Trivial Pursuit: Some fun facts about Palestine: Part 2


Here is a brief history of what is conventionally called “Palestine” and hence the derivation of “Palestinian”.

The area of the world roughly between Egypt in the South and Turkey in the North is known as the Levant.
The ancient Egyptians referred to the Southern portion of this area, what would become the kingdom of Israel (much larger than todays Israel, encompassing Israel, Jordan, the territories, etc) as, roughly translated Retenu.

Archeologic information on the extent of the Kingdom of Israel is constantly changing. Remains of the Davidian’s (King David and his heirs) are found daily in the region. One of the unfortunate things about the entire region is that only Egypt and Israel respect archeologic finds of other cultures. No one knows what has been destroyed, paved over, etc.

In Israel, there are active excavations of what is known as “Ir David” as well as many other pre biblical sites.

As a consequence the full extent of the “Kingdom of Israel” is not known.

The term Palestine is a derivation through several translations of the word “Philistines”. The Philistines were a NON SEMITIC PEOPLE”‘s (modern Arabs who call themselves Palestinians try to claim biblical origins and relate themselves to the Philistines. The problem for them here is that they are clearly semitic) of Mycenean descent. Usually described as originating from Southern Greece. The Philistines inhabited a smaller area, usually describedas the south western portion of what is now Israel and the gaza strip. The Greeks referred to this as Philistia.

The word Peleshet in the Bible is generally assumed to be referring to this area. i.e the southern coastal region of Israel, in the area of Ashkelon, Ashdod, etc (these are biblical cities as well; referred to in the ancient texts as well as being modern cities).

The Assyrians referred to the area as Palashtu, and by the time of the Assyrian rule, the Philistines had largely been assimilated into the regional population. By approx. 586 BC, they had largely disappeared as a separate people.

Historians such as Thucydides, Pliny, Herodotus, and Josephus all mention a Philistina but refer to various areas, including modern Syria, the coastal regions referred to above, and smaller areas along the coast.

Most historians view that the Hebrews, or Israelites as they are referred to in the Bible, either rose from the indigenous population, or if you accept the Exodus theory came around the 12th or 13th century BCE. By the time of Saul, around 1020 BCE, they were established as the Kingdom of Israel. Saul’s son David began to consolidate the empire and established Jerusalem as his capital in approximatley 100BCE. Of course, David’s son Solomon built the first temple on what is now known as the Temple mount or Harm el Sheik by the Arabs.

By 930 BCE the kingdom was split into two, the North was known as the Kingdom of Israel and the South as the Kingdom of Judah.

Between 722 and 720 BCE the Assyrians conquered the Kingdom of Israel and dispersed or exiled the ten northern tribes (derived from the 12 sons of Joseph). These became known as the “lost tribes”.

In 586 BCE, the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah and the rest of the Hebrews were sent into exile. Hence the period is known as “The Babylonian exile”.

In 538 BCE the area came to be part of the Persian empire and the Jews, or Hebrews were allowed to return to their biblical lands, known as “the land of Israel” by both the Jews and the Persians.

Since the Persians granted them limited autonomy, this is when the second Temple was built.

It was during the Persian period that the Nabateans emerged. They are significant because eventually they moved from this area to the area now known as Jordan and created the incredible city of Petra. The city carved into the rocks that is today one of the wonders of the world (and an amazing place to visit!).

Around 333 BCE, the Persians were conquered by Alexander the Great and the area was under the control of the Macedonians. After Alexanders death, the area fell under the control of the Ptolemaics, the Greeks that ruled Egypt. Cleopatra is the most well known, and the last of, the Ptolemaic rulers of the area.

The Jewish population in Judea was allowed limited autonomy in religion and administration. In the second century BCE fascination in Jerusalem for Greek culture resulted in a movement to break down the separation of Jew and Gentile and some people even tried to disguise the marks of their circumcision. Disputes between the leaders of the reform movement, Jason and Menelaus, eventually led to civil war and the intervention of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Subsequent persecution of the Jews led to the Maccabean Revolt under the leadership of the Hasmoneans (the Maccabees are the people mentioned in the Hanukkah story), and the construction of a native Jewish kingship under the Hasmonean Dynasty . After approximately a century of independence, disputes between the Hasmonean rivals Aristobulus and Hyrcanus led to control of the kingdom by the Roman army of Pompey. The territory then became first a Roman client kingdom under Hyrcanus and then a Roman Province administered by the governor of Syria.

It was at this time the Roman rule was solidified by Herod the Great. He was appointed “King of the Jews” by the Romans in roughly 63 BCE, although he was only half Jewish. He was actually an Edomite.

At the time of the birth of Jesus, the Romans reasserted full control. The Romans Latinized the Greek Palestina to Palatine. This name reemerged as a direct insult to the Jews as it referred to one of their biblical enemies and was a way of further humiliating them.

As a result of the first Roman Jewish war, after the death of Jesus in 66-73 CE, the second temple was destroyed. The only things remaining were the retaining walls and mount that we see today.

After the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt in 135, the emperor Hadrian built a temple to the Roman God Jupiter where the temple once stood.

During Constantine’s reign, beginning in 330 CE, Christianity became the official religion of the empire. Constantine’s mother identified the spot where she believed Jesus had been crucified and thus the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built. Constantine was also responsible for the construction of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Ascension in Jerusalem.

