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This article deals with the region in the Middle East known as Palestine. "Palestine" is also the name of several places in the USA.

(The neutrality of this article is disputed.)

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The term Palestine has both geographical and political meanings.

As a geographical term, Palestine denotes a region in the Middle East, lying on the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The borders of this region are not well-defined, but it is usually accepted that it includes the hills of Judea and Samaria, the northern mountainous area of the Galilee, the southern desert of the Negev, and the western plains of the Sharon[?] and Pleshet[?]. These borders roughly correspond to the modern-day State of Israel, and the territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sometimes the term is extended to include the mountains to the east of the Jordan River, now part of the kingdom of Jordan.

The strategic importance of this region has made it the site of many historical events since the time of the Bible (when it was known as Canaan). It was the site of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and later of the independent Jewish kingdom of Judea. During the period 1100-1300 AD, it was a center of the conflict between the Islamic sphere and Western Christendom. Since the establishment of the modern State of Israel, it has been the focus of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

As a political entity, Palestine came into existence only with the establishment of the British mandate of Palestine, following World War I. The borders of the British mandate were clearly defined except at the eastern exterme, and they included the area currently occupied by: Israel (not including the Golan Heights), the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Jordan. Shortly afterwards, in accordance with the Mandate instrument, Britain successfully asked the League of Nations to separate Transjordan (the area on eastern bank of the River Jordan) from Palestine, and from then on the term Palestine was officially used (by the British) to describe the part of the land west of the River Jordan.

Since the end of the British mandate (in 1948), there has been no existing political entity called "Palestine". However, in 1988, the PLO unilaterally declared the establishment of an independent state called the State of Palestine. At the time, however, the PLO did not actually control any part of the land, so Palestine (in this sense) was a "state" without territory. "The State of Palestine" did not receive international recognition, except by the countries of the Arab League, and a handful other Muslim countries.

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 will indeed be 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.

Ancient 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

The biblical patriarch Isaac made a peace treaty between himself and King Abimelekh of the Philistines. See the article on the 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 excluded 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. Palestine subsequently became a part of the Arab Empire until its conquest by the Crusaders at the end of the 11th century.

The Ottoman 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".)

Jordan and Palestine

The Kingdom of Jordan consists of the eastern three-quarters of the former British mandate of Palestine. At one time the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) attempted to conquer Jordan by an armed revolt. After their defeat in armed conflict by Jordanian forces in the early 1970s, most Palestinian Arabs have since given up on this goal. Most Palestinians currently hold that any future Palestinian state will be based on territory solely in Israeli control at the moment.

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.

Wikipedia articles on related topics

Geographic boundaries

The boundaries of the region are not clearly defined. The region is currently divided into: the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, The State of Israel, The Kingdom of Jordan and the West Bank.

The territory was under the control of the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I. At this time, the area to the west of the Jordan River was made up of the Sanjaks[?] of Acre and Balqa[?] to the North, and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem to the South. The northern two Sanjaks, together with four others further north, made up the Vilayet[?] of Beirut. The region to the east of the Jordan was a part of the Vilayet of Syria see map: [1] (http://www.un.org/Depts/dpa/qpal/maps/M3007x.gif) . The East Bank of the Jordan River was at times joined to the lands west of it, and at times separated; in most periods the Jordan river was a border line between the two areas.

From 1918-1921, the British Mandate of Palestine included territories both east and west of the river in a single administrative section. However, when the time came to create permanent borders, the territories east of the rivers were given to the rule of the Hussein family of Hijaz. This was the beginning of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

By the time the British had been formally given Palestine and Transjordan as League of Nations mandates, they were already separated. Some people consider the brief period of joint administration a legal nullity, and dismiss the "Jordan is Palestine" claim.

Most Jews, many Christians, and some Palestinians argue that despite the British policy of administrating the territories separately, the term "Palestine" should include modern Jordan also. From the 1960s to the 1980s internal and public PLO documents stated that the goal of the PLO was to create a Palestinian state in all of Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, all of which they termed "Palestine". This led to attempts by Palestinians to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy, which led to the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan in September 1970. In the recent years, "Palestine" has come to mean only territory west of the Jordan river.

Origin of the name

The oldest 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". Egyptian writings refer to the region as R-t-n-u (for convenience pronounced Retenu), claimed by some to be a corruption of the Hebrew Artzenu meaning "our land".

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; when Egypt and Jordan withdrew their claims, 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 but Israel -- 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 at least some of 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

Today "Palestine" is most often used to refer to the captured territories, and "Palestinians" to refer to the non-Israeli population of these areas. 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.


Israelis 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. Palestinians claim that many of them were forced from their homes by Zionist forces. Recent historical research indicates that both explanations are partly correct. About a third of Palestinian refugees were ejected from their homes by Jews; most of the rest left due to encouragement to do so from both their own and Jewish leaderships.

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 PA 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.

On the date of British withdrawal the Jewish populace declared the formation of the State of Israel. The Arab leadership was unable to construct a state. However separate Arab gangs continued to attack Jewish neighborhoods in all the areas, particularly closing upon Jerusalem and in effect creating the state of a siege. As a response, Jewish forces had occupied several chunks of territory designated for the proposed Arab state as well as parts of Jerusalem intended for international administration. As a result, on the day Israel proclaimed its independence there were already 300,000 Palestinian refugees.

Israelis allege that the Arab refugees left their homes because Arabs from surrounding nations ordered them to leave. Arab military commanders promised an immediate invasion of the nascent Jewish state that would kill all the Jews, and Arabs were ordered to leave to reduce casualties. Israelis claim that the Arabs were promised that victory would be quick, and that they would be able to return to their homes within a few weeks. Specific quotes and references are provided in the entry under Palestinian.

Example: Israelis point to statements made by the Iraqi Prime Minister at the time, Nuri Said[?], who said:

We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down.

Likewise, Israelis point to statements made by Haled al Azm[?], the Syrian Prime Minister in 1948-49, who said:

Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the [Arab] refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return.

Palestinians argue that they were forcibly driven out of their homes by the Israeli forces.

By the end of this war, there were between 400,000 and 650,000 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) A similar number of Jewish refugees were created as well, as Arab nations ejected their Jewish populations. Neither the Jewish nor the Palestinian refugees have been permitted to return home.

On midnight on May 14, 1948, the last British soldiers departed and the new state of Israel was proclaimed. By then, 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, and their inhabitants expelled, in order to remove 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.

See also Deir Yassin incident

See also:

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.

Palestinian links

U.N. links

Israeli links

Here is an archive of older discussions on this entry. For current discussions see Discuss this entry.

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