October 15, 2023
The Origins of the Israelis and Palestinians
By: Art da Rosa, PE, MPA, CFM
The current conflict between Israel and Palestine (or Hamas) prompted several conversations I have had. Rather than who’s right and who’s wrong, the crux of the discussions revolves around the origins of these two peoples. Both sides claim that the tiny piece of land is the land of their origin. But, both claims cannot be right.
To begin with, a major source of confusion lies with names. They have changed with time. I will attempt to clarify them as we go along. To begin with, I will start with the term Holy Land to represent the boundary of land established by King David in the Old Testament and re-named Palestine by the Romans.
Israelis are the descendants of Abraham. He, his family, and his followers went to Egypt, and Pharaoh granted them their right to live in the Holy Land (see Genesis 12), in an area occupied by the Canaanites, the original inhabitants of the area.
After relocating to the Holy Land, the Canaanites’ ruler, Abimelech, further granted Abraham the right to stay in the Holy Land (Genesis 20:15).
The relationship was one of toleration at the time. Abraham’s family became prosperous and numerous (Genesis 13:2), and strife existed between the original inhabitants and even within Abraham’s household. As a result, Abraham’s group split, with Lot moving to the East, to today’s Jordan (Genesis 13:7).
Abraham’s family continued to grow. He had three main descendants, Ishmael, Esau, and Jacob. Ishmael moved to the south, occupying today’s Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Many consider Ishmael to be the forefather of the Arabs. The claim of the Holy Land was not exercised with the move south. However, historically, since the Romans, Arabs have occupied the Holy Land on occasion.
Esau was Abraham’s grandson. He moved east, joining Lot in today’s Jordan.
Jacob was Esau’s twin brother. They are both Abraham’s grandsons. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. He remained in the Holy Land. He inherited the right to stay and claim of the land through Abraham and Isaac. Israel resolved the claim to the land with Esau as described in Genesis 32 and 33. Ishmael moved, and there was no conflict at that time. What about the Canaanites, the original inhabitants of the Holy Land? To resolve any possible dispute, Israel bought the right to stay from the Canaanites (Genesis 33: 18-19). Of Abraham’s main descendants, Israel was the only one that did that–paying the Canaanites for the land.
What about the Palestinians? Let’s clarify the term first. They were originally known as the Philistines. In an act of spite, the Romans changed the name of the Holy Land to the land of the Philistines, through various translations, Philistine was translated into Palestine.
There was a famine in the land, and Israel moved to Egypt. In their absence, the Philistines invaded and made war against the Canaanites, with the intention of occupying the land. Philistines were foreign occupiers of the Holy Land. Also, note that the Philistines were not Arabs.
After the famine, the children of Israel returned to the Holy Land. Led by Moses and later Joshua, the children of Israel fought off foreign occupiers, and they avoided conflicts with the children of Esau (see Deuteronomy 2). They also made a peace agreement with the small remaining original inhabitants, the descendants of the Canaanites (see Joshua 9).
The Philistines, though occupiers, managed one notable feat. After entering the Holy Land, Gaza was never conquered. Even the Romans were not able to totally remove them. Equally true is the fact that the Philistines never managed to conquer the Holy Land. I want to emphasize the fact that the Philistines NEVER totally conquered the Holy Land. There was never a time in history when there was a nation named Philistine over the Holy Land. Today, we call that group, Palestinians. In the same way, there was never a nation named Palestine over the Holy Land. I realize that the discussion over the Palestinians and the Jews will continue. So will the discussion on legitimacy, and the current declaration of war by Israel. While I am under no illusion that this article will settle the discussion on this topic, I want to set the record straight on their history and origin.
Art da Rosa, PE, MPA, CFM
Art da Rosa is the founder of the book discussion group Patriots for Liberty and Constitution. The group is currently discussing “The Righteous Mind”, by Jonathan Haidt.