Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home


PALESTINE, one of the names of the territory of the southern Levant known as the Land of *Israel and much later as the Holy Land. The name "Palestine" was originally an adjective derived from Heb. פְּלֶׂשֶת, Peleshet (Isa 14:29, 31; see also Prst or Plst in ancient Egyptian and Pilišti, Palaštu in Assyrian sources). The name is first used geographically in the mid-fifth century B.C.E. by Herodotus in the form of Συρία ή Παλαιστίνη, i.e., "the Philistine Syria"; subsequently, the name was shortened and the adjective "Palaistinei" became a proper noun. Philo identifies "Palaistinei" with biblical *Canaan. In talmudic literature Palestine is used as the name of a Roman province, adjoining the provinces of Finukyah (Phoenicia) and Aruvyah (Arabia; Gen. R. 90: 6). From the fourth century, however, the three provinces into which the Land of Israel was divided were referred to as the "first," "second," and "third Palestine," respectively.

Muslims used the term "Filasṭīn" for the "first Palestine" only, differentiating between it and "Urdunn" (Jordan); but these designations soon fell into disuse, as the Muslims generally referred to provinces by the names of their capital cities. The Crusaders renewed the use of the "three Palestines," the borders of which, however, differed from those of the Roman provinces. After the fall of the Crusader kingdom, Palestine was no longer an official designation, but it was still used in non-Jewish languages as the name of the "Holy Land" on both sides of the Jordan. It was not an administrative unit under the Ottoman Empire, when it was part of the province of Syria. In the disciplines of historical geography and biblical history of the 19th century (e.g., E. Robinson), Palestine was the name commonly used in the western world for the region, with "western" Palestine used in reference to the entire country west of the Jordan River, and "eastern" Palestine to Transjordan (see the maps of the Palestine Exploration Fund published in the early 1880s).

This was the situation until 1922, when the British, who had received the Mandate over Palestine on both sides of the Jordan from the League of Nations, practically restricted the application of the name to the part west of the Jordan, while east of the Jordan and south of the Yarmuk they established the emirate of Transjordan, which in 1946 became a kingdom. In 1948 the State of Israel was established in a large part of western Palestine, its territory demarcated in the *Armistice agreements of 1949 with the neighboring Arab countries. Transjordan annexed the Arab-inhabited part of western Palestine occupied by the Jordanian army and changed its own name to the Hashemite Kingdom of *Jordan, and Egypt retained and administered the *Gaza Strip. Thus, Palestine as a political entity ceased to exist. During the *Six-Day War (1967) the Israel army occupied the whole of the country west of the Jordan (hence the term "West Bank"; referred to also as "Judea and Samaria" or the "occupied" or "administered" territories), which also included the Gaza Strip, as well as the *Sinai Peninsula and the *Golan Heights. However, the latter were never geographically part of the earlier designation of Palestine. The name Palestine is now loosely used in the west to refer to the territories of Area A that are under the autonomous rule of the *Palestinian Authority, even though by 2006 a State of Palestine had not yet been proclaimed. See also *Israel, Land of: Names.


M. Noth, "Zur Geschichte des Namens Palästina," in: Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palaestine-Vereins, 62 (1939), 125–44; D. Cole, J. Greenfield, and K.M. Kenyon, "What is 'Palestine'?" in: Biblical Archaeology Review, 4 (Nov./Dec. 1978), 43–45; for a different view see: D.M. Jacobson, "Palestine and Israel," in: BASOR (1999), 65–74.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.