So what exactly is a "Palestinian?"

I’m not a Middle Eastern expert, but my “facts” should be at least close:

“Palestine” is a very old historical name for the area that is now Jordan, Israel, and the new “republic” of Palestine, all of which came into being since WWII, with the “republic” (that’s my word–I don’t know what’s proper) of Palestine arising just a few years ago.

In 1970 or so, Jordan had an ugly civil war with “Palestinians.” Weren’t they Jordanians? What’s the difference? Are there non-Palestinian Jordanians? If so, where did they come from?

Gaza was a part of Egypt until the Israelis kicked them out. But they, too, are considered “Palestinians.” How is that?

Some years ago, I read that Golda Meir had once said “There are no Palestinians,” implying that it was just another word for “Arab,” but that could well be apocryphal.

I blame the Ottoman Empire. Not because it’s their fault, just because, since they’re not around any more, I won’t offend anyone by blaming them.

Seriously though, I think we have entered into the area of flimsy nation-states. Not flimsy states mind you; Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, at least, have well-defined borders and functioning administrations. It’s just that the connection between a cultural nation and a political entity is pretty tenuous in this region.

I think that Palestine (not the historical concept of Palestine, I’m taking about the geographic entity) was just Britain’s name for a chunk of the Ottoman Empire which they administered as a district. There have been serious movements to unite all the Arabs into a single country, e.g. the United Arab Republic, which existed only for a few years and consisted only of Egypt for most of the time.

The movement was doomed, since the Arab world was divided in many ways. The chief fault line was North-South, with socialist, Soviet-leaning Egypt, Syria, and Iraq lined up against Western-leaning Saudi Arabia and the emirates. Syria and Iraq even shared a political party, the Ba’ath, with each country’s chapter claiming to be the TRUE Ba’ath (“We’re for unity and you guys aren’t! Nyaa nyaa!”)

As to current Palestinian possessions, I don’t know why the Israelis and Egyptians didn’t get the Gaza Strip transferred back to Eqypt. It seems like Cairo would provide a state apparatus which has been so lacking in the formerly occupied territories.

Jordan turned down a chance to administer the West Bank in the early 90s, if I remember correctly. I think Golda (I can’t spell her last name) was claiming that Palestinians living outside Israel proper were really just Jordanians. I don’t know if I agree since I don’t know what a Palestinian is either.

So my short answer to the topic question is I don’t know. I just took a long time to say it.


The non-Palestinian Jordanians are Hashemites, and that’s the clan that the King of Jordan belongs to. Since Palestinians make up almost 75% of Jordan’s population, King Hussein (the one who just died…you know, the great peacemaker?) had to make it clear that he was not going to accept any assertion by them that they should run the country.

Gaza isn’t historically Egyptian. It historically belongs to the area referred to as Palestine. Egypt just happened to be the ones in control of it from 1948-1967. Therefore, its residents are Palestinians.

Probably not apocryphal; Israeli leaders have been saying things like that for quite some time.

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

At the conclusion of the 1967 war, Israel worked overtime to encourage the Palestinians [as in the Arabs who lived within the borders of Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank] to move to more hospitable climes, such as anywhere that was not Israel or under Israeli control. There was an exodus of sorts, and Palestinians migrated to virtually all of the Arab Countries.

King Hussein of Jordan graciously invited dispossesed Palestinians to move to Jordan, where they could use his country as a base to conduct their War of Attrition that simmered for years after the 1967 war. The Palestinians showed their appreciation for this gesture by attempting to overthrow Hussein shortly thereafter.

As a result, virutally all Arab nations refused to offer citizenship or equal rights to the Palestinians within their borders. Predictably, Israel hasn’t exactly rolled out the red carpet for their return. One fairly accurate definition of a “Palestinian” might include a statement along the lines of, “…or a descendant of a person living within the 1946 borders of Palestine now living in another Arab nation with a refugee or non-citizen status.”

So Palestinians are more or less forcibly kept a unique nation by virtue of exclusion from all other nations. But hey, when you support your own opressors, the Ottomans, in World War I, the Nazis in World War II, the Soviets in the Cold War, and don’t win a single war of your own, some people out there are bound to get the impression that you have a propensity to bet on losing horses.

The term “Palestine” ultimate derives from the Philistines, famous in Biblical literature, a sea-faring tribe of traders in olden times. The term was applied to the entire region by the British, certainly by the late 1800s; I am not sure when that name was first assigned to the area, probably way before that.

Before 1947, there were both Jews and Arabs living in the area called Palestine. In 1948, the U.N. offered self-determination to both Arabs and Jews, partitioning the area into two states: the areas largely occupied by Jews would be part of a Jewish-Palestinian state, the areas largely occupied by Arabs would be part of an Arab-Palestinian state. The Jewish-Palestinian state accordingly declared its independence under the name Israel.

The Arab-Palestinian state never declared itself. Instead, the surrounding Arab countries (Egypt, Syria, TransJordan, etc) invaded the area, attempting to destroy the Jewish state and to build a single Arab stae on the ashes of Jewish-Palestine. The partition boundaries were erased as the Arab states grabbed much of the territory of the proposed Arab-Palestine for themselves…
Part of what was designated as Arab-Palestine was seized by Transjordan in the east (the West Bank and Old Jerusalem) and by Egypt in the southwest (Gaza.)

In 1948, there were massive immigrations of Palestinian-Arabs, fleeing at the instigation of the invading Arab nations. Many of the panicking Arabs in central Palestine moved to the West Bank and Gaza – what was supposed to become Arab Palestine – during the 1948 war.

Following the 1967 War, of course, Gaza and the West Bank were captured by Israel, leading to the present day situation. The term “Palestinian” today is used (at least in the popular press) primarily to refer to the Arabs living primarily in the West Bank and Gaza (“Occupied Territories”).


Indeed. It’s a Roman variation on “Philistia”.

BTW, the region known as Palestine that was placed under British control by the League of Nations following the Ottoman Empire’s destruction after WWI included not only Israel and the occupied territories, but also Jordan. The British took Jordan and handed it over…Palestinian residents and all (no, they were not all refugees from Arab-Israeli conflicts)…to King Hussein’s father as a consolation prize for his not being made king of his native country (I think it was Saudi Arabia).

Only after Jordan (then known, as CK has pointed out, as Transjordan) was chopped off was the name “Palestine” applied only to modern Israel and the occupied territories.

That’s why many Israeli leaders have referred to Jordan as being the true Palestinian Arab state, and why many Israeli leaders have insisted that Palestinian Arabs have no national identity of their own (i.e., in their opinion, they belong in Jordan).

Chaim Mattis Keller