I shouldn’t have to write this: others, better educated about this than me, people with deeper insight into world history and geopolitics should: historians should document this, journos should flood the internet with articles, politicos of every left or right shade, from the continent and across The Pond should clamour to support this, educators should educate on this.
Yet, here we are: this truth that needs to be said remains, apart from the odd internet article - of which this one has great chances of ending up being too - hidden, sidelined, forgotten and ignored.
Better still: we should not have allowed this atrocity to be committed, this falsehood to spread and take root, this deeply unjust thing to exist. Yet here we are: just do an internet search and you’ll see. The worst is when Israelis support it.
The thing I refer to is, of course, the notion of ‘Palestine’.
‘Palestine’ is, at core, a colonial endeavour, a malign intention of domination, control and dispossession, a false flag operation, a deception, (the oldest) piece of fake news, a grotesque masquerade of peoplehood, a trivial pursuit of individual enrichment, a geopolitical stratagem, a ruse hidden in plain sight, an unambiguous expression of fundamental disregard for humanity and for human rights, a deeply antisemitic thing, a profoundly inhumane thing.
As its apologists like to point out, the name ‘Palestine’ is ancient. Indeed this hateful thing is, probably, if not world’s oldest political machination, certainly its longest.
The name ‘Palestine’ is an English word, based on a Latin one that it turn has its roots in a Greek one. Somewhere in-between it has been adopted in Arabic and a handful of other languages.
Whatever the origin of this word may be, one thing it certainly is not: indigenous to the land it purports to describe. No political entity, local to the land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea has ever - ever, ever - called itself so. It remains, from time immemorial to present day, an exonym, a name given by Greek, Roman and Arab colonial powers to the lands they conquered; and it is specific to an etic discourse of domination and epistemic violence. In every shape and form, linguistically, ‘Palestine’ is a foreign thing.
As ‘Palestine’ is a neologism to the language of the individuals who supporters say it politically represents - the Arabs - no decent person, organisation or entity can accept its claim of indigeneity. But more: the land purported to be designated by this misnomer has no natural borders but those drawn by colonial powers and are so upheld as to not impinge on their successors, particularly the Kingdom of Jordan.
The oldest indigenous name of the land was ‘Canaan’ and it had been given to the land by the native people of the land, the Canaanites, divided by early literature, like the Bible, into subgroups such as the Hivites, Girgashites, Jebusites, Amorites, Hittites, and Perizzites. Jews adopted the name and made it famous through the Bible.
By the times we refer to, roughly 2000 - 1500 BCE, ancient Israelites had already developed a notion of being a distinct tribal entity - Beyt Israel, the House of Israel - based on a genealogy derived from the Biblical Jacob, later called ‘Israel’. In such a notion, elements of locality, such as using local names for God, like ‘El’ and using Ugaritic and proto-Sinaitic alphabet, combined with elements of exogeny, pointing to a memory of a distant foreign origin in a city called ‘Ur’, identified with nowadays-Basra in southern Iraq, then called ‘Chaldea’, via somewhere at the Syrian - Turkish border in the city of Haran, tied together by the triad Abraham - Itzhak - Jacob.
And then, it may have been that Greek refugees from Crete and ancient Caphtor, nowadays-Cyprus, driven away by the destruction caused by the eruption of the Santorini volcano in 1613 BCE, settled in some five cities on the Eastern Mediterranean coast, around what nowadays is referred to as The Gaza Strip. It so may be that they - or historians such as Herodotus - named the land they occupied ‘Philistia’.
Let us note that the ending of this name, ‘-ia’ is in line with both Greek and Latin language rules in naming of countries (sometimes, ‘-ea’): Ital-ia, Grec-ia, Span-ia, German-ia, Franc-ia, Alban-ia, Serb-ia, Macedon-ia, Turc-ia, Lyb-ia, Tunis-ia, Ind-ia, Pers-ia, Arab-ia but Nabat-ea, Chald-ea, and, of course, Jud-ea.
The ones picking up this word next are the Romans, themselves a colonising power, centred on Rome but extending its civilising but ruthless reach, at its highest, from England to Arabia and from Danube to Tunisia.
By the time the Romans arrived on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, displacing the Greek polities, around 30BCE, the Jews already had their hey-day in the Bronze Age Kingdom of Judea, Kingdom of Israel and the United Monarchy and were then already under good two centuries of Hellenisation, officially living in the province of ‘Coele-Syria”, possibly meaning ‘the whole of Syria’ but actually living in a state of semi-independence in their country, widely known as ‘Judea’.
If the Greek refugee-colonists may be excused from an overtly politicised use of the name “Philistia”, the Romans can not. The Romans not only have used this word to designate a region of Syria, the southern, but, having absolutely no qualms in conquering other people and being viciously genocidal, have used it to abscond their colonization and to dispropriate and disenfranchise the then owners of the land, the Jewish People, political usage that remains to this day.
