The Philistines, of course, were a seafaring people of the Aegean islands.
They were one of the rivals for regional dominance competing with the ancient Israelites along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea over one thousand years before Jesus of Nazareth walked the land.
They were, needless to say, not a people from the Arabian peninsula and were in no way the forebears of those who conquered the Land of Israel in the seventh century.
This is to say that the ancient enemy of the Jews, the Philistines, are in no way related to the contemporary Arabs who have, for some reason, taken a Latin name that refers to a Greek people.
Furthermore, Palestinian-Arab authorities sometimes claim to be either descendants of the Philistines or descendants of the ancient Canaanites or descendants of the little known ancient Jebusites.
The areas of Judea and Samaria, and all the Land of Israel, was renamed Syria-Palestina by the Roman Emperor Hadrian around the year 135 CE for the explicit purpose of erasing Jewish history on the land of the defeated indigenous Jewish population upon the failure of the Bar Kochba Rebellion.
From that day to this the traditional homeland of the Jewish people was generally referred to as either “Palestine” or the “Holy Land” or “Eretz Israel,” depending upon among whom, when, and where the conversation was taking place.
By the time that the Zionist project was well under way in the early part of the twentieth-century the terms “Palestine,” to refer to the region, and “Palestinian,” to refer to the Jews of the region, were commonplace in the west.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth-century a “Palestinian” was generally considered a Jew or, in official British terms during the period of the mandate, anyone, without regard to race or religion, who resided within the mandate, itself. This definition, in my opinion, is probably the only one that actually makes sense from a liberal perspective.
As is often remarked, the Jerusalem Post was originally dubbed the “Palestine Post.” It was not until after the Jews relinquished the designation of “Palestinian” that the local Arabs picked it up. This is why Golda Meir could famously tell the the Sunday Times in the summer of 1969:
There were no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? It was either southern Syria before the First World War, and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.
This is because “Palestine” was a regional, not a national designation. The above quote is sometimes employed by the hard-left to suggest that Meir was racist, but the hard-left considers Israel to be a racist country, in any case, and all of its leaders from the past, including Golda, herself, to be fascistic.
The idea of “Palestinian” to refer specifically to the local Arabs only gained significant credence among Arabs, themselves, during the 1960s with the rise of Arafat and the PLO and with it, for the very first time in human history, an allegedly distinct ethnicity emerged for the specific purpose of robbing another people of sovereignty and self-defense on their own land.
For the Jewish people, therefore, the keffiyah resonates in a manner similar to a Klansmen’s hood.
In a certain kind of way, this answers the question of just what is a “Palestinian,” anyway? You could accurately answer like this:
A “Palestinian” is an Arab residing on Jewish land whose cultural identity is largely dependent upon the effort to eliminate Jewish sovereignty and self-defense in Eretz Israel directly after the Holocaust.
This definition, however, only makes sense if the Palestinian-Arabs do, in fact, represent a distinct national group. While I understand about Benedict Anderson’s criticisms of nations as “imagined communities,” nonetheless for a distinct national group to be a distinct national group there must be significant cultural distinctions between that group and the larger related communities.
In the case of those whom we call “Palestinian” the distinctions are virtually non-existent. This is not the case between, for example, the Japanese and the Chinese because even non-Asians can readily observe the many cultural distinctions between these neighboring far east Asian peoples. The “Palestinians,” however, share the same cuisine with other Arabs. They share the same religion with other Arabs. They share the same language with other Arabs. They share similar honor / shame codes. Customs. Culture. Language. Food. Traditions.
All more or less the same.
The reason for this is because Palestinian-Arab nationalism was merely a recent response to the fact that the Jews had finally released ourselves from dhimmitude and we would simply no longer allow ourselves to be forced into second and third-class non-citizenship under Arab-Muslim domination.
Thirteen centuries was more than enough, thank you very much.
So, if “Palestinian” does not represent a distinct nation or ethnicity then just what is a “Palestinian”?
The truth of the matter, of course, is that “Palestine” is simply another name for the Land of Israel, but one foisted upon it by a malicious Roman conqueror. Just as Jewish people have no moral obligation to recognize a “Palestinian” people who came into existence, as an allegedly distinct people, within recent decades for the specific purpose of doing Jewish people harm, so we have no compelling reason to resurrect the Greco-Roman name “Palestine” to refer to our homeland.
If the Arabs want to take a big bite out of Israel in order to create a criminal-terrorist entity on Jewish land, we’ve certainly given them every opportunity, but as Abba Eban famously said after the Geneva peace talks of 1973, the Palestinian-Arabs “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
“Palestine,” it must furthermore be understood, refers to a region, not a nation. Just as “Saharan” is not an ethnicity and “Californian” is not an ethnicity, so “Palestinian” is not an ethnicity. Everyone who lives in California is a “Californian.” If you are resident of the state of California then, whatever else you may be, you are very definitely a Californian.
The same is true for everyone who lives in the Land of Israel. They are all “Palestinian” in the sense that they all live in what was the British Mandate of Palestine.
A “Palestinian” might be an Arab and he or she might be a Muslim, but there are all sorts of “Palestinians” who are not Arab. The Palestinian Authority is willing to accept the idea of an “Arab Christian” as “Palestinian,” but that is where the door shuts closed. All others, despite residing in the region for perhaps generations, can never be considered “Palestinian” in the hard-right racist manner that the PA determines such things.
At the end of the day, however, everyone who lives in Eretz Israel is a “Palestinian,” if we need to even use such terminology, just as every citizen of the State of Israel is an Israeli, without regard to ethnicity or religion. There are Arab-Israelis and Jewish-Israelis and Rosicrucian-Israelis and, presumably even, Chinese-Buddhist-Israelis, just as there are Arab-Palestinians and Jewish-Palestinians and Rosicrucian-Palestinians and, presumably even, Chinese-Buddhist-Palestinians.
The Arabs may represent a significant portion of what was once the British Mandate of Palestine, but they obviously never represented all of it. The Jews were always willing to share, just as the Arabs were always determined to prevail in a zero-sum contest against their formerly persecuted subjects.
But if one is an all-or-nothing kind of person and if you cannot grab it all, you very often get nothing.
This is something that Mahmoud Abbas might well keep in mind.
Michael Lumish is the editor of Israel Thrives and a regular contributor to the Times of Israel and the Elder of Ziyon.
This is indeed a confusing topic and this article does a good job of illustrating the different usages of the word “Palestinian”. However, what’s wrong with contemporary non-Jewish inhabitants of the Palestine Region coming up with a name to label themselves by? So they chose “Palestinian”. Every group needs some name for practical purposes.
Also, has the PA really shut the door at “Arab Christian” when it comes to who is a “Palestinian”?
Abbas has been labelling Jesus, clearly a Jew, as a “Palestinian”.
Regarding ethnicity there have been interesting facts emerging from new genetic technologies. The article “The Y Chromosome Pool of Jews as Part of the Genetic Landscape of the Middle East” (can be found by looking up PMC1274378) says that “we propose that the Y chromosomes in Palestinian Arabs and Bedouin represent, to a large extent, early lineages derived from the Neolithic inhabitants of the area and additional lineages from more-recent population movements. The early lineages are part of the common chromosome pool shared with Jews (Nebel et al. 2000).”