Palestine: What a Country’s Boundaries Really Mean


We wrote The Ukraine: What a Country’s Boundaries Really Mean as an attempt to counter the colossal ignorance of the West concerning the historical and current significance of the country now called Ukraine. Its current borders and in fact its very existence in any form do not extend back even a century. This is particularly true of the Crimea. Yet we blather and bluster about the Ukraine as if it has existed for a thousand years or more. The same can be said for the notion of a Palestinian state which is even more ephemeral than Ukraine. Yet a large amount of the current anti-Israeli rhetoric falsely proceeds as if it were a country with aboriginal claim and history.

We asked our friend Dr. Paul Merkley if he could put together a timeline on the historical referents and claims to a Palestinian state. His contribution follows with emphasis added by us where we wished to make a point.

Early History of the Region

There is no merit in imagining a map of “Palestine” prior to the First Century AD. The word PALESTINE derives from the name Palestina, which the Romans imposed on what had previously been their Province of Judea. The city of Jerusalem and the Temple of the Jews had been leveled following major revolts taking place on and off from 65 AD to 132 AD. In using the name PALESTINA (see Figure 1) the Romans intended to insult the Jews and their History.

Figure 1. The Roman Empire, 150 AD.

As the word is an invention of the Romans appearing at this time and for this polemical purpose, it cannot be said that it has a history prior to that moment (that is, 135 AD.)

This name, Palestina, recalls the Philistines, the hated enemy of the Jews in the days when they were struggling to establish their Kingdom. The Philistines were not indigenous to these eastern coastline of the Mediterranean and were certainly not Semitic. They were one of the Sea Peoples, invaders from the vicinity of the Greek islands, who invaded the coasts of Egypt, Canaan and Syria in the 13-th-12 centuries BC. The biblical texts describe them as a ruthless enemy of the Israelis, who were not entirely removed from the vicinity until the conquests of David (11th century.) No trace of them was supposed to be in the bloodstream of Israel nor of any of the other nations eventually displaced by the Israelis in the Old Testament period.

Thus, the choice of the name Palestina made no sense except as an insult to the Jews. It was a declaration that Israel was now less real than long-gone Philistia. In fact, “Israel” was not real at all. The use of the name “Palestinians” to refer to Arab people resident in the area today is meant to serve the same political purpose. Leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and leaders of the government of the Palestine Authority posit an aboriginal body of “Palestinians” resident in the Holy Land before Abraham arrived in the land probably in the 19th century BC. In contradiction, all the contemporary sources (literary and archeological) explain that the lands were ruled by various bands of Canaanites who were unrelated to the Semitic tribe of Hebrews and who, along with the Philistines, were eventually extinguished or absorbed entirely into the Twelve Tribes of the Hebrews. The decision of the Romans to resuscitate the name of Philisita and the decision of the British to resuscitate the name Palestine follow from this same desire to wipe the slate clear of previous associations – in the first case, to assist forgetfulness of the Jewish claim to the area, and in the second case (paradoxically) to serve as a historically-empty term until such times as “a Jewish state and an Arab State” (to cite the Balfour declaration”) were ready to be established on that ground.

The name of Judaea was erased from Roman maps and does not appear thereafter on maps of this region except anachronistically and as a vague geographical term designating a corner of Syria.

It never reappears except in maps included for study purposes in Bibles. Likewise, there is no logic in imagining a “Map of Palestine” relevant to any moment in the nineteen centuries that follow.

Figure 2. The Ottoman Empire in a series of 18 maps. Click on the map below to open the map thumbnail index.

(Left-click on any thumbnail to open a larger view. One can scroll through the map series one map at a time by left-clicking on the current expanded image. Most images can be expanded further by right-clicking on the current image. Select the “View Image” option from the menu that pops up. Use the browser back arrow to close this image and return to the thumbnail page.)

History of the Region in the Early Twentieth Century

Throughout all the subsequent centuries, until 1919 the name Palestine had geographical significance only, and applied to a corner of Syria. Until creation by the League of Nations of the Palestine Mandate (1922), “Palestine” appears on maps only as a part of Syria, which occasionally had the status of a province within the vast territories ruled by a succession of Muslim rulers. This can be seen by examing the last half dozen maps of Figure 2. A significant example of this usage for “Palestine” is in the name of the Palestine Archeological Society, the body funded by British government and certain learned societies to assist archeological and other sorts of learned research in “the Holy Land” in the Nineteenth century.