In 352 another Jewish revolt, largely originating in the Galilee and Tiberias was suppressed.

The Romans continued administration, dividing the area into Palestina I,II and III.

The area probably reached it’s ancient peak during this time because of the Roman view, in the words of Justinian (famous for Justinian’s code the forefather of modern civil law) that it was the province where our Lord Jesus Christ appeared on Earth.

Roman, or Byzantine control was lost temporarily first during the Persian reascension in 614-628 and then conrol finally lost to the new Muslims in 634. Jerusalem capitulated to the Muslims in 638 CE.

In 638 CE, Caliph (The dispute between Sunni’s and Shiites reests on which Caliphate was the rightful heir to Muhammed) Omar Ibn al-Khattab and Safforonius, the Byzantine governor of Jerusalem, signed Al-Uhda al-‘Omariyya (The Umariyya Covenant), an agreement that stipulated the rights and obligations of all non-Muslims in Palestine.

Jews were permitted to return to Palestine for the first time since the 500-year ban enacted by the Romans and maintained by Byzantine rulers.

This is significant because of todays claim that there was no Jewish presence. Yet there own ancestors “allowed” the Jews to “return”. This clearly implies that they had been there predating the time of Muhammed or the creation of Islam.

In 691 Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock were constructed where both the Jewish Temples (first and second) and the Roman temple of Jupiter had stood.

Various Arabic tribes ruled under the Crusaders came from Europe and reestablished what was known as “Latin Christian” rule from 1099 to 1187. During this period, Jews, Orthodox Christians and Muslims were slaughtered or enslaved.

In 118y Saladin won the Battle of Hittin reestablishing Muslim dominance. He later retook Jerusalem. However, an agreement was reached which allowed Crusader control of Jerusalem to remain. This was renegotiated by King Frederick II and remained until 1270.

The area was alternately ruled by the Mamluks and then the Ottomans.

Critically, the Ottomans, the Muslim rulers who gained the greatest ascendancy of all the various Muslim empires ended the use of the name Palestine!!!

The Ottoman empire remained from 1516 until the start of WWI, in 1917. The Ottomans sided with the Germans.

n European usage up to World War I, “Palestine” was used informally for a region 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 various European sources, the eastern boundary was placed anywhere from the Jordan River to slightly east of Amman. The Negev Desert was not included.

Under the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, it was envisioned that most of Palestine, when freed from Ottoman control, would become an international zone not under direct French or British colonial control.

Shortly thereafter, British foreign minister Arthur Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which laid plans for a Jewish homeland to be established in Palestine eventually.

The British-led Egyptian Expeditionary Force, commanded by Edmund Allenby, captured Jerusalem on December 9th, 1917 and occupied the whole of the Levant following the defeat of Turkish forces in Palestine at the Battle of Megiddo in September 1918 and the capitulation of Turkey on October 31st.

Use of the term “Palestine” returned under what was Brtish rule. English, Hebrew and Arabic were declared the official language.

In modern day Israel, this remains, highway signs, etc are in all three languages.

Palestine was the official name in English and Arabic, Palestina (Eretz Yisrael – the land of Israel) in Hebrew.

In the interest of brevity (hah!!) I won’t describe the machinations of creating the exact boundaries of the mandate between Britain, France and the US post WWI, but it was finalized in 1923.

What is important here is that during this time Transjordan (later The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) was exempted from the Mandate under the assumption that Palestine would be the Jewish homeland and Jordan the Arab.

As in earlier times, Jewish immigration had been increasin during Ottoman rule, and continued during the Mandate period. Jews became the majority residents of the area in the 1800’s.

After WWII, the cost of maintaining a 100,000 man force in the area, as well as Jewish and Arab terrorism led the British to formally renounce the mandate in early 1947.

The significance of this period is quite simple.

ALL residents of this area were colloquially referred to as Palestinians. At no time was there even a discussion of a “Palestinian people” and any mention of such referred to ALL indigenous people’s of the region. Jews, Orthodox Christians, Druse (non Muslim Arabs), Bedouins, Muslims, etc.

The rest, as they say, is history.

In 1948, the Jewish homeland was declared by the UN. The Arabs (still no Palestinians) were also given a homeland, what is now, essentially modern day western Jordan, East Jerusalem and portions of the Negev.

The Jews declared their homeland “The State of Israel” and took as their symbol the Star of David in memory of their first King and the biblical menorah, the symbol of the Temple.

The entire Arab world immediately declared war and the fighting that we know of today, began.

The PLO was formed in Cairo in 1964 (yes, Yassir Arafat, the second leader, was born there, not in some mythic Palestine. A fact he tried hard to obscure). It was created as part of the Fatah party, which still exists in a unity government today with Hamas, an offshoot of the Egyptian terror organization the Muslim Brotherhood, also father of Al Qaeda.

Note the formation date. Not after the 1967 war which the Arab former residents of Palestine claim now is the key.

In the Famed Khartoum conference of September 1967, after the Israeli victory in the 6 day war, all Arab states came together and declared the famous 3 NOs:

No Peace with Israel
No Recognition of Israel
No Negotiations with Israel.

At no time has this declaration ever been officially renounced by any Arab states with the exception of Egypt and Jordan.

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