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Q: Pre-Israel Palestine: sovereignty, boundaries, governments ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   6 Comments )
Subject: Pre-Israel Palestine: sovereignty, boundaries, governments
Category: Reference, Education and News
Asked by: carmi604-ga
List Price: $4.00
Posted: 25 Jun 2002 23:51 PDT
Expires: 25 Jul 2002 23:51 PDT
Question ID: 33367
I am often confused by Palestinians' outrage over  Israel forcefully
taking over  t h e i r   their country in 1948(?) for creating its own
state instead.  Looking for references I couldn't find a sovereign,
distinctive nation/country  called Palestine before 1948. Where should
I look for maps, government, and how  was Palestine - if at all -
different from the surrounding Arab countries, what were/are it's
unique national character that set  them apart from Jordan, Syria?
Subject: Re: Pre-Israel Palestine: sovereignty, boundaries, governments
Answered By: voyager-ga on 26 Jun 2002 04:12 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

This is an interesting question because I wanted to research the
origins of the problem myself for some time but never got around to it
before. The United Nations have quite a few pages on it. You might
want to check out "The Origins and evolution of the Palestine Problem
1917-1988" ( ).

The difficulties of finding much info about the pre 1948 situation is
probably directly related with Palestine already being an "occupied"
territory since WW I (British Mandate). This resulted (as many other
territorial problems causing war today) in the European nations
struggle over outside territory. Palestine played a major role in
these struggles as it is home to holy places of three world religions.
The struggle began, when the Ottoman Empire disintegrated. Different
nations tried to lay claim on the Palestine territory and plans were
drawn up on how to split it (the details of which you can find in the
above mentioned source). The European nations however recognized the
reality of the people living there demanding an Arab state on this
territory and agreed with this demand. Assurances were made on several
occasions (especially when the Allies needed the support of the local
leaders to counter Germany's interests in the area).
At the same time the British government gave Zionist leaders
assurances to parts of Palestine, too. British delegations stated in
later conferences that Palestine had not been included in the
assurances given to Arab leaders for independent Arab nations. The
British also disregarded the principles drawn up in earlier agreements
with other nations that the people inhabiting a territory should also
decide about its government.

The definition of the term “Palestinian” is pretty difficult, too.
There are people who claim that there was no Palestinian identity
before the British Mandate artificially created one. Cultural
similarities at least between the people of Jordan and the
Palestinians of that time were pretty slim according to the sources I
was able to locate. Read e.g. this list of quotes in “The Palestinian
Identity” (
Most sources I encountered in my search are highly political and
contain little fact. This is after all still a highly sensitive

Summing up the facts:

Palestine wasn't a distinct nation before 1948. It existed as a
territory under British Mandate. Before that it belonged to the
Ottoman Empire. The "Palestinians" are made up of the people living
there before the Zionists arrived. As for their differences in culture
to the other Arab nations in the region I couldn’t find much. Keep in
mind that Palestine was for a long time part of other empires that
also included what now is Syria, Jordan, Iraq, etc.  This also answers
your question about a government: Palestine was ruled by the
governments of the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire in recent
times. There is a history of semi-organized resistance to the rulers
but nothing that you could compare to a government (even one in exile
or hiding).

I hope this is what you wanted - feel free to ask for clarification if
I have been to vague.

I saw that orbitalelement’s comment already answered most of the
question. I lost my connection to the net and couldn’t dial in anymore
for a while to extend my lock in it. I thought though that my answer
provides additional information so I posted it as an answer anyways.
Sorry for that!

Additional Resources:

Another good place to look for a brief history of the region with a
wider focus is located at the "A history of Palestine" page ( ). It deals with the
region's long history of occupation by different nations.

At "History of Israel and Palestine in very easy to understand maps" ( ) you'll find maps of the
region from before the foundation of Israel. The page "Quick timeline
1900-2000" ( ) also uses
maps to document what happened.

A more extensive chronology can be found at "History of the Nakba" ( ).

