Project Genesis

The Land of Israel

Is Israel Palestine?

Question: I am Christian and have visited several different churches in the past few years. I often hear Israel referred to as Palestine. What’s going on here? I don’t find such reference in the Old Testament in my bible other than referencing the Philistines. Your opinion please.

Answer: Thanks for the question. It’s a good one. I didn’t know that American churches were commonly referring to the Land of Israel, the Holy Land, as Palestine.

As you say, the Bible speaks of the ancient Philistines, or Filistin, or Plishtim (in Biblical Hebrew). To call someone a “philistine” is to call that person crude, uncultivated, bad mannered, and, particularly, insensitive to art and culture. The term comes from the Bible’s depiction of the Philistines, who were notoriously insensitive to Torah.

Ancient sailors called the coastland of Israel Philistia, after the people who lived on the Mediterranean coast. In fact, ancient Philistia had been devastated, first by Samson, who destroyed the cream of Philistia, the nobles and leaders, gathered in the Dogon (fish-god) temple that Samson brought down; then by Israel’s kings Saul and David, when the Jews or Hebrews finally destroyed the Philistines’ local monopoly on ironworking (the Bible describes this), and organized militarily against the Philistines, and by David’s successors. They still inhabited the coast, though; finally, in the time of the Maccabees, the Syrian-Greek empire’s agents rounded up most of the surviving Philistines, their allies, plundered their cities, and sold them into slavery – to help pay for their several unsuccessful but enormously costly campaigns against the Jews. By Roman times the proud Philistine cities, Aza (Gaza), Ashkelon, and some others I can’t remember, were just a bunch of ruins.

After the several Roman-Jewish wars, the ancient Romans tried to erase even the memory of Israel, so they changed the name of Judea to Philistina – in fact, to Felix Philistina, Happy Philistia. What made Philistia so happy was, supposedly, the absence of Jews (and the abject state of the Jews who were there, crushed in war, defeated and then deliberately impoverished further). From then on, the Romans referred to the Holy Land, not just on maps but in diplomatic and all sort of legal documents, as Philistia.

Israel’s prophets promised that w/out Jews the Holy Land would “enjoy its rest” and empty out, and that is indeed what happened. Except for a brief period, about 20 years, in the time of Genghis Khan, when almost the whole land was all but completely abandoned, the Jews never left the land, but their numbers were always small and they lived as a subject people, no longer the masters of the country.

“Arab” comes from the Arabic for “wanderer” or “vagabond.” They regarded the land as “the Jews’ land” [eretz shel yehudit], which they also believed to be full of ghosts – Jewish ghosts – and cursed. America’s Mark Twain visited around 1870 and saw it the same way – as a barren has-been of a land, a desert, poor and unhealthy, almost empty of people. He asked, “Can the curse of the Deity improve a land?” (The Innocents Abroad – New York, c. 1876). The Ottomon Turkish empire governed the land – interestingly, as a department of Syria, with its capitol in Damascus, while the department capitol was Ramallah – the Muslim Turks and Arabs didn’t care that much for Jerusalem. As for the benefits of Turkish rule, the Arabs have a saying: “In the footsteps of the Turk, no grass grows.”

In the last third of the 19th century the modern Zionist movement began. When young, mostly secular-minded Jews began returning to the Land in the late
19th and early 20th century, they called themselves Palestinians – to distinguish themselves not just from other Jews but from the local Turks and Arabs, who regarded themselves as (wait for it) Turks and Arabs. The Jews’ institutions had Palestine in their names – the Palestine Savings Bank, the Palestine Post (now the Jerusalem Post) – and the American newspapers, both mainstream and Jewish, called the Jewish, Zionist emissaries from Israel “Palestinians.” Only in 1948, when “Jewish Palestine” won independence from the British, the parts of the British Mandate Territory of Palestine that the Jews could hang onto became Israel, and the Palestinians – who were at that time all Jewish – became Israelis.

Sometime in the 1960’s the name Palestinian began to be applied to the Arabs of the Holy Land. I’ve heard that it was an extreme left-wing Jewish idea-man who came up with the idea, but who knows? At any rate, in 1964 a small group of Christian Arab Marxists and other secularists, along with some Muslim and Muslim-descended secular radicals, took the name Palestine Liberation Organization, and they began calling themselves and the other non-Jews in the area, whether Arab or not, Palestinians.

Ever since, we have been hearing about “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” – just as though there were such a people as the Palestinians (as opposed to vying tribes and clans that detest each other spread around Gaza and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank of the Jordan River), in United Nations’ supported 60-year old plus “refugee camps,” and throughout the world. According to Hamas, as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization, every non-Jew (or is it only Arabs) who 1) lives in the area, or ever lived in the Arab, or who had a single parent who ever lived in the area, is a Palestinian.

Why do these churches prefer to call the land Palestine instead of Israel? Because they prefer the narrative of a struggling third-world people who were cruelly disposed of their incredibly rich land by the perfidious colonialist and racist Jews and their fat-cat capitalist allies to the truth.

Thank you for your question. For more on the subject, you might want to go to our First Covenant website – it’s made for non-Jews, or Noahides, who want to know more about the Universal laws that make up the core of the Hebrew Biblical Tradition, and about the role of non-Jews in the Hebrew Prophecy and Torah – and our articles that address it. _Click here: First Covenant Articles. Scroll down to the articles under the subject heading, From Genesis to 9/11, Islam, Israel, and Amalek. Believe it or not, you’ll find some pieces there that go directly to your question.

I hope this helps.

Michael Dallen

Question: Are Jews offended by this or am I being overly sensitive?? When I hear Palestine, I always think of Arafat and the PLO and wonder if others do too. ? 

Answer: Thanks again, your question shows real empathy. For me too, and a lot of other Jewish people, the use of the word Palestine for the Holy Land instead of Israel suggests a preference for the propaganda of Israel’s Arab enemies, and other anti-Semites, over truth. For example, a Nazi doctor, one of Dr. Mengele’s associates, who had the habit of searching out identical twins among the Jews who went through Auschwitz and murdering them just to get their skulls, for display, was just found to have died a few years ago in Egypt; he left behind diaries and letters in which he railed against what he called the vile injustices perpetrated by Israel against the true owners of the Land, “the suffering Palestinians.” (Who would have thought that a mass murderer like that would be so concerned with human suffering, or with “justice”?) To him, and Nazis generally, it’s always Palestine, never Israel.

Naturally, not everyone who calls it Palestine and speaks of Palestinians hates Israel. Some people call it Palestine to refer to the entire Land of Israel, including most of Jordan, southern Lebanon, southern Syria, and of course Judea and Samaria (the West Bank of the Jordan River), as well as Gaza. The entire Holy Land, while still small in relative terms (it would fit easily inside several Texas COUNTIES, or within one of the smaller American states, like New Jersey or Vermont), includes a lot more than just “Green Line Israel.” And, so long as the State of Israel’s political leaders keep insisting that most of the Land really belongs to Israel’s Arab enemies, someone who calls it Palestine may just be referring to the whole land: Metropolitan Israel, you might say, including Israel and everything that the Bible calls Eretz Yisroel – the Land of Israel.

Oddly, to me, even some folks who insist that the whole Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel often seem to forget that the Jews’ relationship to the land isn’t just one of privilege, or rights of ownership, but of obligation, including a direct responsibility to God, the Creator of the Universe, to rid the land of horrible, offensive-to-God, anti-Torah practices and anti-Torah people, too. Israel’s obligation to “Palestine” is to turn it, under G’d, into an exemplary country including an exemplary society, a Jewish society, to make the godly, “higher-consciousness” principles of Torah operational in the world, for the good not just of Jews or Israel but the whole of humankind – including, incidentally, the entire Arab Nation.

Michael Dallen

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