Friday, September 11, 2009

What's in a name? Israel/Palestine or Israel and Palestine?

The whole time I have been writing about the Israel/Palestine Mission Network I frown every time I write Israel/Palestine. I always will.

The reason? Several years ago Dr. James Berkley and I wrote a paper together entitled, “PW Document Shows Embarrassment about Jesus and the Bible.” The PW document, “Guidelines for Avoiding Anti-Semitism,” was one of those papers which attempts to give an extended list of correct ways to refer to other people, organizations and in this case even a nation.

In the document, which was quickly removed, the authors also showed some embarrassment about Israel and the Jewish people. They wrote “The modern State of Israel is properly called Israel/Palestine in respect for the independent Palestine state emerging there.”

I cringe now every time I see those two names together, Israel & Palestine, with only a slash between them. I am always certain there is a deeper meaning in that coupling. For the IPMN that is a certainty since several years ago they produced a brochure that was intended to help the church pray for the Middle East with the State of Israel and Palestine once again crunched together while all other States were allowed their names.

Now there is a power point, The Cradle of Our Faith PowerPoint study companion , mostly about the Christians in the Middle East. Once again the State of Israel is crunched up with Palestine. (And this power point as usual fails to tell the complete story about Israel.) For instance this:

“When Israel was formed in 1948, Mandate Palestine, unlike its neighbors, was not granted self-rule and self-determination, but became a zone of mounting conflict. Britain not only maintained its colonial presence but presided over a massive influx of European Jews fleeing European anti-Semitism and Nazism, which ultimately led to the partition of Palestine.”

No, there could have been a Palestinian state but instead the Arab nations attacked Israel. Their aim was to destroy Israel and so they felt no need to pursue a Palestinian State. On top of that misinformation this paragraph begins with the 1948 birth of the State of modern Israel and then turns back to 1945 to 1947 to make it seem as though the “colonial presence of Britain” still existed after Israel had become a state in 1948.

Then under “The Jewish State” there is this:

The Western-sponsored establishment of a Jewish state in the Arab Middle East, predictably, brought stresses to relations among Middle Eastern Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Sadly, the Mizrahi Jewish communities that once prospered in Alexandria, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Tehran are now shadows of their former vital selves or are extinct.

There is some truth to this, but not much. Stresses? Although most of these Jewish communities considered themselves citizens of their particular countries, they were attacked, killed and exiled. Close to a million were exiled. It is not sadness that is called for but honesty mixed with horror.

But, finally, what about the name Palestine. Dr. Mary Mikhael writes that “By Roman times (early second century C.E.), the word Philistine morphed to Palestine and was used by the governments to identify not just the coastline, but the whole of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”

And she does provide a clear description of the modern area of Palestine, writing that the name Palestine now is used to refer to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem but that the two names must be placed together to show that they both have “a right to self-determination and a right to exist within sovereign and secure borders.” (24)

But where did that name really come from? Why is the area named after a group of people who were once the enemies of Israel? With the last revolt of the Jewish people against Rome, Hadrian, in an attempt to make sure the name Judea or Israel would never again be known, renamed the whole area after the Philistines, a people who no longer existed.

In an extremely interesting article, “What Did Rome Call the Land of Israel? –What were its Borders?” Prof. Elliot A. Green gives the whole history. He writes “The name "Palestine" was not used officially by the Romans before Hadrian (135 CE).” He goes on to explain:

Some 65 years later [after the defeat by Titus], however, in the year 135 CE, when the Emperor Hadrian's forces had suppressed the Jewish revolt led by Bar-Kokhba, the emperor renamed the province Provincia Syria Palaestina. The name change had obvious political implications. This becomes even clearer when we bear in mind that at the same time Hadrian forbid Jews to live in a large zone in the heart of Judea around Jerusalem.

Before 135 AD, that land which was Judea was called Judea. It was not called Palestine. And the author cites several references to prove his point, including Pliny the Elder.

Israel has returned to her land she should also have her own name.

"It is racial prejudice to deny the people of Israel the right to name their own land."


reformedpastor said...

Thank you for pointing this out, Viola. I've had the same reaction every time I come upon that particular trope, and I absolutely refuse to use it unless I'm quoting someone who does.

Viola Larson said...

I know a few people are aware of the reason for the coupling of the name, but unless done on purpose I don't think many people know there is a political reason behind doing it that way.