Kel Richards’ Ozword of the Day: “Palestine”

Angry people keep chanting ‘free Palestine’ on our streets. They shout that ‘Palestine’ should stretch from the river (the Jordan River) to the sea (the Mediterranean Sea)-covering the territory currently occupied by the nation of Israel.

But what does this name ‘Palestine’ refer to? And where does it come from?

This area (which used to be called the ‘fertile crescent’ in the Ancient Near East) was first known as Canaan. It was occupied by the Jewish people over a period of time between 1200 and 1000 BC when it was named Israel.

That area continued to be called ‘Israel’ for the next thousand years. The region was conquered by the Roman Empire in 63 BC under Roman general Pompey. The Romans divided it into provinces, naming the central province ‘Judea’ (meaning ‘land of the Jews’).

Then, starting in 70 AD the Jews revolted against their Roman overlords. The Romans decided to suppress Jewish nationalism and prevent any future uprisings. As a part of this they changed the name.

The new name was chosen by the Romans from the ancient Philistines, who had lived along part of the coastline. By that time the Philistines had long disappeared as a distinct people. It was a deliberate choice by the Romans to erase Jewish historical and cultural ties to the land, as the Philistines were seen as foreign to the region.

That old word ‘Philistine’ became Palestina in Latin, which, in turn, became ‘Palestine’ in English (recorded from 1628).

Although many Jews were driven out of the area by the Romans (and scattered around the known world) many Jews still remained, and still thought of the area as their ancestral homeland.

Then in the seventh century Arabs began to flood into the area, under the military leadership of Mohammad and his powerful army. The area continued by the called ‘Palestine’ over the following centuries and, for a long time, was part of the Ottoman Empire.

When that empire collapsed after the First World War the area became the British Protectorate of ‘Palestine.’ After the Second World War the newly formed United Nations divided up the old British protectorate into a Jewish state (to be called ‘Israel’) and an Arabic state (to be called ‘Palestine’).

The Arab Palestinians rejected the United Nations declaration of their share of the territory and took up arms against Israel. The rest, you know.

That’s a whole lot of history in just a few words. But (it seems to me) two things emerge clearly:

(1) ‘Israel’ is a far more ancient name for this area than ‘Palestine’ as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people; and

(2) people keep using the word ‘Palestine’ ignorant of the history behind the name.

You can catch up with the most recent edition of ‘Words Matter’ online. There’s a link at


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  • Greg Bland June 18, 2024   Reply →

    For those are interested in this subject in Nehemiah 2.20 it is stated that no Arab shall have part of Jerusalem. This remained true up until, as said above, AD 70.
    From then until 1948 Arabs generally speaking were in control until the state of Israel was formed. Never before, and I may be corrected on this, has a disposed people got back their land and sovereignty been restored.
    Of course it was 1967 that Israel finally had Jerusalem under their control.

  • Ken.T. June 18, 2024   Reply →

    Even the other Muslim countries recognize that the “Palestinians” can not live peacefully amongst themselves. The Polish will not tolerate them in Poland, the same for Egypt. It is evident that our Leaders have made a botch of things at times which we have to live with. The Australian is pretty good at getting along with any other national providing they pull their weight and don’t try to drag the place down. All we ask is for them not to bring their arguments here. We have enough problems with the Politicians we already have.

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