Alternate meanings: Palestine, USA (disambiguation)

The neutrality of this article is disputed.

Palestine (Latin: Syria Palestina; Hebrew: Palestina (פלשתינה) or Eretz Yisrael (ארץ־ישראל); Arabic: Filasteen (فلسطين)) has both geographical and political meanings.

As a geographical term, Palestine is a region extending inland from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, but its extent has varied over time and never had precisely defined borders.

Table of contents
1 Changing Boundaries over Time
2 History of Palestine
3 Political and military control
4 The Name
5 Status of territories captured in the Six-Day War
6 Modern terminology
7 Refugees
8 Related Articles:
9 External links

Changing Boundaries over Time

The 5th century B.C. Greek historian Herodotus, and later Ptolemy and Pliny, referred to the eastern coast of the Mediterranean as "Syria Palaestina", and it is generally accepted that the region they referred to extended further inland than the domain of the Philistines.

During the Biblical Period, it was the site of the ancient Canaan and the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and later of the independent Jewish kingdom of Judea.

In A.D. 135, the Roman emperor Hadrian named the province Provincia Syria Palaestina, which is the Latin version of the Greek name and it became an administrative political unit within the Roman Empire. In the 4th century A.D., Palaestina was further organised into three units: First, Second, and Third Palaestina.

During the Arab empire, Palestine was sometimes an administrative district. According to a 10th century Arab source:

Filastin is the westernmost of the provinces of Syria. In its greatest length from Rafh to the boundary of Al Lajjun (Legio) it would take a rider two days to travel over; and the like time to cross the province in its breadth from Yafa (Jaffa) to Riha (Jerico). Zugar (Segor, Zoar) and the country of Lot's people (Diyar Kaum Lot); Al Jibal (the mountains of Edom) and Ash Sharah as far as Ailah---Al Jibal and Ash Sharah being two separate provinces, but lying contiguous one to the other---are included in Filastin, and belong to its government.

During the Ottoman empire there was no political district called Palestine, but the name was used informally for a portion of Syria that extended in the north-south direction typically from Raphia (south-east of Gaza) to the Litani River (now in Lebanon). The western boundary was the sea, and the eastern boundary was the poorly-defined place where the Syrian desert began. In Western literature, the eastern boundary was placed anywhere from the Jordan River to slightly east of Amman. The Negev desert was not included.

After World War I, the League of Nations created the Mandate of Palestine under British control. According to the result of negotations with France, the northern boundary was set at the position of the present northern border of Israel (with tiny exceptions) and the large part of the Negev now in Israel was included. To the east of the Jordan River, the Mandate included a large region approximately co-terminous with modern-day Jordan. However, even before the Mandate came into legal effect in 1922, British terminology applied the word Palestine to the part west of the Jordan River and Trans-Jordan (or Transjordania) to the part east of the Jordan River. This terminology was applied consistently during the Mandate period and it is difficult to find any official documents that use any name other than "Palestine and Trans-Jordan" when referring to the whole area of the Mandate. Nevertheless, the fact that "Palestine" was once considered to include lands on the east side of the Jordan River continues even today to have significance in political discourse.

Since the end of the British Mandate in 1948, the extent of "Palestine" has become confused due to competing and contradictory political motivations. The All-Palestine Government of 1948 declared a state in the whole of Palestine (with the British meaning as described above) but this was never more than a state on paper. Similarly, various declarations such as the 1988 proclamation of a State of Palestine by the PLO referred to a region called Palestine with differing degrees of clarity. Most recently, the Palestine draft constitution refers to borders based on the West Bank and Gaza Strip prior to the 1967 war.

Recently there is an ongoing international political move to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. If such a state is indeed established, it is likely to be called "Palestine" and to receive wide international recognition. In this event, the term "Palestine" will once again have a concrete political meaning.

History of Palestine

main article: History of Palestine

Pre-biblical history

Around 1200 BCE the Hittite empire is conquered by allied tribes from the north. The northern, coastal Canaanites (called the Phoenicians by the Greeks) are temporarily displaced, but return when the invading tribes show no inclination to settle. The Egyptians called the horde that swept across Asia Minor and the Mediterranean the Sea Peoples. At the head of this alliance of Sea Peoples were the Philistines, which possibly originated on the island of Crete. The region in which they settled is known as Philistia.

