Was there a Palestinian State in History? The Historical Facts

In this post, I shall focus only on historical facts and will not be making any definitive moral judgment on the current war between Hamas & Israel.

Without a doubt, the name Palestine was used before the founding of the state of modern Israel in 1948. There are maps from the 19th century which have the name Palestine printed over the region of the Holy Land. However, the name Palestine was used to describe a geographical area rather than an independent state or a region defined as a specific administrative region.

The word Palestine was derived from the Philistines, an Aegean people who migrated to the Mediterranean coastal plain between Tel Aviv-Yafo and the Gaza Strip in the 12th century BC. These Aegean people have no genealogical connection recent Palestinian people. The Philistines disappeared from history after they were destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia 2600 years ago. The Jews who were exiled to Babylon resettled in the land  under the Persian Empire and reestablished Jerusalem as their capital. The Romans who destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD and crushed the last Jewish revolt (the Bar Kokhba revolt, 132-136 AD) applied the term Palaestina to Judea in order to erase any Jewish legitimate claim to the land of Israel. The Arabic word Filastin is derived from this Latin name.

“The name was revived by the Romans in the 2nd century ce in “Syria Palaestina,” designating the southern portion of the province of Syria, and made its way thence into Arabic, where it has been used to describe the region at least since the early Islamic era. After Roman times the name had no official status until after World War I and the end of rule by the Ottoman Empire, when it was adopted for one of the regions mandated to Great Britain.” [Emphasis added. Source: https://www.britannica.com/place/Palestine]

The historical demographic data shows that Palestine was never an exclusively Arab country, even when Muslims were the “relative majority” and Arabic gradually became the language of most of the population after the Muslim conquest in the 7th century.

Estimates of Palestine’s demographics (in thousands).  Wiki: Sergio DellaPergola

Given below are some data on the population of Jerusalem in the 19th century.

Between 1838 and 1876, conflicting estimates exist regarding whether Muslims or Jews constituted a “relative majority” (or plurality) in the city. Jerusalem was a city of religious plurality.

[Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_history_of_Jerusalem]

The region did not have any official status until the end of the Ottoman Empire when the British gave an official name to its newly acquired region under the “Palestinian Mandate” after WW1. The Mandate also included Jordan which was administered separately.

Prior to the British Mandate the region under the Ottoman Empire was not administered as the state of “Palestine”. The region was divided into 3 “Sanjaks.” – Sanjak Jerusalem, Sanjak Nablus & Sanjak Acre.

Vital Cuinet’s 1896 map of Syria, including the “Mutessariflik de Jerusalem”

[Sanjaks…administrative divisions of the Ottoman Empire…Ottoman provinces (eyalets, later vilayets) were divided into sanjaks (also called livas) governed by sanjakbeys (also called Mutesarriff) and were further subdivided into timars (fiefs held by timariots), kadiluks (the area of responsibility of a judge, or Kadı) and zeamets (also ziam; larger timars). [Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanjak and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutasarrifate_of_Jerusalem]

Conclusion –The historical facts speaks for themselves. The word Palestine was created by the Romans to punish the Jews after crushing their rebellion. The Romans erased the name Judea  which would continue to legitimize the Jews’ ownership of the land. The word was in use since Roman times, but there was no such entity as a Palestinian state – not during the Ottoman Empire, not during the British Mandate and not at the creation of the modern state of Israel.

Postscript Prayer
Beyond the historical facts, let us be mindful of the tragic conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land in recent times. Pray for peace.

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