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Exploring the Origins of the Term “Palestine”

Updated: Apr 9

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the term “Palestine?” Surprisingly, the word doesn’t appear in the Torah or Quran. So, where does it come from? 


The Philistines

Scholars believe that “Palestine” is derived from the term “Philistine.” The Philistines were an ancient Aegean people who settled along the southern coast (from present-day Tel Aviv-Yafo to Gaza) in the 12th century BCE. Historical artifacts show that the Philistines were contemporaries of the ancient Israelites.


Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian records mention the “Peleset,” a sea-faring force around 1150 BCE. Modern scholars identify them as the Philistines.


Assyria 

In 800 BCE, the Assyrians vassalized the Philistines and called their region “Palashtu.”


Greece & Rome

The term “Palestine” itself only surfaced in the 5th century BCE when the Greek historian Herodotus mentioned the “district of Syria, called Palaistinê” in Histories. Later, the term gained prominence in the works of Aristotle, Ovid, Josephus, and other Greek and Roman writers.

In the 2nd century CE, “Syria Palaestina” was used to designate a Roman province, which included Judaea and other territories. This use of “Palaestina” sparks debate among modern scholars – some see it as an intentional erasure of Jewish identity, but others view it as a mere link to Emperor Hadrian’s admiration of ancient Greece.


The Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbasids, and Ottomans

In 390 CE, the Byzantine rule saw the division of Syria Palaestina into Palaestina Prima, Secunda, and Salutaris. During the Muslim conquest, these regions retained their names in Arabic and became “Jund Filastin,” an Umayyad and Abbasid military district. 


The Ottoman Empire then held Palestine for four hundred years, between the 16th and 20th centuries, after which British control was established under the League of Nations’ “Mandatory Palestine.” 


Modern Day

Post-World War Two, the United Nations proposed a partition plan, which led to the eventual establishment of Israel in 1948. 


In the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Jordan took the West Bank, and Egypt the Gaza Strip, though Israel reclaimed both territories after the Six-Day War in 1967. 


In 1993, the Oslo Accord established the Palestinian Authority as a governing force in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, marking the establishment of our modern conception of “Palestine.” 


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