After the Ottoman empire was broken up by the winning parties in the Ottoman War, “Arab Kingdoms” were established in Syria, Iraq and later Transjordan. What remained after this exercise was handed over to Britain as a mandate, held in trust under the League of Nations. From that point (the early 1920s until 1947) the majority of residents of the Palestine Mandate were Arabs, but the League of Nations and then the United Nations committed honored a pledge made by the Allied governments during the War (Balfour Declaration) to the Jews of the world for “a Jewish Homeland for the Jews in some part of this Mandate.

Figure 3. From StandWithUs, a set of maps of the Levant from the early 20th century to date.Israel map

(Left click on the map to enlarge in a new window. Use your browsers back arrow to return to this page.)

After the Partition Decision of November 20, 1947, the Arabs announced their determination to prevent the creation of a Jewish State and have fought several wars (beginning in 1948 to the present) to reverse the decision of the UN General Assembly of November 29, 1947.

It should be noted that throughout the 1920s and 1930 the Arabs living in the mandate did not usually refer to themselves as “Palestinians” – preferring to keep alive their identity and their claims as citizens of some great Arab state that they believed had been promised to them at the time of the Arab Revolt. During the 1920s and 1930s the term “Palestinian”, as used in British, American and French sources as well as in League documents invariably meant “Jewish residents of “Palestine.” Several lobbies were established in Britain and the United States and Canada during those years for the purpose of working towards the establishment of a Jewish state, and these had such names as the American Palestine Committee, the American Christian Palestine Committee, Christians for Palestine, etc. It never occurred to Arabs living in the Mandate of Palestine to refer to themselves as “Palestinians”

Paradoxically, then the term Palestine was appropriated after the 1967 war by the Arab side to fortify a newly-discovered claim to be based on alleged aboriginal presence of “Palestinians”.

The Modern Era, 1947-1993

A graphic representing this period should illustrate the situation created by the UN decision of November 29, 1947 –

In 1993, the Palestine Liberation Organization, under Yasir Arafat, was recognized by Israel as the sole body having a claim to speak for the Arab-Palestinian population – now conventionally referred to simply as “the Palestinians” but NOT “Palestine.” Use of the term PALESTINE as though it referred to an existing polity is entirely contrary to then letter and the spirit of the Oslo Accords, even though it has become conventional in journalism and in the materials promoting the agenda of the PLO.

Israel and the PLO entered into an agreement whereby most of the territory east of the ceasefire lines following the 1967 war would be governed in all internal matters by a Palestine Authority, which should result from elections.

Commitment were also made in 1993 and re-affirmed many times since to achieve definitive boundaries within a fixed period of time (ten years?) But this deadline has long passed.

Children in Palestinian schools are taught from maps that show the entirety of the Palestine Mandate as its was in 19478 as PALESTINE and are taught to sing sings in which Tel Aviv, Haifa, et cetera are proclaimed as cities in the mother land of Palestine. The Palestine Authority issues maps that likewise

All of this is in clear defiance of the Oslo Agreements.

Ukrainian National Memory and Palestinian National Memory Compared

As noted in The Ukraine: What a Country’s Boundaries Really Mean, the name UKRAINE appears on and off (bu mainly off) maps of Russia and its vicinity over many centuries. Earliest references to this vicinity in Greek historians is to Scythia, a kingdom centered on Crimea and inland (see Figure 4). It was a famous and prosperous trading kingdom – its principal commodity being “slaves” (hence the association of the “Slavs” and “Slaves” in European memory.

Figure 4. Scythia, an early geopolitical predecessor for the region known as Ukraine.

When it first appears on maps the name “UKRAINE” evidently has the meaning of “border” — suggesting that the historical memories of Ukrainians cannot be distinguished from the historical memories of Russians. The earliest of the “Russian” kingdoms was located at Kiev. The historians speak of “Kievan Rus”. All historians recognize the difficulty of distinguishing “Ukrainian” identity from a national identities claimed by Belorussians and Russians and others.

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