Who Really is a Palestinian?

The nation of Israel was constituted about 3,500 years ago and went through various high points including the temple’s dedication in Jerusalem during the reign of King Solomon.  Low points were part of the story, including the destruction of that grand temple and the exile during the time of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The return to the land, as prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah, was fulfilled seventy years later with the support of King Cyrus, and the temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem in due time.

Around the year 33AD, the Lord Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the people hailed Him as King. Luke noted the following: “…as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. And when he had come near, even at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; saying, ‘Blessed be the King who comes in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest'” (Luke 19:36-38). Some religious leaders objected to this, urging Him to rebuke the people and to stop them. He answered: “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40). The celebration was unstoppable. But a strange thing happened shortly after that.

The King, who had just been hailed, did not rejoice but publicly broke into tears as He approached the city of Jerusalem. He went on to prophesy in between the tears that were streaming down His cheeks:

“If you had known, in this your day, the things which make for your peace; but now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, that your enemies shall cast a trench about you, surround you on every side, and shall lay you even with the ground, and your children within you; and they shall not leave in you one stone upon another; because you knew not the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).

About forty years after He had wept for Jerusalem, the Romans surrounded the temple mount and eventually destroyed the temple, razing it to the ground in the days of Emperor Vespasian. This was after some of the Jews had been held against their will in the temple compound by two thugs who desecrated the temple and refused to let anyone surrender. Finally, after a long siege and severe starvation so that people were even forced to eat leather sandals, the Roman army struck with devastating consequences.

Another sixty years later, the Roman Emperor Hadrian decided to outlaw circumcision as he assaulted the faith of Judaism. He changed the name Judea to Palestina, naming the region Syria Palestina; built a temple for Jupiter at the Temple Mount and renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina. This provoked a revolt by the Jews under Shimon ben Kosiba (also known as Bar Kochba – “Son of the Star” with messianic overtones).

His army liberated Judea from Roman control for three and a half years. Hadrian was so incensed that he denied the Jews free access to the land, only allowing them to visit the temple area once a year, and generally sought to wipe out their connection to the land. Thus, the name Palestina or Palestine remained the official name of the region throughout history until the modern State of Israel was declared in 1948. Hence, from the time of Hadrian’s decree, the dwellers of Judea became dwellers of Palestine and were now geographically identified as Palestinians whether they liked it or not. After the First World War, the British were given the mandate to govern the region of Palestine, and they did, at some point, acknowledge the historical rights to the land by the Israelis due to their ancient identification with it.

One of the most prominent Palestinians in history was Golda Meir, who revealed that she had held a Palestinian passport for decades before the declaration of the State of Israel. The Palestinian Post, known thus before 1948, was later to become the well-known Jerusalem Post. It is evident that the Palestinian identity was synonymous with the Jews. Some of the Arabs accused them of “assuming” that identity to pursue their interests. They were happy to become Israeli after the declaration of their State in 1948, long after Hadrian “forced” their identification as dwellers of Palestine; hence, Palestinians.

After the State of Israel came into being, the Arab League chose to fight the new nation and seek to stamp out its existence. Some of the Arabs chose the strategy of now claiming the Palestinian identity. That was quite a huge swing: from denigrating those whom they had accused of identifying with the land of Palestine “as a private scheme” to claiming that very “Palestinian” identity for themselves. They then pursued an agenda to raise conflict against those who, for several millennia, held historic roots to the land, in addition to claiming the land themselves! This summarised history begs the question, “Who really is a Palestinian?”

Written by
Fred Kilonzo

I'm a Co-founder and Pastor at Pneuma Ministries International Church. Biblical and theological issues capture my interest, among other things!

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Written by Fred Kilonzo