Where did the Palestinian People come from?

No one argues the fact that the Holy Land – along with the rest of the Middle East – was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years until the British captured the ancient land of Israel in 1917.

What most people don’t know is that during the Ottoman period, the concept of a nation-state with fixed borders was foreign to Arabs. It was entirely a European concept. Among Arabs, their strongest identity was religion and language, Islam and Arabic. Today Arabs still see themselves as part of the “Arab nation” which is actually made up of 22 Arab states.

It’s not that there was no other identifiable territory in the Middle East. Egypt was Egypt from ancient times. Syria was also a known region. In fact, before the British arrived, Arabs living in and around the Holy Land directed their allegiance to Damascus; they identified themselves as Southern Syrians.

So where did “Palestine” come from? Western maps of Palestine were printed in Bibles, probably from the time there were printing presses. Such maps created in the 19th century are easily found on the Internet. But these maps show primarily the ancient tribes of Israel and their cities and towns, not maps of “Palestine” recording villages and towns existing in the 1800’s.


The name “Palestine” was imposed on the Holy Land by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 135 A.D.

“Almost 2,000 years ago, the Roman Emperor Hadrian cursed the Jewish People and decreed that Judea should henceforth be called “Palestine” after the Philistines, an ancient enemy of Israel that had disappeared from the world’s stage more than 600 years earlier. It was his final twist of the knife and legacy after wars, massacres, persecutions, and exiles that had largely extinguished the Jewish presence from Judea.” (www.think-israel.org)

0316 - Israel Map 1967

As for maps created even in the 1800’s, there was little real-time inhabited areas to record. The fact that God had cursed the actual land of the Israelites because of their sins could be witnessed by anyone who visited there. The land had lain bare and desolate for centuries. (Leviticus 26:32, Jeremiah 18:16 are examples of the curse.)

Travelers like Mark Twain, who visited the area, all testified that few people lived in the Holy Land except for Bedouin crisscrossing the land according to the seasons and small villages scattered here and there.

A travel guide to Palestine and Syria published in 1876 by Karl Baedeker illustrates the fact that even when the Islamic Ottoman Empire ruled the region, the Muslim population in Jerusalem was minimal. But important to history, there were always Jews living in the “Four Holy Cities: Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberius.

Baedeker estimated the total population of Jerusalem to be 60,000 – 2 MAOZ ISRAEL REPORT MARCH 2016 By Shira Sorko-Ram 7,000 Muslims, 13,000 Christians and 40,000 Jews. (https://archive.org)


In New Testament times, the authors of the Gospels spoke of the people of Israel living in the land of Israel. Matthew records the angel speaking to Joseph in a dream – who was in Egypt with Mary and Baby Yeshua – to return to the land of Israel.

Yeshua, the apostles and the New Testament continued to speak of the Holy Land as Judea, Samaria and Israel. Never Palestine. Speaking of His return in the Last Days, Yeshua said,

But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say to you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, until the Son of man shall have come. (Matthew 10:23)


When the British conquered the Ottoman Empire, they came with their maps and documents designating the land as Palestine. The Arabs were furious. They saw the name coming from the Christian Crusader world and saw it as a victory for the “Zionists.” Not a single prominent Muslim endorsed the renaming of the region as “Palestine” in 1920; all protested it.(www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

Indeed, for decades other identities – Syrian, Arab, and Muslim – continued to compete with the Palestinian brand.

The next step of Britain and France was to divide up the whole Middle East into different nation-states. They did so according to their own European interests, not necessarily what was good or even natural to the area. Natural divisions would have been more in line with Arab religious sects – such as Shiite, Sunni, Alawite and Druze, etc. Peoples such as the Kurds, who have a very strong identity as a religion, language and a people, were not given their own nation – a huge problem and injustice, even until today. Artificially created states by Europeans is one of the reasons for the instability of the Middle East.


But back to the Palestinians – of which in 1920, there were none. However, major demographic transformation was taking place. Waves of new Arabs began to flood into the area to find jobs as Jewish immigrants rebuilt towns and businesses in the Holy Land after 2000 years in the diaspora.

The return of Jewish people was accompanied by economic prosperity for the region and Arabs migrated to enjoy the higher standard of living.

Winston Churchill said in 1939: “So far from being persecuted, the Arabs have crowded into the country and multiplied till their population has increased more than even all world Jewry could lift up the Jewish population.” (www.wnd.com)


The number of Jews continued to increase in the first decades of the 20th century in spite of the fact that the Turks tried to keep Jews from immigrating or buying property.

When the British mandated the name “Palestine” for the Holy Land, the Jews who arrived called themselves Palestinians. But not the Arabs. In fact, many Jewish institutions in the Biblical land were called Palestinian; “The Jerusalem Post” was called “The Palestine Post” until 1950.

The Arabs, on the other hand, continued to resist the Palestinian name. In 1937, a Palestinian Arab leader named Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi told Britain’s Peel Commission that “there is no such country [as Palestine]! ‘Palestine’ is a term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria.” (www.camera.org)

The facts are incontrovertible. When the Balfour Declaration was written in 1917, there was nary a mention of a Palestinian people, because they simply didn’t exist. The Balfour document spoke of dividing “Palestine” between Jews and Arabs. Likewise, the United Nations in 1947 declared “Palestine” to be divided between Jews and Arabs. No Palestinians in sight.

