A ‘P’alestinian Inconvenient Truth
In the ongoing “battle of the narratives” between Israel and the Palestinians, one minor, but telling, detail rarely gets mentioned: the Arabic alphabet, the abjad, lacks the letter “P.” Until the “P”alestinians, no people in history had ever adopted a name for themselves, or for their country, that cannot be written in their own language. By itself, this detail establishes that the “P”alestinian national narrative is a wholly modern invention.
In Arabic, the “P”alestinians call their country “Filastin” and themselves “Filastiniyun,” but this doesn’t validate their narrative; in fact, it underscores the simple truth about “P”alestine that the world ignores.
There are four issues:
1) The “P”alestinians claim to be part of the Arab people, but the historical Philistines, from whom “Filastin” is presumably taken, came from the Aegean world and were Hellenic, rather than any form of Semites.
2) The archaeological record establishes that the Philistines arrived in Canaan around 100-150 years after the Israelites, and thus even if the “P”alestinians could prove a connection, that would provide no prior claim to controlling territory.
3) The Philisitines conquered only the southwest coast of Canaan, an area corresponding roughly to today’s Gaza Strip, and did not settle the central highland. Thus, even if the “P”alestinians could connect themselves to the Philistines, that would give them no claim much beyond Gaza.
4) The last identifiable vestiges of Philistine culture disappeared about 2600 years ago. It is possible they were incorporated into, or became, the Tribe of Dan (a Hellenic tribe known as the Danae disappeared from the south coast of Turkey just before the Philisitines arrived in Canaan), and became part of the Israelites. DNA would provide no help here; 2600 years is roughly 100 generations, which is more than enough for everyone on the planet to have some Philistine DNA.
The name “Palestine” was given to the Land of Israel, more properly Judaea, by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 135 CE specifically to cut its tie to the Judaeans, who would come to be known as Jews. The name is imperialist in origin, which is ironic because the “P”alestinians allege that the Jewish presence is inherently imperialistic. Christians continued to use this name over the centuries, so it was natural that the British would call their mandate “Palestine.”
As readers of these pages are undoubtedly aware, the name “Palestinian” referred to the Jewish inhabitants of the Palestine Mandate from its inception in 1923 until the establishment of Israel. During the Mandate, no Arab would call himself a “Palestinian,” rather they were simply the Arabs of Palestine.
So why call themselves “P”alestinians now? The probable answer is that they have no prior name for themselves, a tip-off that they are a new people, and the name is useful for propaganda purposes. What could be more natural than for a people called “P”alestinians to be the rightful owners of a land called “P”alestine? Except, of course, that their language can’t provide either name and we can see their narrative was created for Western consumption.