessant and influential Arab voice rendered them unpopular and politically-explosive fixtures from the mythical past. Some examples:

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