Further information: Definitions of Palestine and Palestinian and Timeline of the name Palestine

The name “Palestine” is the cognate of an ancient word meaning “Philistines” or “Land of the Philistines”.[7][8] The Hebrew name Peleshet (פלשת Pəléshseth)- usually translated asPhilistia in English, is used in the Bible to denote the southern coastal region that was inhabited by the Philistines to the west of the ancient Kingdom of Judah.[9]

The earliest known historical mention is thought to be in Ancient Egyptian texts of the temple at Medinet Habu which record a people called the P-r-s-t (conventionally Peleset) among the Sea Peoples who invaded Egypt in Ramesses III’s reign.[10] The Assyrian emperor Sargon II called the same region Palashtu or Pilistu in his Annals.[7][8][11] Neither of these sources provide a clear definition of the term.

The first clear use of the term Palestine to refer to the wider region as defined in modern times was in 5th century BC Ancient Greece. Herodotus wrote of a ‘district of Syria, calledPalaistinê” in The Histories, the first historical work clearly denoting the region of Palestine as a wider region than biblical Philistia.[12][13][14][15] Approximately a century later, Aristotleused a similar definition in Meteorology, writing “Again if, as is fabled, there is a lake in Palestine, such that if you bind a man or beast and throw it in it floats and does not sink, this would bear out what we have said. They say that this lake is so bitter and salt that no fish live in it and that if you soak clothes in it and shake them it cleans them,” understood by scholars to be a reference to the Dead Sea.[16]

William Beloe notes that “It should be remembered that Syria is always regarded by Herodotus as synonymous with Assyria. What the Greeks called Palestine the Arabs call Falastin, which is the Philistines of Scripture.”[17] This is confirmed by George Rawlinson in the third book (Thalia) of The Histories where Palaestinian Syrians are part of the fifth tax district spanning the territory from Phoenicia to the borders of Egypt, but excludes the kingdom of Arabs who were exempt from tax for providing the Assyrian army with water on its march to Egypt. These people had a large city called Cadytis, identified as Jerusalem,[18] and what Herodotus means is Syria (Assyria) of Palestine.

According to Moshe Sharon, Palaestina was commonly used to refer to the coastal region and shortly thereafter, the whole of the area inland to the west of the Jordan River.[7] The latter extension occurred when the Roman authorities, following the suppression of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in the 2nd century AD, renamed “Provincia Judea” (Iudaea Province; originally derived from the name “Judah”) to “Syria Palaestina” (Syria Palaestina), in order to complete the dissociation with Judaea.[19][20] Robinson, writing in 1865 when travel by Europeans to the Ottoman Empire became common asserts that, “Palestine, or Palestina, now the most common name for the Holy Land, occurs three times in the English version of the Old Testament; and is there put for the Hebrew name פלשת, elsewhere rendered Philistia. As thus used, it refers strictly and only to the country of the Philistines, in the southwest corner of the land. So, too, in the Greek form, Παλαςτίνη), it is used by Josephus. But both Josephus and Philo apply the name to the whole land of the Hebrews ; and Greek and Roman writers employed it in the like extent.”[21]

During the Byzantine period, the entire region (Syria Palestine, Samaria, and the Galilee) was named Palaestina, subdivided into provinces Palaestina I and II.[22] The Byzantines also renamed an area of land including the Negev, Sinai, and the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula as Palaestina Salutaris, sometimes called Palaestina III.[22]

The Arabic word for Palestine is فلسطين (commonly transcribed in English as FilistinFilastin, or Falastin).[23] Moshe Sharon writes that when the Arabs took over Greater Syria in the 7th century, place names that were in use by the Byzantine administration before them, generally continued to be used. Hence, he traces the emergence of the Arabic form Filastin to this adoption, with Arabic inflection, of Roman and Hebrew (Semitic) names.[7] Jacob Lassner and Selwyn Ilan Troen offer a different view, writing that Jund Filastin, the full name for the administrative province under the rule of the Arab caliphates, was traced by Muslim geographers back to the Philistines of the Bible.[24]

The use of the name “Palestine” in English became more common after the European renaissance.[25] It was officially revived by the British after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and applied to the territory that was placed under The Palestine Mandate.

Some other terms that have been used to refer to all or part of this land include Canaan, Greater Israel, Greater Syria, the Holy Land, Iudaea Province, Judea,[26] Israel, “Israel HaShlema”, Kingdom of Israel, Kingdom of Jerusalem, Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael or Ha’aretz), Zion, Retenu (Ancient Egyptian), Southern Syria, and Syria Palestina.


Main article: History of Palestine
Further information: Time periods in the region of Palestine


Situated at a strategic location between Egypt, Syria and Arabia, and the birthplace of the Abrahamic religions, the region has a long and tumultuous history as a crossroads for religion, culture, commerce, and politics. The region has been controlled by numerous different peoples, including Ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Ancient Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians,Persians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, the Sunni Arab Caliphate, the Shia Fatimid Caliphate, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mameluks, Ottomans, the British and modern Israelis andPalestinians. Modern archaeologists and historians of the region refer to their field of study as Syro-Palestinian archaeology.

Ancient period

A dwelling unearthed at Tell es-Sultan

The region was among the earliest in the world to see human habitation, agricultural communities and civilization. During the Bronze Age, independent Canaanite city-states were established, and were influenced by the surrounding civilizations of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia,Phoenicia, Minoan Crete, and Syria. Between 1550-1400 BCE, the Canaanite cities became vassals to the Egyptian New Kingdom who held power until the 1178 BCE Battle of Djahy (Canaan) during the wider Bronze Age collapse. The Philistines arrived and mingled with the local population, and according to Biblical tradition, the United Kingdom of Israel was established in 1020 BC and split within a century to form the northern Kingdom of Israel, and the southern Kingdom of Judah. The region became part of the Neo-Assyrian Empire from c740 BCE, which was itself replaced by the Neo-Babylonian Empire in c.627 BCE. According to the bible, a war with Egypt culminated in 586 BCE when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II and the local leaders of the region of Judea were deported to Babylonia. In 539 BCE, the Babylonian empire was replaced by the Achaemenid Empire. According to the bible and implications from the Cyrus Cylinder, the exiled population of Judea was allowed to return to Jerusalem.

Classical antiquity

In the 330s BCE, Alexander the Great conquered the region, and the region changed hands numerous times during the wars of the Diadochi. ultimately joining the Seleucid Empire between 219-200 BCE. In 116 BCE, a Seleucid civil war resulted in the independence of certain regions including the minor Hasmonean principality in the Judean Mountains. From 110 BCE, the Hasmoneans extended their authority over much of Palestine, creating a Judean-Samaritan-Idumaean-Ituraean-Galilean alliance. The Judean (Jewish, see Ioudaioi) control over the wider region resulted in it also becoming known as Judaea, a term which had previously only referred to the smaller region of the Judean Mountains. Between 73-63 BCE, the Roman Republic extended its influence in to the region in the Third Mithridatic War, conquering of Judea in 63 BCE, and splitting the former Hasmonean Kingdom into five districts. The three year Ministry of Jesus, culminating in his crucifixion, is estimated to have occurred from 28-30 CE, although the historicity of Jesus is disputed by scholars. In 70 AD, Titus sacked Jerusalem, resulting in the dispersal of the city’s Jews and Christians to Yavne and Pella. In 132 AD, Hadrian joined the province of Iudaea with Galilee to form new province of Syria Palaestina, and Jerusalem was renamed “Aelia Capitolina”. Between 259-272, the region fell under the rule of Odaenathus as King of the Palmyrene Empire. Following the victory of Christian emperor Constantine in the Civil Wars of the Tetrarchy (306–324), the Christianization of the Roman Empire began, and in 326, Constantine’s mother Saint Helena visited Jerusalem and began the construction of churches and shrines. Palestine became a center of Christianity, attracting numerous monks and religious scholars. The Samaritan Revolts during this period caused their near extinction. In 614 AD, Palestine was annexed by another Persian dynasty; the Sassanids, until returning to Byzantine control in 628 AD.[27]

