Is "Palestine" in the Bible?
By J.R. Ensey
The question is often asked: “Who are the Palestinians? Is there really a country called ‘Palestine’?”
The name Palestine refers to a region of the eastern Mediterranean coast from the sea to the Jordan valley and from the southern Negev desert to the Galilee lake region in the north. The word itself derives from “Plesheth,” a name that appears frequently in the Bible and has come into English as “Philistine.” 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 Philistines were not Arabs nor even Semites, they were most closely related to the Greeks originating from Asia Minor and Greek localities. They did not speak Arabic. They had no connection, ethnic, linguistic or historical with Arabia or Arabs.
The Philistines 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 fifth century BC, following the historian Herodotus, Greeks called the eastern coast of the Mediterranean “the Philistine Syria” using the Greek language form of the name. In AD 135, after putting down the Bar Kochba revolt, the second major Jewish revolt against Rome, the Emperor Hadrian wanted to blot out the name of the Roman “Provincia Judaea” and so renamed it “Provincia Syria Palaestina,” the Latin version of the Greek name and the first use of the name as an administrative unit. The name “Provincia Syria Palaestina” was later shortened to Palaestina, from which the modern, anglicized “Palestine” is derived.
This remained the situation until the end of the fourth century, when in the wake of a general imperial reorganization Palestine became three Palestines: First, Second, and Third. This configuration is believed to have persisted into the seventh century, the time of the Persian and Muslim conquests.
The Christian Crusaders employed the word Palestine to refer to the general region of the “three Palestines.” After the fall of the crusader kingdom, Palestine was no longer an official designation. The name, however, continued to be used informally for the lands on both sides of the Jordan River. The Ottoman Turks, who were non-Arabs but religious Muslims, ruled the area for 400 years (1517-1917). Under Ottoman rule, the Palestine region was attached administratively to the province of Damascus and ruled from Istanbul. The name Palestine was revived after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I and applied to the territory in this region that was placed under the British Mandate for Palestine.
The name “Falastin” that Arabs today use for “Palestine” is not an Arabic name. It is the Arab pronunciation of the Roman “Palaestina.” Quoting Golda Meir: The British chose to call the land they mandated Palestine, and the Arabs picked it up as their nation’s supposed ancient name, though they couldn’t even pronounce it correctly and turned it into Falastin a fictional entity. [In an article by Sarah Honig, Jerusalem Post, November 25, 1995]
Going back to history, in 135 AD, the Romans destroyed 1000 Jewish villages, killed 500,000 Jews and enslaved thousands. Furious that they’d been forced to bring in more legions to quell the rebellion, the Romans angrily renamed the land that for more than 1500 years been known as Israel. They called it Proincia Palestina after the Philistines, Israel’s ancient enemies. Those living there became known as Palestinians. Who lived there? Jews! So Jews, ironically were the first “Palestinians.” This is what they were called (along with many derisive names that have followed them as they were hunted from country to country). Only in the 1950s did the Arabs begin to call themselves “Palestinians” in order to gain worldwide sympathy for their acts of terrorism even as UN pressure squeezed Israel into a smaller corner.
So, ironically, Jews were the first Palestinians.
According to AP (August 18, 2009): Speaking to a small group of foreign reporters in Jerusalem, Huckabee said the international community should consider establishing a Palestinian state some place else. “The question is, should the Palestinians have a place to call their own? Yes, I have no problem with that. Should it be in the middle of the Jewish homeland? That’s what I think has to be honestly assessed as virtually unrealistic.”