A colonized land had then, as throughout history, much to gain from being part of a larger polity. Access to the imperial language and culture, but mostly to its market, made the acceptance of colonial rule a strategically sound alternative to total annihilation, and many people so chose in the face of the advancing Roman legions throughout the Mediterranean basin.
So complete and fundamentally altering was the entrenchment of Greek and Roman empires around the Mediterranean Sea that to this day the vast majority of people living there continue to use Greco-Latin languages, political systems and can be spoken of largely as part of Greco-Roman culture.
But more: so philosophically profound was the ancient Greek culture and so materially efficient was the Roman that their legacy permeated throughout Europe both in lands actually colonized and in lands never colonized. Their legacy then, extended around the world though further colonization and forms nowadays the foundation of modern political, cultural and economic life of practically every country in the world. We are all, more or less, Hellenised.
And so, it was rather a natural for a Roman governor of an imperial province to expect and receive total submission and often admiration of the local people who, rather, welcomed the Empire and its civilisation, blending local customs and knowledge with the imperial one and producing fascinating local varieties of Roman culture, such as in the Ptolemaic Egypt of Cleopatrean fame.
But not so the Jews. The Jews resented Roman occupation and fought endlessly for independence. And so unique was this in Roman times that, alone amongst all other provinces, the conquering of Judea was regarded as a great honour, appropriately marked with atrocious imperial impertinence by minting of a gold coin labelled ‘Judea Capta’, “the Captured Judea”, struck by the Roman Emperor Vespasian in the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and of the subjugation of the land, and showing a woman representing Judea crying in her hands. behind which a triumphant Roman general stands with pride.
So profoundly did the Romans fear the Jews and the inherent threat that they’d continue - as they did - fight against the occupation, that they renamed Jerusalem into Aelia Capitolina and Judea into Syria-Palaistina, prohibited the learning of the Torah, punishing even owning a Bible; circumcision, widely regarded as uniquely Jewish at the time, was painfully reversed, Jewish children received Greek and Roman names, families changed their patronym to no-longer sound Jewish, etc. - much like Jews would be forced to do time and again throughout Christendom and Arabic and Islamic Middle East.
In Roman usage, however, this word was no longer a proper name, denoted by the ‘-ia’ ending but an adjective, denoted by the ‘-na’ ending, rendering it as ‘Palaistina’.
An adjective as such, ‘Palaistina’ was attributed to the larger and more important province of Syria, rendered as ‘Syria - Palaistina’ and denoting the southern part, somewhere from the anti-Lebanon mountains down to Arabia Petraea and Nabatea, and so named specifically to try and erase any Jewish connection to the land.
And so remained the usage of the word throughout subsequent Arabic - Islamic colonisation of the Middle East where it was picked up as ‘Jund Filastin’, bearing the typical p-to-f slide in Semitic languages. It is in this mispronunciation that Arab politicians still refer to this land.
But as empires raged on and Jews were relegated to distant lands and a perennially inferior position, unable and afraid to stake political claims, the eminent backwater nature of this land, and more prominently of Jerusalem, took its toll and saw initial promises of patronage trickle down to mere royal titles, such as those floundered by the House of Hapsburg or the Emirate of Transjordan.
Significantly, however, what buildings we now see in Jerusalem are patently not Arab but Turkish, as in Ottoman, particularly the fortified walls, initiated and paid for by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1537. Emphatically, there is no Arab architecture in Jerusalem.
The only building in Jerusalem that might have some Arab heritage is the Dome of the Rock, its history itself a testament of colonialism and imperial abuse: as Christian Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronious, impudently disregarded Jewish rights on the city and surrendered it to invading Arab armies, the new colonial occupiers, wanting to show off the supremacy of their then-newly-found monotheistic religion against its precursor, renovated what seems to have possibly been an octagonal commemorative structure erected by the Romans on the ruins of (a temple to Jupiter, itself built on top of the desecrated ruins of) the Second Jewish Temple and erected a copy of the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, furthering the colonial arrogance and disregard for older - and hence stronger - Jewish claims to that land.
Like the Romans, Christian, Arab/Islamic conquerers of Jerusalem boasted their conquest of Jewish homeland in vain attempt to portray their respective religions as superior, for, the logic went, if their God allowed for Jews to be made despondent, it must be that this is wholly deserved and righteous because their own deity is, logic would go, superior, aka “akbar”, i.e “bigger” in Arabic, from ‘kabir’ - ‘big’. So much did the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem like this supremacist idea that in their 1925 guide to the Dome and its surroundings mentioned the tradition that the building stands on the ancient Temple of Solomon, never realising the colonial abuse inherited through the ages.
