When Was the First Time That the Term “Palestinian” Was Used?

  • 1 minute read
  • • by Sharon Koifman
  • • September 19, 2022

Not till the 20th century was there a leader, an imam, a king, or any movement that called themselves Palestinians. There was never a flag or currency. Pre- 1948, The Arabs would, in fact, prefer the term Southern Syria rather than Palestine as it was declared in the first Palestine Congress. The national identity was not fully formed until 1964 (when the Arab League created the Palestine Liberation Organization or PLO. The term “Palestine” was used often but by Zionists in the early 20th Century.

The first time the word Palestine was coined was in the First Century of the Common Era. The Roman Empire was very upset because the Jews revolted against them. They destroyed Jerusalem, dispersed the Jews, and then, they renamed the Colony, which was called Judea, to “Syria Palestina”. Syria because it was near Syria (or Assyria). Palestina, because the long-dead enemies of the Jews in the Torah, the Philistines. Palestina was the way the Romans pronounced Philistia. The name stuck.

It’s true sometimes some old historians or geographers may call the region Palestine or Levant. For instance, Muslim geographer Al-Muqqadasi called himself a Palestinian in 10th Century. The Levant in that period was called Jund Filastin (it means “Military District of Palestine”)… which was a small part of the Bilad al-Sham (the Islamic Syria, a province for the caliphates until the Crusaders conquered the land).

It’s important to note that Jund Filastin wasn’t a nation. It wasn’t a kingdom either. It’s a part of a bigger caliphate. Al-Muqqadasi did not have nationalist aspirations when he called himself Palestine; he meant the part of the province Bilad al-Sham lived in. Would you call Manhattan a nation?

When the future Islamic dynasties conquered the land, they maintained Syria Province and Palestine as a part of Syria, more specifically, Southern Syria.

Even at earlier 20th Century, a Palestinian Congress in 1920 supported the idea that Palestine was always part of Syria — they were all into the Pan-Syria aspirations. The Congress approved four Resolutions:

  1. “it never occurred to the peoples of Northern and Coastal Syria that Southern Syria (or Palestine) is anything but a part of Syria.”
  2. boycott of Zionist goods for “all three parts of Syria”
  3. Palestine should “not to be divided from Syria”
  4. “the independence of Syria within its natural borders.”

Even when they made the Third Congress in Haiffa, they decided to fight only for Palestine, but in the condition of being reunited to Syria later.

In fact, the first Arab newspaper in Syria did not have Palestine in its name, but it was called Suriyya al-Janubiyah, which means Southern Syria. Palestine, to the Arabs, existed as a useful name for the region but not as a national identity.

Emile Ghory, spokesman for the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Amin al-Husayni, wrote an article about the Palestine word in 1936:

Palestine to us has always been, and will always be, “Southern Syria”, yet we are not allowed to use that name officially. To the Jews, Palestine is the land of Israel, and they are allowed to use that name. Not only are they allowed to use it, but the Government on the stamps and coins uses it. All this is just to show that there is discrimination.

Just to be clear, of course, they were clearly allowed to use the Palestine name. Here is a coin with the name Palestine inscribed in Arabic, English and Hebrew:

Also, there is a stamp with the Al-Aqsa Mosque, also has Palestine written in Arabic, English, and Hebrew:

Now that’s clear, what Emile Ghory meant is the Arabs felt they weren’t allowed to call themselves “Southern Syria”. This is why we know the Palestinians did not have a national identity fully formed until 1964 (when the Arab League created the Palestine Liberation Organization or PLO). The Southern Syria idea flopped, the Arabs decided the Arab League wasn’t helping that much and then they decided to be something else to be their national identity.

What about the Zionists using the P word, then? Let’s check it out.

Our orchestra was called Palestine Symphony Orchestra, when Israel was founded, its name changed to Jewish Philharmonic Orchestra. The Anglo-Palestine Bank became the Leumi Bank. The Jewish newspaper The Palestine Post became The Jerusalem Post.

We also did this poster as Zionist advertising for tourism in Palestine:

And now the Pro-Palestinian groups use it like they had made it.


Origins of the word Palestine


Coming soon…

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