Middle Ages

Palestine joined the Islamic Empire following at the 636 AD Battle of Yarmouk during the Muslim conquest of Syria. In 661 CE, with the assassination of Ali, Muawiyah I became the uncontested Caliph of the Islamic World after being crowned in Jerusalem. In 691, the Dome of the Rock became the world’s first great work of Islamic architecture. The Umayyad were replaced by the Abbasids in 750. From 878 Palestine was ruled from Egypt by semi-autonomous rulers for almost a century, beginning with Ahmad ibn Tulun, and ending with the Ikhshidid rulers who were both buried in Jerusalem. The Fatimids conquered the region in 969. In 1073 Palestine was captured by the Great Seljuq Empire, only to be recaptured by the Fatimids in 1098, who then lost the region to the Crusaders in 1099. Their control of Jerusalem and most of Palestine lasted almost a century until defeat by Saladin’s forces in 1187, after which most of Palestine was controlled by the Ayyubids. A rump crusader state in the northern coastal cities survived for another century, but, despite seven further crusades the crusaders was no longer a significant power in the region. The Mamluk Sultanate was indirectly created in Egypt as a result of the Seventh Crusade. The Mongol Empire reached Palestine for the first time in 1260, beginning with the Mongol raids into Palestine under Nestorian Christian general Kitbuqa and reaching an apex at the pivotal Battle of Ain Jalut. In 1486, hostilities broke out between the Mamluks and the Ottoman Turks in a battle for control over western Asia and the Ottomans captured Palestine in 1516.

Modern period

Further information: History of Zionism, British Mandate of Palestine, and History of Israel

In 1832 Palestine was conquered by Muhammad Ali’s Egypt, but in 1840 Britain intervened and returned control of the Levant to the Ottomans in return for further capitulations. The end of the 19th century saw the beginning of Zionist immigration and the Revival of the Hebrew language. The movement was publicly supported by Great Britain during World War I with the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The British captured Jerusalem a month later, and were formally awarded a mandate in 1922. The non-Jewish Palestinians revolted in 1920, 1929 and 1936. In 1947, following World War II and the Holocaust, the British Government announced their desire to terminate the Mandate, and the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition the territory. A civil war began immediately, and Israel was declared in 1948. The 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes were unable to return following the Lausanne Conference, 1949. In the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israel captured and incorporated a further 26% of the Mandate territory, Jordan captured the region today known as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was captured by Egypt. In the course of the Six Day War in June 1967, Israel captured the rest of Mandate Palestine from Jordan and Egypt, and began a policy of Israeli settlements. From 1987 to 1993, the First Palestinian Intifada against Israel took place, ending with the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. In 2000, the Second or Al-Aqsa Intifada began, and Israel built a security barrier. Following Israel’s unilateral disengagement plan of 2004, it withdrew all settlers and most of the military presence from the Gaza strip, but maintained control of the air space and coast.


