Definitions of Palestine and Palestinian

From Academic Kids

The term Palestine and the related term Palestinian have several overlapping (and occasionally contradictory) definitions.

See also: "Palestinian territories"



Palestine Defined

The term "Palestine" is derived from the name of the Philistines, a people of uncertain origins, possibly Aegean, who, in the 12th century B.C.E, settled along the Mediterranean coastal plain of what is now Israel and the Gaza Strip. In the 2nd century, after crushing the last Jewish revolt, the Romans applied the long-established Greek name "Palaestina" to Judea (the southern portion of what is now called the West Bank). The Arabic word "Filastin" is derived from this Latin name.

Ancient Palestine

In historical contexts, especially predating the rise of 20th century Zionism, Palestine was mostly a geographical term, particularly used in Greek, Latin, Arabic, and other languages taking their geographical vocabulary from them; it comprised the Roman sub-province of Syria Palaestina, roughly equivalent to ancient Canaan (including the Biblical kingdoms of Israel, Judah, Moab, Ammon, and Philistia) and thus included much of the land on either side of the Jordan River although with further political sub-divisions along the River Jordan valley .

See also: History of Palestine.

Is Jordan part of Palestine?

Before the establishment of the British mandate (see below), most of the area that is today Jordan was part of the Ottoman Vilayet of Syria, the southern part of Jordan was part of the Vilayet of Hejaz. Throughout most of history the rift valley comprising Wadi Arabah, the Dead Sea and River Jordan has formed a political and administrative frontier, even within empires which controlled both territories. The exception was during the period of the Caliphate when what is today southern Israel/Palestine and southern Jordan were termed Al Jund al Filasteen and the northern parts of these land as Al Jund al Urdun. In 1920, most of modern Jordan was incorporated into the planned League of Nations mandate territory termed Palestine. Jordan cannot, thus, be considered part of historical Palestine - but part of a political entity known as "Palestine".

British Mandate of Palestine

Between 1923 and 1948, the term Palestine referred to the British Mandate of Palestine. The term referred to all of what is now Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip, and was used by both Arabs and Jews without any ethnic connotations. For example, the Jerusalem Post, a Jewish Israeli newspaper, was known as the Palestine Post from its founding in 1932 until 1950. Initially, British Mandate Palestine included modern Jordan as well (apart from the Aqaba and Maan districts); however, immediately following British control but prior to the Mandate's establishment, Britain divided it into two territories, Palestine and Transjordan.

Palestinian Authority

Sometimes people use the term Palestine to refer to lands currently under the administrative control of the Palestinian Authority, a quasi-governmental entity which governs but lacks full sovereignty. Since the late 1990s, this has included most of the Gaza Strip and large sections of the West Bank.

Palestine as a state

Modern usage of the term Palestine usually refers to a prospective Palestinian state, incorporating both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Some nationalists regard all the land west of the Jordan River, including territory of modern State of Israel, as the territory of Palestinian state "from the river to the sea".

The term is also used to convey the sense that Palestine is already a state, either (a) consisting only of Gaza & West Bank or (b) including as well all land held by Israel (see views of Palestinian statehood).


This section describes several viewpoints of what makes a person a "Palestinian".

By place of birth

A "Palestinian" can mean a person who was born in the area called Palestine before 1918, or a former citizen of the British Mandate territory called Palestine, or an institution related to either of these.

Mandate definition

Britain used the term "Palestinian" to refer to all persons legally residing in or born in the boundaries of the British Mandate of Palestine without regard to their ethnicity, religion, or place of origin.

By place of origin

In its common usage, "Palestinian" refers to a person whose ancestors had lived in the territory corresponding to British Mandate Palestine for some considerable length of time in the centuries immediately prior to 1948. This definition includes the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (including Dom and Samaritans, but excluding Israeli settlers and most Armenians), the Israeli Arabs (including Druze and Bedouin), the minority of Israeli Jews whose families moved there prior to Zionism, and the Arab refugees and emigrés from 1948 and their descendants (though not the pre-Nakba (1948) non-Bedouin population of Jordan.) This usage excludes people who immigrated into the area during the twentieth century.

JSource, the Jewish Virtual Library, uses a similar but slightly narrower definition: "Although anyone with roots in the land that is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza is technically a Palestinian, the term is now more commonly used to refer to Arabs with such roots...Most of the world's Palestinian population is concentrated in Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jordan, although many Palestinians live in Lebanon, Syria and other Arab countries." JSource Virtual Library definition of Palestinian (

By citizenship

A more specific widespread usage of "Palestinian" sometimes heard is to refer to native residents of British Mandate Palestine who do not have Israeli or Jordanian citizenship, and to institutions outside the Israeli state and territories not incorporated into it.

By ethnic origin

Referring to the Arab subculture of the southern Levant

The word "Palestinian" is occasionally used by ethnographers and linguists to denote the specific Arab subculture of the southern Levant; in that sense, it includes not only most of the Arabs of British Mandate Palestine, but also the settled inhabitants of Jordan and the Druze, while excluding both Bedouin (who culturally and linguistically group with Arabia) and ethnic minorities such as the Dom and Samaritans.

Referring to Jews in a national rather than religious sense

Missing image
The major English language Zionist newspaper of the Yishuv was called The Palestine Post. Founded in 1932, in 1950 it was renamed into The Jerusalem Post.

Somewhat ironically, the word Palestinian gained some popularity in Germany around the end of the 18th Century to refer to Jews when discussing them as a nation, not their religion. For instance, Kant wrote in 1798 in "Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View", a (rather anti-Semitic) chapter entitled "On Mental Deficiencies in the Cognitive Power", which begins: "The Palestinians living among us". He is clearly referring to Jews, not Arabs. This use of Palestinian to describe the Jewish nation was adopted by non-religious Zionists who emigrated to Palestine from Europe to refer to themselves, but has since died out mostly, especially among the Jews; some, particularly certain Palestinians and Arabs, still refer to Jews whose ancestors had lived in Palestine before Zionism as Palestinian.

See also


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools