Most people today have the wrong understanding of the terms Israel and Palestine, and this leads to much confusion, not to mention allegiance to the wrong groups of people, based on a false narrative. The first thing to understand is that Biblically speaking, Israel can mean the Jewish people or the Land of Israel. When referring to the geographical boundaries of a piece of land given by God to Abraham and his descendants, it is called by many names including “Israel,” “Land of Promise,” “Canaan,” “the United Kingdom” and “the Divided Kingdom.” Specifically, when referring to the Northern Kingdom, the name Israel is used. For instance, in 2 Samuel 2:9, we read “He made him king over Gilead, over the Ashurites, over Jezreel, over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, even over all Israel.” Additionally, in Hosea 5:3, we also read “I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from Me; For now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot, Israel has defiled itself.”
The same Abrahamic Covenant from which we draw the definition of a Jew, also tells us that God has promised a land to the Jewish people with some very detailed boundaries. In Genesis 12:7, God is brief and to the point: “The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” He repeats that promise in Genesis 13:15 and gives the details in Genesis 15:18-21:”On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.”
Based on the fact that the Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional AND eternal, that promise is still intact today. Following the biblical boundaries of Genesis 15, it is clear that Israel’s biblical makeup has yet to be fulfilled. The current borders based on 1948, 1967 or any other “agreements” come nowhere near God’s promised real estate boundaries found in the Bible. Based on these biblical facts, I disagree with the term “Occupied Territories” and prefer to call them the “Disputed Territories.” Israel today is about the size of New Jersey and when its full borders will be fulfilled in the Messianic kingdom, it will be as large as twice the state of Texas.
Biblically speaking, Israel is also the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with the Angel of the Lord at Bethel; and, incidentally, this passage in Genesis 35:9-12, is another place where God re-confirms His promise of a Jewish people and their own land: “Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name.” Thus He called him Israel. God also said to him, “I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you. “The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, And I will give the land to your descendants after you.” (The same promise is also reflected in Genesis 32:28, 1 Kings 18:31 and 2 Kings 17:34.)
Since its modern rebirth as a State, Israel as a piece of land has become a bone of contention for the whole world. The modern Palestinian people, in particular, claim historical ownership of that land reaching back prior to the Jewish people. The current issue lies with the idea that the Palestinian people ARE an ethnic group, something that is no longer disputed by the vast majority of the world, but is it true? Is it based on facts or fiction? Further investigation is needed to establish the meaning of the word “Palestine” and to assess the validity of such a claim.
To better understand the true meaning of Palestine, we must go back in history quite a bit earlier than the mid-1960s. While the exact origin of the name Palestine is still debated, there are aspects of the word’s meaning that we can know for sure. It possibly once described a people group known as the Philistines, but that people group was in no way connected to the current era Palestinians – not ethnically, not linguistically, not historically and not culturally. In A.D. 132, a Jewish revolt took place against the Romans. It was known as the Bar Kochba revolt (Bar Kochba was a false messiah in Israel at the time ). In a nutshell, things didn’t end well for the Jewish people; and in addition to a bloodbath of gigantic proportions, Israel was renamed Palaestina by the Romans. The rebranding of the Land with the name of their enemies, the Philistines, was an effort to undermine Jewish history and humiliate the Jewish people further. Additionally, at the time, Jerusalem was also renamed Aelia Capitolina by emperor Hadrian. The name Palestine stuck and continued to be used after that time. It is nowhere found in the Bible except for the maps section at the end of each Bible; but, of course, these are not inspired.
When the British were in control from 1922 to 1948, the area was governed under what was known as the British Palestine Mandate. In the original text of the Mandate itself, dated 1922, we can read:”Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”
I must clarify that I do not have an issue calling Israel “Palestine” as long as it is a description of the landmass of Israel prior to 1948. Up to that time in history, the term “Palestine” simply described a piece of land in the Middle East. Even after Israel became a State in 1948 and the name Eretz Yisrael started being used, the word “Palestine” was not an issue for anybody; it was more or less an outdated name for the land of Eretz Yisrael. It is after that time, and under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, that the definition for Palestine went from geographical to political, in an attempt to describe a displaced people group named “the Palestinians”, in need of their “ancestral” homeland. Before the 1960s, historical documents were replete with descriptions of Israel as Palestine, such as the British Palestine Mandate already mentioned. Israeli stamps, coins and newspaper said “Palestine” and nobody cared.
If we take a look at article 4 of that Mandate, we also find two words in the same passage that any modern-day Palestinian would be hard pressed to associate in a positive light: Palestinian and Zionist. Yet, in the context of the original Mandate, it was to the current leaders of the Zionist movement that the administration and government of Palestine were entrusted, as we can read: “An appropriate Jewish agency shall be recognized as a public body for the purpose of advising and cooperating with the Administration of Palestine in such economic, social and other matters as may affect the establishment of the Jewish national home and the interests of the Jewish population in Palestine, and, subject always to the control of the Administration to assist and take part in the development of the country. The Zionist organization, so long as its organization and constitution are in the opinion of the Mandatory appropriate, shall be recognized as such agency. It shall take steps in consultation with His Britannic Majesty’s Government to secure the cooperation of all Jews who are willing to assist in the establishment of the Jewish national home.”
So, until the early 1960s, Palestine was always synonymous with Israel, the Jewish State. Arabs in neighboring countries never called themselves Palestinians, but rather Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Egyptians, etc. Most Arabs in the early 1900s would have argued that Palestinian Arabs were simply Syrians as Mitchell Bard documents in his well-researched book Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict. He writes: “Prior to partition, Palestinian Arabs did not view themselves as having a separate identity. When the First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations met in Jerusalem in February 1919 to choose Palestinian representatives for the Paris Peace Conference, the following resolution was adopted: We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic and geographical bonds.”
While God uses different names for the Land of Israel such as “The Land of Canaan” (Genesis 17:8), “The Promised Land” (Genesis 50:24) or even “The Land” (Exodus 6:8), nowhere in the Bible is Israel ever called Palestine even once.
As a matter of fact, even the Qur’an (Sura Maida 5:21-22) mentions the “Holy Land” in the context of Moses and the spies preparing to enter the Land of Canaan; but never does it call it Palestine. Jerusalem isn’t even mentioned by name in the Qur’an.
Until the mid-1960s, the name Palestine was always synonymous with Israel in one way or another. It described the same piece of real estate that became the Jewish State in 1948. As we just saw, Palestine, as a legitimate country for a displaced people known as the Palestinians, was introduced and heavily promoted by the late Yasser Arafat, who started and headed the Palestinian Liberation Organization until his death in 2004. Somehow, a revived anti-Jewish agenda was growing fast globally. This was partially as a response to what was seen as a Zionist existential threat to the Arabs, where Jewish settlers and pioneers were perceived as land grabbers willing to stop at nothing – including the killing of many Arabs – to colonize Palestine. This is a false claim since many Jewish settlers bought malaria-infested swamps at a price up to ten times the price of fertile land in America. Jews were accused of stealing land from local Arabs, but only 45,000 acres were acquired without a sale – through governmental agreement – out of 463,000 acres acquired. The rest was purchased and much of it at a very high price.
Today, nobody questions the etymology of the word “Palestine” and that is a shame. What is really sad, is that the Arab refugees who were forced by their own countries to remain in Israel post 1948, ended up having children who then had children. These innocent subsequent generations have been labelled Palestinians for political gain. They are real people who deserve a real home and a decent life. Backtracking to pre-198 “Palestine” would connect them all with one or another of the neighboring Arab countries, but that doesn’t serve the world’s current agenda of Israeli occupation, colonization and ethnic cleansing, does it?