The boundaries of Palestine have varied throughout history.[28][29] Prior to its being named Palestine, Ancient Egyptian texts (c. 14 century BC) called the entire coastal area along the Mediterranean Sea between modern Egypt and Turkey R-t-n-u (conventionally Retjenu). Retjenu was subdivided into three regions and the southern region, Djahy, shared approximately the same boundaries as Canaan, or modern-day Israel and the Palestinian territories, though including also Syria.[30]

Scholars disagree as to whether the archaeological evidence supports the biblical story of there having been a Kingdom of Israel of the United Monarchythat reigned from Jerusalem, as the archaeological evidence is both rare and disputed.[31][32] For those who do interpret the archaeological evidence positively in this regard, it is thought to have ruled some time during Iron Age I (1200 – 1000 BC) over an area approximating modern-day Israel and the Palestinian territories, extending farther westward and northward to cover much (but not all) of the greater Land of Israel.[31][32]

Philistia, the Philistine confederation, emerged circa 1185 BC and comprised five city states: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod on the coast and Ekron, and Gath inland.[11] Its northern border was the Yarkon River, the southern border extending to Wadi Gaza, its western border the Mediterranean Sea, with no fixed border to the east.[10]

By 722 BC, Philistia had been subsumed by the Assyrian Empire, with the Philistines becoming ‘part and parcel of the local population,’ prospering under Assyrian rule during the 7th century despite occasional rebellions against their overlords.[11][33][34] In 604 BC, when Assyrian troops commanded by the Babylonian empire carried off significant numbers of the population into slavery, the distinctly Philistine character of the coastal cities dwindled away, and the history of the Philistines as a distinct people effectively ended.[11][33][35]

The boundaries of the area and the ethnic nature of the people referred to by Herodotus in the 5th century BC as Palaestina vary according to context. Sometimes, he uses it to refer to the coast north of Mount Carmel. Elsewhere, distinguishing the Syrians in Palestine from the Phoenicians, he refers to their land as extending down all the coast from Phoenicia to Egypt.[36] Josephus used the name Παλαιστινη only for the smaller coastal area, Philistia.[37] Pliny, writing in Latin in the 1st century AD, describes a region of Syria that was “formerly called Palaestina” among the areas of the Eastern Mediterranean.[38]

Since the Byzantine Period, the Byzantine borders of Palaestina (I and II, also known as Palaestina Prima, “First Palestine”, and Palaestina Secunda, “Second Palestine”), have served as a name for the geographic area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Under Arab rule, Filastin (or Jund Filastin) was used administratively to refer to what was under the Byzantines Palaestina Secunda (comprising Judaea and Samaria), while Palaestina Prima (comprising the Galilee region) was renamed Urdunn (“Jordan” or Jund al-Urdunn).[7]

The Zionist Organization provided their definition concerning the boundaries of Palestine in a statement to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919; it also includes a statement about the importance of water resources that the designated area includes.[39][40] On the basis of a League of Nations mandate, the British administered Palestine after World War I, promising to establish a Jewish homeland therein.[41] The original Mandate Palestine included what is now Israel, the West Bank (of the Jordan), and trans-Jordan (the present kingdom of Jordan),although the latter was disattached by an administrative decision of the British in 1922.[42] To the Palestinian people who view Palestine as their homeland, its boundaries are those of Mandate Palestine excluding the Transjordan, as described in the Palestinian National Charter.[43]


Main article: Demographics of Palestine

Early demographics

Estimating the population of Palestine in antiquity relies on two methods – censuses and writings made at the times, and the scientific method based on excavations and statistical methods that consider the number of settlements at the particular age, area of each settlement, density factor for each settlement.

According to Magen Broshi, an Israeli archaeologist ”… the population of Palestine in antiquity did not exceed a million persons. It can also be shown, moreover, that this was more or less the size of the population in the peak period—the late Byzantine period, around AD 600″[44] Similarly, a study by Yigal Shiloh of The Hebrew University suggests that the population of Palestine in the Iron Age could have never exceeded a million. He writes: “… the population of the country in the Roman-Byzantine period greatly exceeded that in the Iron Age…If we accept Broshi’s population estimates, which appear to be confirmed by the results of recent research, it follows that the estimates for the population during the Iron Age must be set at a lower figure.”[45]

Demographics in the late Ottoman and British Mandate periods

In the middle of the 1st century of the Ottoman rule, i.e. 1550 AD, Bernard Lewis in a study of Ottoman registers of the early Ottoman Rule of Palestine reports:[46]

