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The History of the Words "Palestine" and "Palestinians"

Is Jordan Palestine? Here are two Jordanian State Stamps.  On the left, one from 1949 with a picture of King Abdullah of the kingdom of Jordan and bears the label of Palestine in English and Arabic.  On the right, a 1964 stamp bearing the likeness of King Hussein and pictures Mandated Palestine as an undivided territory including both present day Israel and Jordan.  


It has never been the name of a nation or state. It is a geographical term, used to designate the region at those times in history when there is no nation or state there.

The word itself derives from "Peleshet", a name that appears frequently in the Bible and has come into English as "Philistine".  The Philistines were mediterranean people originating from Asia Minor and Greek localities.  They reached the southern coast of Israel in several waves.  One group arrived in the pre-patriarchal period and settled south of Beersheba in Gerar where they came into conflict with Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael.  Another group, coming from Crete after being repulsed from an attempted invasion of Egypt by Rameses III in 1194 BCE, seized the southern coastal area, where they founded five settlements (Gaza, Ascalon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gat).  In the Persian and Greek periods, foreign settlers - chiefly from the Mediterranean islands - overran the Philistine districts.  From the time of Herodotus, Greeks called the eastern coast of the Mediterranean "Syria Palaestina".

The Philistines were not Arabs nor even Semites, they were most closely related to the Greeks. They did not speak Arabic. They had no connection, ethnic, linguistic or historical with Arabia or Arabs. The name "Falastin" that Arabs today use for "Palestine" is not an Arabic name. It is the Arab pronunciation of the Greco-Roman "Palastina"; which is derived from the Plesheth, (root palash) was a general term meaning rolling or migratory. This referred to the Philistine's invasion and conquest of the coast from the sea.

The use of the term "Palestinian" for an Arab ethnic group is a modern political creation which has no basis in fact - and had never had any international or academic credibility before 1967.

This page was produced by Joseph E. Katz
Middle Eastern Political and Religious History Analyst 
Brooklyn, New York 
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Portions Copyright © 1984 Joan Peters, Portions Copyright © 2001 Joseph Katz
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