When I moved to Israel in 1967, after the Six Day War, I had numerous conversations with Arabs living in both Israel proper and the West Bank. I didn’t even hear the term “Palestinian” from any Arabs at that time. There was definitely confusion among Arabs who found themselves suddenly a part of the Israeli nation. One Arab born in Israel told me, “I’m not an Arab, I’m a Christian.” Another Muslim acquaintance living on the Mount of Olives told me, “I’m a Jordanian Arab.” That of course was because when the British army withdrew from the Holy Land in 1948, the Jordanian king seized Judea and Samaria and the Old City of Jerusalem. Egypt seized Gaza.


When Israel became a newly-born state in 1948, the Middle East Arabs immediately began to plot the destruction of Israel. This is a hard statement that nations tend to ignore. But it comes from the mouth of the Arab leaders themselves.

Enter Yasser Arafat, a native-born Egyptian with a passion to liberate Palestine from the Jews. After finishing his education in Egypt, he moved to Kuwait and met two official members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. These two men, Abu Iyad and Abu Jihad, later became Arafat’s top aides.

In 1959 when Israel was only 11 years old, Arafat formed an organization called “Fatah,” “dedicated to the liberation of Palestine through armed struggle.”

My own first visit to Israel and Jordan was in 1959. My strongest memory is of the Old City of Jerusalem (then occupied by Jordan) as an absolutely primitive backwater town made up of narrow walking passages and a derelict alley alongside the Western Wall, then called the Wailing Wall. Possibly Arafat was the only human being on earth at that time who might have thought that someday Jerusalem would be an Islamic capital of a Muslim country called Palestine. But this has become the dream and the hope of virtually every Muslim who calls himself a Palestinian in the world today.


When the Middle East Arab countries realized Israel wasn’t going away, in 1964 the Arab League representing all the Arab nations sent representatives to create the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and wrote up its Palestinian National Charter. The Charter defined all of Israel as Palestine, the homeland for the Arabs.

It was this assembly that introduced the “Palestinian people” to the world with its declarations:

    1. All Arab citizens living normally in Palestine up to 1947 are “Palestinians.” (Article 6)
    1. Palestine is an Arab homeland bound to the rest of the Arab countries, which together form the great Arab homeland. (Article 1)
    1. The Balfour Declaration and the UN partitioning of Palestine is null and void. (Article 17-18)
    1. The “Palestinian Arab people” will move forward on the path of al- Jihad until complete and final victory [against the Zionists] has been attained. (Introduction)

As they did when the UN announced the Jewish people would have their own country, now once again, Syria, Jordan and Egypt gathered their armies together to “throw Israel into the sea.” The spring of 1967 found the Israeli people, including their leaders, in great consternation for fear that this time the Arab armed forces might actually destroy Israel.

Instead, in nothing short of one of the most amazing battles in modern history, Israel pushed Jordan out of Judea, Samaria, and East Jerusalem, including the Western Wall and the Mount of Olives; pushed Syria out of the Golan Heights and pushed Egypt out of Gaza and the Sinai Desert. Israel later returned the Sinai Desert to Egypt in exchange for a peace agreement. In six days! All of these areas “happen” to be land that God solemnly swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (later renamed Israel) and their descendants forever.

By now Yasser Arafat had had enough. Two years later through his Fatah organization, he took control of the PLO and began his life-long mission to destroy Israel and settle Palestine with a new “Palestinian people.”


But how to create a Palestinian people when there still wasn’t such a nation? The answer was terror. And so today, Yasser Arafat has the distinction of being the Father of Modern Terrorism. (Is that why he won a Nobel Prize?) He was the first to hijack airplanes. He became famous by introducing the term “Palestinian” into the international media lexicon through a series of high-profile acts of violence targeting Israeli civilians, including bombings, cross-border raids and the 1972 Munich Olympic hostage massacre. (I happened to have been in Munich directing a film about the outreach of Youth with a Mission during the Olympics.)

The world took notice. In 1974, the United Nations recognized the PLO as “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” (http://america.aljazeera.com)

It was an amazing feat. Through outrageous, savage terrorism, the Palestinian people became a reality in five short years! Check it out for yourself. Once the United Nations recognized the existence of a Palestinian people, Israel was seen as an occupier of an “ancient people” who had lived in Palestine for thousands of years.

But Arafat didn’t stop there. He proclaimed to the whole world that the Jews had never ever lived in Palestine. They were usurpers who only came to settle on the Palestinian people’s land since the late 19th century. He said Jesus was a Palestinian. The Arab world rapidly rewrote their history books.

Arafat learned quickly that every time he initiated a new wave of terror, the world readily gave him more attention, even becoming more sympathetic to Palestinian rights and legitimacy.

Not everything went his way. He was kicked out of Jordan after carving out an independent territory for his fighters. He then moved to Lebanon and started a civil war there, until Israel kicked him out.

But his greatest accomplishment was his ability to create a fictitious narrative that Judea and Samaria, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Gaza are an inalienable heritage to the ancient Palestinian people. In fact, the Islamic peoples of the world are convinced all of Israel actually belongs to the Palestinian people who have lived in Palestine for thousands of years.

Palestinian nation. A nation that has proclaimed to all the world that no Jew shall ever live there. Now that’s quite an achievement. No wonder this Father of Modern Terrorism is the Father figure to the Arabs living in Judea and Samaria.

This article originally appeared in Maoz Israel Report, March 2016.

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Shira has lived in Israel since 1967, where she became an Israeli citizen. She has worked as a director and producer of documentary films. One project, “Dry Bones," a film on the prophetic significance of Israel’s rebirth, is acclaimed around the world and was seen by Golda Meir. In addition, Shira has written for many publications concerning the Messianic Jewish Movement and the Christians’ part in Israel’s spiritual resurrection. She produces the monthly Maoz Israel Report, providing a prophetic, political, and spiritual perspective of current events in Israel.