From the mass of detail in the registers, it is possible to extract something like a general picture of the economic life of the country in that period. Out of a total population of about 300,000 souls, between a fifth and a quarter lived in the six towns of Jerusalem, Gaza, Safed, Nablus, Ramle, and Hebron. The remainder consisted mainly of peasants, living in villages of varying size, and engaged in agriculture. Their main food-crops were wheat and barley in that order, supplemented by leguminous pulses, olives, fruit, and vegetables. In and around most of the towns there was a considerable number of vineyards, orchards, and vegetable gardens.

By Volney’s estimates in 1785, there were no more than 200,000 people in the country.[47] According to Alexander Scholch, the population of Palestine in 1850 had about 350,000 inhabitants, 30% of whom lived in 13 towns; roughly 85% were Muslims, 11% were Christians and 4% Jews[48]

According to Ottoman statistics studied by Justin McCarthy,[49] the population of Palestine in the early 19th century was 350,000, in 1860 it was 411,000 and in 1900 about 600,000 of which 94% were Arabs. In 1914 Palestine had a population of 657,000 Muslim Arabs, 81,000 Christian Arabs, and 59,000 Jews.[50] McCarthy estimates the non-Jewish population of Palestine at 452,789 in 1882, 737,389 in 1914, 725,507 in 1922, 880,746 in 1931 and 1,339,763 in 1946.[51]

In 1920, the League of Nations’ Interim Report on the Civil Administration of Palestine stated that there were 700,000 people living in Palestine:

Of these 235,000 live in the larger towns, 465,000 in the smaller towns and villages. Four-fifths of the whole population are Moslems. A small proportion of these are Bedouin Arabs; the remainder, although they speak Arabic and are termed Arabs, are largely of mixed race. Some 77,000 of the population are Christians, in large majority belonging to the Orthodox Church, and speaking Arabic. The minority are members of the Latin or of the Uniate Greek Catholic Church, or—a small number—are Protestants. The Jewish element of the population numbers 76,000. Almost all have entered Palestine during the last 40 years. Prior to 1850 there were in the country only a handful of Jews. In the following 30 years a few hundreds came to Palestine. Most of them were animated by religious motives; they came to pray and to die in the Holy Land, and to be buried in its soil. After the persecutions in Russia forty years ago, the movement of the Jews to Palestine assumed larger proportions.[52]

By 1948, the population had risen to 1,900,000, of whom 68% were Arabs, and 32% were Jews (UNSCOP report, including bedouin).

Current demographics

See also: Demographics of Israel, Demographics of the Palestinian territories, and Demographics of Jordan.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, as of May 2006, of Israel’s 7 million people, 77% were Jews, 18.5% Arabs, and 4.3% “others”.[53] Among Jews, 68% were Sabras(Israeli-born), mostly second- or third-generation Israelis, and the rest are olim — 22% from Europe,the former Soviet republics, Russia, and the Americas, and 10% from Asia and Africa, including the Arab countries.[54]

Of Israel’s 7 million citizens, 516,569 Jewish ones live in enclaves referred to as Israeli settlements and outposts in various lands adjacent to the state of Israel occupied by Israel during the Six Day War.[55][56][57]

According to Palestinian evaluations, The West Bank is inhabited by approximately 2.4 million Palestinians and the Gaza Strip by another 1.4 million. According to a study presented at The Sixth Herzliya Conference on The Balance of Israel’s National Security[58] there are 1.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank. This study was criticised by demographer Sergio DellaPergola, who estimated 3.33 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip combined at the end of 2005.[59]

According to these Israeli and Palestinian estimates, the population in Israel and the Palestinian Territories stands between 9.8 and 10.8 million.

Jordan has a population of around 6,000,000 (2007 estimate).[60][61] Long term Palestinian war refugees constitute approximately half of this number.[62]