Palestinian Homeland: A Modern Invention?
The struggles between Arabs and Jews in the Middle Eastern state of Israel is a daily topic for both print and television news. A common term found in these discussions is “Palestinian homeland.” In order to determine ones stand on this controversial subject, it is important to understand exactly what is meant by this phrase. Who are the Palestinians? What do they seek in a homeland? Where would this homeland be?
A search for the phrase “Palestinian homeland” on google.com returns 4,560 hits. Links on the first few pages range from news sites and history sites to polls and even jokes. This certainly proves that the phrase has entered the common vernacular.
Next, lets see if we can get an official dictionary definition of our phrase. Merriam-Webster online gives two definitions for the word homeland. “1) Native land. 2) A state or area set aside to be a state for a people of a particular national, cultural, or racial origin.” It would seem that the second definition would be more suitable when referring to the Palestinian homeland.
For Palestine, Merriam-Webster gives the following definitions: “(1) Ancient region SW Asia bordering on E coast of the Mediterranean & extending E of Jordan River (2) Region bordering on the Mediterranean on W & Dead Sea on E; a part of the Ottoman Empire 1516-1917, a British mandate 1923-48; now approximately coextensive with Israel with Arab Palestinians in the West Bank having limited self-rule since 1993” As you can see, defining this word is a little more troublesome.
There never has been a country named Palestine. The area now known as Israel was first called Canaan. According to Middle East Political Historian Joe Katz, Canaan was overrun by the Philistines around 1194 BCE. The area was later conquered by Jews and renamed Israel. After the Romans had taken control of the region in the first century CE and then put down a rebellion in the second century CE, they decided to wipe out the identity of Israel as a Jewish state. Rome renamed the area Palastinia after the Philistines who had lived there before the Jews. Philistines were neither Arab, nor even Semites, but were more closely related to the Greeks. From this point until World War II, Palastinia was part of the Roman empire, then the Byzantine Empire, next the Ottoman Empire, and finally the British Empire. Palestine has never existed as an independent country. Until at least 1948, anyone of any ethnicity who lived in Palestine was known as a Palestinian.
Curretly the term Palestinian seems to refer to Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip areas of Israel. From the inception of Israel in 1948 until Israel won this land in the Six-Day War in 1967, The West Bank was part of Jordan and the people who lived there were known as Jordanians, not Palestinians. The Gaza Strip was part of Egypt and its inhabitants called themselves Egyptians and not Palestinians. The people in these areas never sought an independent state, and the governments of Egypt and Jordan never wanted to give them one. Now it seems that the destiny of these people is to have their own country rather than rejoin Jordan and Egypt or remain part of Israel.
Thus we reach a working definition of the term. A Palestinian homeland is an independent state or area set-aside for the Arabs living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank areas of Israel. This is a definition that a vast majority of the non-Arab world, and many Arabs can agree on.
There are both positive and negative things about this proposed homeland. Most everyone involved wants the Palestinians to have their own country. Egypt and Jordan have shown no signs of wanting to reannex the areas and openly support a Palestinian homeland. Israel would certainly be happy to offer these troublesome lands in exchange for peace. There are two things keeping this from happening. First of all, the experiments with Palestinian self-rule since 1993 have been a huge failure. Palestinian elections were questionable, and their leaders have not shown any signs of setting up the sort of civil and social services common in modern society. Most of their time and energy was focused on terrorizing Israeli citizens – which brings us to the second problem. Many Arabs, and most importantly the Palestinian leaders, want the nation of Israel done away with and all of its lands to become the Palestinian homeland. They will not settle for any less.
The issue of a Palestinian homeland will remain unsettled until all parties can reach an agreement on the definition of this phrase. This is the reason that Israeli soldiers occupy most of the Gaza Strip and West Bank right now.