In the Bible

See the article on history of ancient Israel and Judah .

The Roman conquest

The Romans ruled Judea through local client kings from 63 BC to 66 CE. In 70 CE the Romans put down an uprising in the kingdom and destroyed the Temple. A second uprising, 132-135, was similarly suppressed, the area was reorganized as the Roman province of Palestina, and the capital, Jerusalem, was dedicated to Jupiter and renamed Aelia Capitolina. After these two bloody uprisings (and other Jewish-led uprisings in other parts of the Mediterranean) in a span of seventy years, Jews were expelled from Jerusalem and its surrounding districts. The Jewish population in the north of Palestine remained large for several centuries.

The rise of Islam

With the rise of Islam in the 600s AD came the subsequent Arab military conquest of much of the region.

Crusader Kingdom

Palestine was the site of Crusaders Kingdom of Jerusalem during the the 11th century.

The Ottoman period

In 1516 the Ottoman Turks occupied Palestine. The country became part of the Ottoman Empire. Constantinople appointed local governors. Public works were rebuilt in Jerusalem by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1537. Turkish rule lasted until World War I.

The British Mandate period

The region today

Today this area is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arabs refer to this area as Palestine, (in Arabic: Filastin). Jews refer to this area as Eretz Yisrael (Hebrew: "the land of Israel".)

Political and military control

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which are under Israeli occupation, many citizens are under administration of the Palestinian Authority (PA). A significant minority of Israeli settlers exists; they are considered illegal by the international community, but not by the Israeli government.

The Name

Egyptian writings refer to the region as R-t-n-u (for convenience pronounced Retenu). Several names for the region are found in the Bible: (Eretz) Yisrael "(land of) Israel", Eretz Ha-Ivrim "land of the Hebrews", "land flowing with milk and honey", "land that [God] swore to your fathers to assign to you", "Holy Land", and "land of the LORD". The portion of the land lying west of the Jordan was also called "land of Canaan" during the period in which it fell under the control of Egyptian vassals traditionally descended from Canaan the son of Ham. The region of the southern kingdom after the division of the Jewish kingdom into two was called "land of Judah".

The name "Palestine" is used in the Bible (Pleshet in Hebrew), to denote the coastal region inhabited by the Philistines. Usage of the term, usually in the form "Syria Palestina", to denote the inland areas as well was common among Greek writers as early as Herodotus. Josephus, however, apparently intended by the name only the land of the Phillistines. The Philistines (meaning "invaders" in Hebrew) were an invading people of obscure origin who were finally subjugated by David and later assimilated into the Jewish people. As noted above, the Romans changed the region's name from "Judea" to "Palestina" in the Second century.

One story has it that the Roman Procurator in charge of the captured Jewish territories called for historians and asked them who were the worst enemies of the Jews in their history. The historians replied, "the Philistines"; thus, the Procurator declared that the Land of Israel would from then forward be called "Palestina" to dishonor the Jews and obliterate their history.

Status of territories captured in the Six-Day War

The territories captured by Israel since the Six-Day War are three:

  1. the area between Jerusalem and the Jordan River, generally called the West Bank, though some Israelis call the region by its biblical names of Judea and Samaria
  2. the Gaza Strip
  3. the Golan Heights (which however form part of Syria, not Palestine).

Israel has annexed the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. However, Israeli claims of annexation are not recognized by the United Nations nor by most states, which regard them as territories under Israeli military occupation. Israel had not formally annexed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip first out of an intention to negotiate a peace agreement with Jordan and Egypt using the territories as a bargaining chip. Egypt withdrew its claim for the Gaza Strip in 1979 as a part of the Israeli-Egypt peace treaty signed and Jordan for the West Bank in 1988. This paved the way for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. After increasing international pressure and the first Intifada Israel began negotiations with the PLO to allow at least for Palestinian self-administration, which resulted in the Oslo accords. Since 1967, a great many Israeli settlements have been constructed in the territories.

It should be noted that neither the Gaza Strip, nor the West Bank are formally claimed by any generally recognized state -- both Egypt and Jordan revoked their demands to them at the signing of peace treaties with Israel. The "State of Palestine", whose independence was declared by the PLO in the 1980s, claims these territories, but most countries do not recognize the "State of Palestine" as a state. According to the 1993 Oslo Accords, the final status of the West Bank and Gaza is subject to a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, temporary agreements now being in place. The status of the Golan Heights is subject to an agreement with Syria.

