November 6, 2012


Why do we call it 'Israel/Palestine'?

Considering how to refer to a land of many names

By Professor John Kampen

How people choose to name themselves and what we as foreigners do with those choices is a very interesting question. In the case of our trip to the Middle East, we have called it a trip to Israel/Palestine.

Had we chosen to make this trip prior to 1948, there would have been only Palestine, no Israel. With the creation of the state of Israel, a new name was added to the list of countries, a name that had been used for this territory by the rabbinic tradition following biblical usage, in Hebrew Eretz Israel ("the land of Israel"). The name Palestine was attached to this region after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. and the further devastation of Jerusalem and Judea in 135 C.E. by the Romans, when they renamed the area Syria Palaestina.

In the modern era, the question of name acquired new significance in 1967 after the Israeli victory in those territories that had been under Jordanian jurisdiction since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. This led to renewed efforts by those native inhabitants who referred to themselves as Palestinians to identify their place in this area. In 1988, the Palestinian Liberation Organization proclaimed Palestine to be a state in exile.

In the Oslo agreement of 1993, early steps toward a future two-state solution were advanced in which there could be an Israel and a Palestine.

Other names can also be found on modern maps. Often the area now under Palestinian jurisdiction, which in antiquity was in Samaria, is called the West Bank. Gaza also is under Palestinian jurisdiction. You also will find maps that refer to these areas as the Occupied Territories. Many people find that the name that is most broadly accepted by the Muslim, Jewish and Christian inhabitants and interested parties is the Holy Land.

In our cross-cultural trips, we want our students to encounter the entire territory that was called Israel in antiquity. We visit archaeological sites in Israel and in the West Bank. We speak with Israelis and Palestinians. While we spend more of our time in Israel, in Jerusalem we stay at a hotel in Arabic-speaking East Jerusalem, close to the walls of the old city.

All of the diversity and complexity of life in Israel/Palestine is part of my daily life when I am there working. It is my hope that the students experience a bit of that during the two weeks we spend together in the Holy Land.

John Kampen, professor in the Dunn Chair in Biblical Interpretation, has visited Israel/Palestine 10 times in the past 20 years, both as a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar and as a leader of MTSO trips.

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