Review of Khalidi's studies's listing of "Palestinian Identity" by Rashid Khalidi

Palestinians: The Making of a People (Review)
By Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal
New York: Free Press, 1993. 396 pp. $29.95's listing of Palestinians: The Making of a People’s list of dictionary entries on Palestine

Search Strategy:

"history of Palestine" map

Palestinian definition

Request for Answer Clarification by carmi604-ga on 26 Jun 2002 05:34 PDT
Please disregard the last paragraph of my comment, I simply couldn't
see on my screen it has already been formulated.
carmi604-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thank you , it makes things clearer, and  I shall certainly explore
all those links.  I think there is a lot of obscurity about the
question and the everyday media does not help, words are used that
only further confuse viewers.  In the course of my work I meet  young
people from all over and my impression is that they think Palestine
should be   r e s t o r e d  to what  it used to be, an independent
and unique country.
Also - regarding those (Jewish)Israelis whose grandfathers actually
live under the Ottoman rule, would they also be internationally
recognized as Palestinians ?

Following your explanations - if the whole Turkish Ottoman area was
called Palestine, wouldn't those Israelis whose grandfathers actually
lived under the Turks be "entitled" to refer to themselves as
Palestinians, too?

Subject: Re: Pre-Israel Palestine: sovereignty, boundaries, governments
From: orbitalelement-ga on 26 Jun 2002 02:33 PDT
I guess that this is something of a political minefield, but as they
say, fools rush in...

As far as I understand things, Palestine was a territory of the
Turkish Ottoman Empire but, following the end of the First World War,
the League of Nations (in a 1922 resolution) allowed Britain to govern
the territory under the so-called "Palestine Mandate" (see, for
example which has a good

The Mandate arose out of a declaration in 1917 by the then British
Foreign Minister, Arthur Balfour, which declared "sympathy with Jewish
Zionist aspirations" and stated that "His Majesty's Government view
with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the
Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the
achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing
shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of
existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine...".

Therein, I suppose, lies the root of the ongoing conflicts in that
troubled region.

See also:

Google search terms used:

1) palestine mandate

2) palestine history turkish empire

[Note: Recognising the politics of the region, I make no assertion as
to the impartiality or accuracy of any of the sites referenced. I
have, however, tried to find sites that do not take sides but try and
present the history impartially.   It wasn't easy!]
Subject: Re: Pre-Israel Palestine: sovereignty, boundaries, governments
From: carmi604-ga on 26 Jun 2002 05:38 PDT
Thank you, it certainly helps to clarify this obscure situation.  I
have experienced how people from all over - expecially young people -
believe  Palestine should be
r e s t o r e d  to what it used to be, independent and unique among
its neighbors.
Subject: Re: Pre-Israel Palestine: sovereignty, boundaries, governments
From: mwalcoff-ga on 26 Jun 2002 08:06 PDT

You are hardly the first person to be confused about all this.
Recently I was watching the NBC Nightly News, and the reporter in
Jerusalem said that before 1967, one side of the street was Israel and
the other side was "Palestine." Of course, there was no political
entity called "Palestine" in 1967. The other side of the street was
actually shown on maps as part of Jordan. The kingdom of Transjordan
had occupied the West Bank in 1948 and annexed it in a move not
recognized by most other countries. Transjordan (beyond the Jordan)
shortened its name to reflect its claim over the West Bank.

The West Bank and Gaza Strip were to be part of an independent
Palestinian Arab state under the UN's 1947 partition plan, but the
Arabs rejected the plan. After the 1948 Israeli War of Independence,
most of the wouldbe Palestinian Arab state was in the hands of Jordan
(West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza Strip). Because of the uncertain political
status of those territories when Israel occupied them in 1967, the
Israeli government refers to them as "disputed" rather than

The concept of an Israeli-Palestinian dispute rather than an
Israeli-Arab dispute dates to the 1967 Six Day War. In the 1940s, Jews
would be as likely to refer to "Palestine" as Arabs. The Jerusalem
Post used to be The Palestine Post, and there was a "Palestinian"
soccer team that consisted entirely of members of the Jewish
community. Before 1967, the Arab world focused on the unity of the
"Arab nation." This philosophy reached its apex in the 1960s with the
unification of Egypt and Syria under Gamel Nasser and the placement of
Jordanian troops under Egyptian command. After 1967, the "moderate"
Arab countries gradually resigned themselves to Israel's existance and
began to focus instead on returning the West Bank and Gaza to Arab
rule. "Palestinians" came to be shorthand for the Arab population of
those territories, although it took quite some time for Israelis to
reconcile themselves to the definition.

