Palestinian By Any Other Name . . .

The name “Palestinian” has come to be fallaciously associated with Arabs. This deceit cements the contemptuous rewriting of history of which we Jews are only too familiar (for example Holocaust denial).

I propose that one major obstacle to a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Holy Land lies in the lie of calling the Arabs “Palestinians”.

History of the Name Palestine


By calling their mandated territory Palestine, Britain made cynical use of the name given to this area by the Roman Empire, who themselves adopted a twisted version of the name, Philistines, sworn enemies of the Jews, in order to separate the land from any association with its Jewish history.

And now, history repeats itself: if “The” Palestinians are supposedly the Arabs, then this facilitates the promotion of the hateful lie that Israel stole this land from its supposedly rightful indigenous population and has no claim to sovereignty.

Like many other Israelis, I personally know Palestinian Jews who can trace their history on the Land of Israel back many generations: a man born in the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1920s, for example, and a woman born in Hebron, also in the 1920s. They became Israelis the day Israeli independence was declared.

The Arabs living in this land before 1948 continued to call themselves just Arabs and rejected the name Palestinians. In fact, to be recognized as “Palestinian” refugees by the UN they only needed to have been resident in the Mandate from 1946.

A Missed Opportunity

In the first half of the last century, nationalism was an unacceptable Christian European implant into this region, and pan-Islamic identity was the more pervasive attitude. With time, national identities grew and Moslems began to acknowledge the borders and the country names that defined them.

Had the Palestinian Arabs accepted the partition plan in 1947 and got down to the business of building a country, it is likely that they would have found a different name for themselves, one that more appropriately reflected their true view of themselves and/or culture. But had they decided to use the name “Palestine” and built a peaceful nation, you can be sure that Israel would have been more than happy with this outcome.

The Palestinian Falsehood

In the meantime, the correct term for the Palestinian Arabs is at most just that: Palestinian Arabs. It may be natural for the Palestinian Arabs to call themselves by this name for now. However, I am afraid that by allowing themselves to be called “The” Palestinians, they are basing their growing national identity on nothing more than

1. rejection of and hatred toward the Jews; and
2. exploitation by other Arabs who used them as pawns in their war against the Jews.

Rather than a name that celebrates their own culture, whether this distinguishes them from Arabs in other countries or not, they have adopted a name that represents victimhood and loss of sovereignty.

If this comprises their defining experience as a new people, will they ever really feel free to make peace with their Israeli neighbours? Furthermore, is this a healthy basis for the foundation of a proud new nation? How will they justify this when they teach their school children about their history decades into the future?

The truth will come out and at some point, there will be those who ask why proud Arabs chose a name that stands for defeat and humiliation. I have, in fact, asked this question of some Palestinian Arabs and I am still waiting for an answer.


Sheri Oz is a retired psychotherapist living in Israel for 38 years. Always interested in politics and international affairs, she now has time to study and write about it to her heart’s satisfaction.
Sheri Blogs at Israel Diaries

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  1. Curiously, the Palestinian Arabs have the only supposedly national liberation movement whose “homeland” has no Arabic name but a Western one that, to compound the absurdity, is unpronounceable in Arabic – the “P” becomes “F” – and refers to a non-Arabic people (with whom they share only one commonality: neither is indigenous to the area). Also, their flag is based on the Flag of the Hejaz designed around 1916 by non other than Sir Mark Picot of Sykes-Picot fame. And, conveniently forgotten, is that the PLO’s original Charter in 1964 expressly disclaimed all claims of sovereignty to precisely those lands it now claims were forever theirs – in part, because those lands were then held by Jordan and Egypt, in part, because the point was never to create another Arab state but to destroy Israel.
    In the famous Stamp Case of 1924, the local Arabs wanted to counterbalance a stamp issued by the Mandatory government that had, in addition to the word “Palestine”, the Hebrew letters abbreviating “Land of Israel.” Their demand that the Arabic abbreviation for “South Syria” be added was rejected and that decision was upheld by the British courts though on a technical not historical basis. It is the case that the Christian Arab nationalist, George Antonius in his 1936 book “The Arab Awakening” identified the creation of Mandatory Palestine in 1922 as, of all things, the “nakba” because it deprived Syrian Arabs of their Syrian identity. By recycling that word, it’s original reference has been deliberately obfuscated.
    The general acceptance of the relentless and shifting but always false Arab narrative is best understood as an Arab recognition that HL Mencken’s supposed observation of the American public has a much wider application which may be expressed as: “no one has ever lost money betting against the intelligence of the World public.”