Such powers that be today do not seem to be as fond of this argument if applied in reverse, though, and hate when point is made that the same God that earlier allowed Jewish despondency, in 1948 re-granted Jews dominion over their homeland and allowed vastly larger foreign armies to be defeated by the nascent Jewish state - just as countless Jewish prophets prophesised - that God would re-gather its people to its homeland.
Such deep is the hate and fear for Jewish dominion over Jewish homeland that to this very day countries far and wide on the globe maintain their embassies to the Jewish State not in its designated capital city - like they do in any other country - Jerusalem, but in Tel Aviv.
With typical ambiguity then, in 1917, Britain picked up the word in question and made it into a country name in English as ‘Palestine’, bearing the common ‘-ne’ ending for names of countries.
In their plan to overthrow Ottoman control of the Middle East and fearful of jeopardizing the political double - no, triple - dealings they were playing at the time, specifically the negotiations with 1) the Zionist Movement represented by Chaim Weizmann, 2) a confederation of Arabian tribes lead by Sharif Hussein, King of Hejaz and 3) with France, represented by Picot, the British government issued the famous Balfour declaration, carefully wording it to specify support for re-establishment of the Jewish homeland “in Palestine” - and not ‘of Palestine’ as undoubtedly Weizmann pleaded for.
And thus, articulated in the English language of colonial reputation, has this word - and it promiscuous history - entered the international consciousness.
Building on the said ambiguity but also the British smart move of emphasising the geographic - administrative understanding of the term, both the worldwide Jewish community and gentiles initially made use of the word, understanding “Palestine” as a Jewish country. So revailing was this understanding that in a 1939 football match in Australia, the Israeli team is referred to as ‘Palestinians’,
But that, as all good things, was short-lived and the initial technical designation of the land and its inhabitants gave way to the intense politicisation of the word that followed overtures by Haj Amin al Husseini (not of local “Palestinian” but of foreign Hejazi Arab origin) to a Nazi regime bent on extending its own colonial arm all the way to the then-newly discovered gas fields in Iraq.
And so, misguidedly supported by Nelson Mandela, and empowered by Soviet propaganda against United States, the term made its way into polite society of NGOs and academia, leading to a plethora of equally misguided anti-colonial literature that now tried to portray ‘Palestine’ as an indigenous project.
And since academic virtue-signalling is really nothing much without the right dose of violence, the term made headlines around the world again during the First Intifada, that left behind some four years of atrocities, many dead and many more hurt.
And so we reach the zenith of this misnomer with the development and spread of the ‘Free Palestine’ slogan: based on decades of media propaganda, of academic mis-theorising, national funding from supposedly friendly countries, NGO and union support, common sense and reason seem to vanish from the minds and hearts of thousands of people, allowing themselves to be brainwashed and summoned at will on the streets of our cities only to tire their throats shouting this English language call replete with colonial abuse in an apparent deep - and how can it be other than - deliberate ignorance of its inherently genocidal and murderous aim.
And it is in this profoundly antisemitic usage that the word is circulated nowadays, aimed at denying Jews dominion and ownership of their homeland, at uniquely demonising and scapegoating every human failure on the Jews, at engendering exclusion of Jews in politics, academia and NGOs, at facilitating and normalizing further Arab colonization in Samaria and Judea, generously funded by the European Union and other ‘friends’, at allowing a sick immigration experiment to template future tactics of erosion of nationhood - that we now see in full swing with the Palestinization of Ukraine - , at obscuring international alliances, at tokenizing in foreign politics from Ireland to Venezuela and from Corbyn to the EU via Iran, at virtue-signalling to peers a disguised sense of superiority amongst GenZ, at whitewashing historical crimes for which guilt seems too much to bear, at passing as “White” profoundly POC people, the Jews.
And this is only about the notion of “Palestine”, let alone the reality, the reality of the vast amounts of money - I heard once that a full quarter of UN budget is used to attack Israel - poured into a myriad of organizations, one with a more nefarious activity than the other; the litany of articles, the intrinsic corruption of “Palestinian” organizations, like the PA, the torture, abuse and fundamental disregard for human rights at the hands of vast networks of organized crime that, under the serene eye of the UN and the world at large, have engulfed Arab towns in Samaria and Judea where Jews and Israel were blocked from exercising sovereignty but also the deep corruption of our Western leaders who pay lip-service to freedom and human rights while lavishing our tax money on perpetuating the sick notion of “Palestine”.
And I haven’t yet said a word about the equally colonial notions of ‘the 'West Bank'’ and ‘cis-Jordan’. Perhaps in a next article.
Adir Bar Yohanan is a London-based educator and artist with a passion for history, politics and cultural studies He is involved in education both within the community and in the mainstream.