Palestine Might Still Be A Better Name Than Israel

Why The Naming of Countries Can Be a Difficult Matter

The Value of Names: What should “Eretz Israel” be called in English? What it’s always been called, at least for the past several hundred years — namely, Palestine.
Getty Images
The Value of Names: What should “Eretz Israel” be called in English? What it’s always been called, at least for the past several hundred years — namely, Palestine.

By Philologos

Published March 17, 2013, issue of March 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Which isn’t to say that “Eretz-Israel” should be used in English. On the contrary, I’m all for avoiding it. It’s a clumsy hybrid — eretz is not an English word, and Israel is not a Hebrew one — with propagandistic overtones. Zionist writers and publicists who wished to avoid saying “Palestine ” introduced it into English in the first half of the 20th century, and it continues to be used, when it is, by Zionists and pro-Zionists only.

Nor is the totally English “Land of Israel” much of an improvement. Both terms are misguided ways of declaring, “Palestine is a Jewish country and should be called by its Jewish name” — misguided because, while there’s nothing wrong with such a sentiment, Jewish sentiments shouldn’t be forced on the English language.

So what should “Eretz Israel” be called in English? It should be called what it’s always been called, at least for the past several hundred years — namely, Palestine. As I’ve argued before in these pages, “Palestine” was never traditionally an anti-Jewish or anti-Zionist word and shouldn’t be allowed to become one. Until the declaration of the State of Israel, in 1948, in fact, Zionists used it all the time, and Palestinian Jews proudly called themselves “Palestinians.”

True, times have changed. Yet linguistic needs haven’t. We still need a linguistically neutral term for “the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River,” and it would be wiser to insist on restoring the traditional neutrality of “Palestine” than to try to come up with an artificial and unnatural-sounding substitute.

Of course, matters will be complicated further if there should be an Arab state called Palestine in part of the geographical area called Palestine. But there’s no reason that one can’t distinguish between the state of Palestine and the land of Palestine, just as one distinguishes in Hebrew between medinat yisra’el, “the state of Israel,” and eretz-yisra’el, “the land of Israel.”

If a state of Palestine is established, the cities of Nablus, Ramallah, Jericho and Hebron will not be in medinat yisra’el, yet they will continue to be in eretz-yisra’el; nor is there any conceivable way in the Hebrew language that they could not be. If Roger Cohen understood this, he would understand something about historical Jewish attitudes toward Palestine that eludes him: Zionism did not rediscover the “Land of Israel.” It was there all the time.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Yeshiva University's lawyer wanted to know why the dozens of former schoolboys now suing over a sexual abuse cover-up didn't sue decades ago. Read the judge's striking response here.
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.