    • Thanks for this Charlie, you have raised a number of points about which I knew nothing and will have to do some research on the matter now

    • Charlie in NY

      Re-reading my comment, it should go without saying that I meant to write Sir Mark Sykes, Picot being his French counter-part. Sorry for my mistake.

    • Thanks for this informative response to my post. I never knew that Nakba was originally intended to mark the division of Syria and that does make sense. In fact, I was aware that many of the Arabs living in Israel and the PA saw their future in reunification with Syria.

  2. Larry Langman

    Sheri I really don’t think anyone who raises this argument has much of a leg to stand on. Sadly perhaps….but true.

    Our leadership back in the 1940’s had a choice between calling the place Israel or Palestine and chose Israel. That left the term Palestine up for grabs. The non-Zionist folk who lived in the region didn’t much like the label…..but it was the only collective label they could apply to themselves. There was no other label they could apply. Mores the pity. I would love to call them “lapsed-Jordanians”, or “Coele-Syrians” or “south-West Syrians”…..but Palestinians will have to do unless you can come up with another people who should actively and consistently call themselves Palestinians…..Now Sheri you really wouldn’t want to go there just to deny these folk a label would you? To now revert from Israel to Palestine just wouldn’t work for me

    And as for Palestinian-Arabs. What’s the point? Are their any other Palestinians but Arab Palestinians. They may as well call themselves Palestinians.

    But here Sheri is what really galls me……you cannot pick up text written by an Israeli contemporary historian or cultural writer who does not constantly refer to this piece of geography as Palestine.

    Go to your favourite search engine and type in “Palestine in the time of Jesus”…you should get about 4.7 million hits. At that time there was no Palestine. Jesus could not and did not live at any time of his life in a place called Palestine That’s an historic fact. And its got nothing to do with Palestinian Arabs. That is just laziness on the part of every writer including many Israeli historians.

    If you typed in “Books on history with Palestine in the title” currently that’s about 8.7 million hits. Few of these I would contend are by Arab Palestinian writers out to confuse the issue… matter what the academic output of the combined Universities of Palestine and Gaza.

    Sheri about the only joy I might point to is that a search “Palestinian history” yields only 68 million hits whereas “Jewish History” yields 168 million hits.

    • Charlie in NY

      Larry: I think you are mistaken as to the choices available. From my reading of the History, the debate was between calling the new state Israel or Zion. I have never read that the un-Hebrew name of Palestine was ever considered, especially given the fact that its very purpose was to wipe out any Jewidh connection to the land. Do you have any reference to support your claim?

  3. They rejected the name Palestine because they thought that would be the name of the new Arab state and would cause confusion in the future!.

    They rejected the name Zion because the words “Zion” and “Zionist” already had a pejorative meaning in the Arab world.

    In the end, they opted for the most straightforward option: or Israel.

    If you read Hebrew there is a copy of the document here.

    Name of Israel

    • Was Judaea never a contender for the name of our modern state? It seems that it would have been easier for other to connect the Jews with Judaea than with any of the other names. And certainly, Palestine was not even a contender.

      • Since Judea was the traditional name for one of the areas within Mandatory Palestine, my assumption is that it was never a contender. It would be as if the United States upon independence had decided to call itself Virginia, even though there was already a state by that name.
        As an aside, for those who incorrectly pretend that the designation “Judea and Samaria” is some settler or right wing politically inspired term coined only after the “Occupation,” it should be pointed out that the UN’s 1947 partition resolution 181, in drawing the lines of what was to be the “Arab State” had the Arabs not violently rejected the partition compromise, specifically use the ancient terms “Judea” and “Samaria” as the non-controversial geographical descriptors.
        It was only around 1950 that the bizarre (when you think of it) designation of “West Bank” was created when Transjordan renamed itself Jordan and annexed its territorial gains from 1949. In every other usage, the bank of any river is a rather thin strip of land. Such is the power of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish feelings that such nonsense has become widely accepted.