UN Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) and Resolution 338 (1973) state that the status of the territories needs to be resolved by negotiations, and requires Israel to withdraw from these territories. The Israeli government, and some critics world-wide maintain that the wording of these resolutions is extremely ambiguous and no longer relevant due to the changing political situation in the region.

Modern terminology

Palestine is recognized as a state by many Arab and Islamic states, and as such Palestine is a member of the League of Arab States.

The area of the West Bank has been divided to three zones:

  • Zone A - area under full control of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Currently about 20% of the total territories of West Bank and Gaza.
  • Zone B - Palestinian administrative control, Israeli military control
  • Zone C - full Israeli control.

See Proposals for a Palestinian state for a discussion of the current argument for the future development of this situation.


Palestinian refugees

The Palestinian refugees were created in two events, first in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and secondly after Israel's invasion of the West Bank in the Six-day war.

On midnight on May 14, 1948, the last British soldiers departed and the new state of Israel was proclaimed. By then, Palestine was already in a state of war, the Arab Liberation Army had entered the land to fight for the Palestinians against the Jews. West Jerusalem and parts of the Old City were under Jewish control, but the city was effectively under Arab siege. Jaffa had been captured by Jews, as well a corridor between the coast and Jerusalem. Arab inhabitants of that area had launched numerous attacks on the young Jewish state's vital route; because of that, several Arab villages had been destroyed according to Plan Dalet, and their inhabitants expelled, in order to remove the Arab the siege from Jerusalem.

In response to the declaration of the State of Israel and alleged Jewish atrocities against Palestinian civilians, armies from surrounding Arab states entered Palestine, thus beginning the 1948 war, which was lost by the Arabs.

By the end of this war, there were between 400,000 and 850,000 Arab refugees. (Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator on Palestine, Submitted to the Secretary-General for Transmission to the Members of the United Nations, General Assembly Official Records: Third Session, Supplement No.11 (A/648), Paris, 1948) The Palestinian refugees have not been permitted to return home.

A fiercely contested question is exactly how the refugees came to flee the country. Some hold that most Palestinian Arabs left their homes because they were encouraged to do so by the surrounding Arab states, through various media, such as radio broadcasts in order the clear the area for operations by the invading Arab armies. Some international observers and historians have stated that most of them left because some were driven out by force from the Haganah and the Jewish undergrounds or fled in fear of massacres. Separate articles exist on Palestinian refugees, Jewish refugees and the Palestinian Exodus.

In the Six-day War 1967, 300,000 additional Palestinians were evicted from their homes. 180,000 of them were resettled refugees from the 1948 war which became refugees anew.

The UN's agency, UNRWA has a unique definition for the Palestinian refugees UNRWA's definition of a refugee also covers the descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948 [1] which differs from the standard UN definition of a refugee people who are outside their country of origin (or their habitual residence, in the case of stateless people) and who, due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for race, religion, nationality, a group membership or political opinion, cannot or will not avail themselves of the protection to which they are entitled [1] which excludes the descendants of refugees (other than dependants) from refugee status.

For a list of camps, see: List of Palestinian refugee camps

Jewish refugees

There were also a large number of Jewish refugees from surrounding Arab states created by the 1948 war. Most of them were forced to leave due to riots, incitement, and attacks against the Jewish community. An examination of IDF files from the time shows that there were also instances of Israeli agents trying to provoke Jewish populations into leaving for Israel.


It is generally recognized that both Jewish and Arab refugees have a right to return home. The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 (December 1948) Paragraph 1, states:

"Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for the loss or damage to property..."

In the negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, both parties signed an agreement saying that financial compensation was a necessary and legitimate way of dealing with many of the refugees from both sides.

Related Articles:

External links

Some of the links below represent Palestinian point of view; others represent the Israeli point of view. Unfortunately much of the information on this issue, from both points of view, is closer to
propaganda than unbiased factual reporting.

Israeli links

Palestinian links

U.N. links

Other sources

  • Gideon Biger, Where was Palestine? Pre-World War I perception, AREA (Journal of the Institute of British Geographers) Vol 13, No. 2 (1981) 153-160.