The origin of the names Jew, Israeli, and Palestinian


Untitled presentation (100)


By Gideon

Initially the Jewish people were called Ivrim (singular = Ivri). It was first mentioned in the Bible in reference to Abraham. The language spoken by the Jewish people, Hebrew, is actually called IVRIT, meaning the language of the Ivrim. Few generation later the name “the Sons of Israel” was added to describe the Ivrim. Israel is Jacob’s other name. (Jacob’s is Abraham’s grandson). “Israelites” is a variation of the name “Sons of Israel”.

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they were divided into twelve tribes, one of them was called Judah (Yehuda in Hebrew). The twelve tribes lived in Cna’an, (an area now called Eretz Israel, which the State of Israel is part of it).

Initially the twelve tribes were all part of one kingdom, however, when King Solomon died, between 926 and 922 BCE, the ten northern tribes refused to submit to his son, Rehoboam, and revolted.

The kingdom was split into two kingdoms; the northern kingdom was called the Kingdom of Israel. It included nine and a half of the original tribes (to simplify they were called the ten tribes). The capital of the Kingdom of Israel was Samaria. The southern kingdom was named the Kingdom of Judah and it included the tribe of Judah, the tribe of Benjamin, and half the tribe of Menashe. The capital of the Kingdom of Judah remained Jerusalem. The Jews (Yehudim) are the people of the Judah (Yehuda) tribe. 

In the 6th century B.C.E,  the kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria and the ten tribes were exiled from the land, leaving only the tribes in the kingdom of Judah remaining to carry on Abraham’s heritage. These people of the kingdom of Judah were generally known to themselves and to other nations as Yehudim (Jews), and that name continues to be used today.

The citizens of the State of Israel are called Israelis (Israelim in Hebrew). Thus the Jews who live in Israel are both Jewish and Israelis, combining the names of the two ancient kingdoms.

The name Palestine is believed to be derived from the Egyptian and Hebrew word peleshet. Roughly translated to mean “rolling” or “migratory,” the term was used to describe the inhabitants of the land to the northeast of Egypt – the Philistines. The Philistines were an Aegean people – more closely related to the Greeks and with no connection ethnically, linguistically or historically with Arabia – who conquered in the 12th Century BCE the Mediterranean coastal plain that is now Israel and Gaza.  In the 2nd century CE, the Romans crushed the revolt of Shimon Bar Kokhba (132 CE), during which Jerusalem and Judea were regained and the area of Judea was renamed Palaestina in an attempt to minimize Jewish identification with the land of Israel. 

Under the Ottoman Empire (1517-1917), the term Palestine was used as a general term to describe the land south of Syria; it was not an official designation. In fact, many Ottomans and Arabs who lived in Palestine during this time period referred to the area as “Southern Syria” and not as “Palestine.” After World War I, the name “Palestine” was applied to the territory that was placed under British Mandate; this area included not only present-day Israel but also present-day Jordan. It was not until years after Israeli independence that the Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were called Palestinians.