Many Israelis still fear that the Arab world will not be satisfied
with a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, the
Palestine Liberation Organization's logo still shows all the land in
Israel proper, and many maps in the Arab world still label all of
Israel as "Palestine." Recently, many Arab citizens of Israel have
begun referring to themselves as "Palestinians in Israel" rather than
"Arab Israelis."
Subject: Re: Pre-Israel Palestine: sovereignty, boundaries, governments
From: tunghoy-ga on 25 Sep 2002 13:02 PDT
Never in the history of the world was there ever an independent
country called Palestine, so there is nothing to "be restored."
Territories controlled by the Ottomans and the British were not
countries; they were territories, without any central or governing
body. Seeing an area on a map with a "Palestine" label does not mean
it was a country.

Moreover, the only independent countries in what is now Israel have
been Jewish: the ancient kingdoms of Israel, Judaea and Samaria. Only
Jewish countries or kingdoms have had Jerusalem as their capital. No
non-Jewish country has ever had a capital in Jerusalem.

Regarding calls for a Palestinian state: they did not begin until
after Israel gained control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967.
Before 1967, Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip and Jordan controlled the
West Bank. This also shows a oft-repeated untruth told by Palestinians
and their apologists -- that terrorism today is a result of Israeli
"occupation" of these areas. In fact, Arab terror against Jews
predates the 1967 war by approximately 50 years.
Subject: Re: Pre-Israel Palestine: sovereignty, boundaries, governments
From: blackjack23-ga on 28 Oct 2002 19:34 PST
This is a somewhat loaded question, because the idea of nation-states
is a fairly new one and does not correspond directly to ethnic or
cultural identity.  To illustrate, there were no sovreign, distinct
nations called "Germany" or "Italy" until the last 150 years, but
their were certainly people who would have identified as "German" or
"Italian", if for no other reason than the language they spoke.

Moreover, for a large portion of the history of the world, most
peoples lived under the dominion of foreign powers or empires, so
distinctions between nations were often simple matters of geography or
administrative convenience.  Indeed, since transporting large
populations was a common means of maintaining imperial dominion (as in
the case of the Babylonian exile), a "nation", historically, is better
defined on cultural and ethnic terms than by drawing borders.

So, while there has never been an independant STATE called Palestine,
the physical REGION has been called Palestine for quite some time. 
While the word is derived from the name of the Philistines, who lived
primarily south of what is modern Israel, the Romans refered to the
entire region as "Palestina".  The various Muslim empires which ruled
the area for 1300 years called it "Filastin", and its inhabitants
"Filastini", the same Arabic words today translated as "Palestine" and

Incidentally, Jews living in the region under Ottoman rule wer,
indeed, refered to as "Palestinian Jews".

To say that no nation of ever Palestine existed is disingenuous.  No
nations of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, etc. existed prior to the
breakup of the Ottoman empire either.

The area that makes up modern Israel and the Occupied Territories has,
historically, gone by many names, and was rarely a single nation. 
Only at the greatest extent of the Solomonic kingdom, which lasted
only a few decades, did it include the entirety of modern Israel (plus
good bits of modern Jordan, Syria, and even Iraq).  Modern Israel
includes parts of lands which have been variously called Canaan,
Philistia, Edom, Egypt, Phoenicia, Judah, Israel, Judea, Palestina,
Judema, Samaria, Galilee and Filastin.  Gaza, for instance, was NEVER
a part of the Davidic/Solominic kingdom, nor the divided kingdoms of
Judah and Israel.  It was part of Philistia until the Philistines fell
to the Assyrians, and was administered seperately from Judea under the

So what you had, with the fall of the Ottomans, was a region which had
been called "Palestine" (or some linguistic variant) for about 2000
years, and a people, primarily Arab muslims, but also decendants of
indigenous peoples, who had been living there for 1300 years and
calling themselves "Palestinians" (or some linguistic variant).  Like
most peoples of the Middle East, these people had not had a nation of
their own in thousands of years, but unlike the other peoples of the
Middle East, the European powers did not allow them to form one.  At
the same time, a growing population of immigrants, culturally and
religiously distinct, were beginning to assert tremendous political
and economic power in the area, so much so that when the European
powers eventually chose to allow the people of the region to form a
state, there were now two distinct populations with very different
ideas about how this should be done.
Subject: Re: Pre-Israel Palestine: sovereignty, boundaries, governments
From: shibl-ga on 30 Jun 2003 12:43 PDT
There is no state in history called New York.  There is certainly such
a thing as a New Yorker.
If for some reason New York residents had their land confiscated and
were told to go to Ohio, I think they might be upset.

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