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“Gaza,” “Israel,” — learn the powerful history of these words

The Gaza Strip — also referred to as just Gaza — has made international headlines again. On Sunday, the Israeli government announced that it will ease the overland blockage of some goods into the Palestinian territory.

The word “Gaza” comes from the Hebrew “Azzah,” loosely meaning strong city. The entire region is named for its capital city, which has been conquered many times over the centuries. Among its many rulers were the Philistines.

The theme of “strength” is indirectly connected to Gaza in the Bible. According to the Book of Judges, the superhuman-strong Samson was imprisoned in Gaza by the Philistines, before regaining his strength and destroying the temple of Dagon.

And it’s no coincidence that “Philistines” looks a little like “Palestinians,” the modern-day citizens of Gaza. The word “Palestine” is derived from a Hebrew word for “land of the Philistines.”

The word “philistine” has taken on a derogatory sense in English, meaning a defiantly uncultured person. But this language bastardization didn’t happen in the Middle East. It came by way of Germany, where snobby university students, starting in the early 19th century, labeled unsophisticated townspeople “philister.”

The modern nation of Israel derives its name from the Biblical land of the Israelites, who, according to the Old Testament, were the namesake of the man formerly known as Jacob. According to the book of Genesis, (to make a long story short) Jacob wrestled with a mysterious being for an entire night, and having held off the divine being, Jacob was renamed “Israel,” a word with many meanings but generally interpreted as “one who prevails.”

For extra credit: What is the West Bank the western bank of?

16 Comments

  1. wolf tamer and coal miner -  February 9, 2014 - 10:03 pm

    Why were they called Israelites thousands of years ago, but Israelis today? :-/

    Reply
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  3. GAZA ISRAEL | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  August 18, 2010 - 3:18 pm

    [...] “GAZA STRIPS WHILE ISRAEL RUMBLES” with an Angel this we are told. — Israel beat the mysterious being and lost his name Jacob for Gold. — Samson’s hair was sheared by the Gaza stripper Delilah –When his hair grew back he rumbled the roof — Fortunately there was the WEST BANK — That keeps financing the Wars with “DREAMS” of Rapture for proof. –>>Rupert L.T.Rhymes [...]

    Reply
  4. Tamar -  June 22, 2010 - 12:54 pm

    Motokosoma,
    First, I don’t think that it matters what the reason for oppression is – the main point is that that’s what the Turks are doing, and the world is silent…. and is fascism something the world should agree to?

    Second, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is based on religion – not racism. The arabs want the only land that the Jews have, and not only Judea and Samaria, but Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem – they do not believe that the Jews have a right to their own country (perhaps some racism in that..).
    On the other hand, the Israeli culture has embraced the Western culture and its values of democracy, freedom and equality. Arabs receive respect and courtesy from Israelis, who are willing to accept them as equals and strive to live in peace with them.
    I believe that the Arab culture has its beauty, but still is completely different from Western culture and its values. For instance, murder of women suspected of “prohibited relationships” with men is prevalent – you hear about mothers, sisters, daughters murdered by family members every few weeks in the news. Democracy is not understood or practiced.
    In Arab schools, peace in not taught, only hatred and feelings of inferiority.
    So as long as there is such a cultural and religious clash, I see no hope for the Arabs accepting the Jews as a legitimate people.

    Reply
  5. Star -  June 21, 2010 - 4:41 pm

    Forgive me for daring to try for a “simple” answer to “West Bank.”

    The Jordan River runs north-south. Jordan is east; Israel is west.

    At the time of the departure of the British in 1948, Jordan held land on both sides of the river. In 1967, after Israel’s Arab neighbors attacked and Israel fought back, Israel won the land around Jerusalem and pushed their border back to the Jordan.

    Israel calls this area Judea and Samaria, others refer to it as “The West Bank.” On the little map above, this part is colored yellow.

    Reply
  6. Ruth -  June 21, 2010 - 3:14 pm

    Matt: Actually the country/region has been systematically occupied by waves of incomers, each of whom overthrew the previous colonisers to seize power; first there were the Canaanites (to be accurate, those were the first colonists recorded there, although the earliest human remains found there date back around 600,000 years, as well as subsequent Neolithic remains in the period between 5-10,000 years ago, which establish the existence of settled agricultural communities there), then the Israelites, then the Assyrians, then the Persians, then the Romans, then the Byzantine Empire in 330 AD, followed by quite a few other occupations, including those of the Ummayads and Abbasid Empires, up to the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, which remained until the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 divided the area of conquered Ottoman territories up into French and British territories, which were then ‘given’ to European Jewish colonists by Lord Balfour in 1917 under the Balfour Treaty. One can try to rewrite history, but one can’t actually change it, however much many seem to wish to do so. As they did with apartheid South Africa, of course.

    Reply
  7. Matt -  June 21, 2010 - 1:24 pm

    No such thing as ‘West Bank’. It’s Judea and Samaria and it’s belonged to Jews for thousands of years.

    ‘Palestine’ is not a country, it’s a region. The word was used by the Romans to antangonise the Jews. Modern day ‘Palestinians’ are just arabs that none of the other arab countries want.

    Reply
  8. motokosoma -  June 21, 2010 - 1:17 pm

    Tamar, Turkish oppression of Kurds has more to do with fascism than racism. If Kurds accept a Turkish identity, they are fully assimilated. There have been Turkish Presidents of complete Kurdish descent. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is racial in essence. Can a Palestinian ever be considered an Israeli, even if fully integrated?

    Reply
  9. motokosoma -  June 21, 2010 - 1:05 pm

    Squires, history is a study of interpretation and thus arbitrary in territorial claims. Jews went through profound changes in the diaspora era, and have very little if any resemblance to biblical or Roman Israelites. Similarly, ancient Philistines are not modern day Palestinians. Hebrew was not even spoken by Jews for thousands of years. If Sephardic Jews developed modern day Hebrew, it would have been a very different language. It is a contrived language, much as Israel is a contrived nation. This is not unique to Israel. Many modern countries and languages are constructions with exaggerated or even fabricated associations with their historical successors.

    Reply
  10. Tamar -  June 21, 2010 - 1:03 pm

    Thanks Squire for your important and accurate additions!

    Wake up Western Countries – The existence of Israel protects you too from terrorism.
    Terrorism must be fought, and Israel needs your backing instead of dangerous and biased condemnations.
    Why don’t we ever hear the world condemn Turkey about their horrible oppression of the Kurds, how the muslims in Sudan massacre the Black Sudanese, etc. etc….
    All we hear is how Israel “oppresses” the Arabs in Judea and Samaria, when they unfortunately brought it on themselves by committing endless terrorist acts and horrific murders.
    First, murder and terrorism needs to be uprooted from their culture. Israel has to make sure it can be safe before it even considers giving the Arabs parts of the land of the Jewish forefathers.
    Israelis want to live in peace and harmony, but do the Arabs want it too??

    Reply
  11. Tamar -  June 21, 2010 - 12:49 pm

    And Israel will prevail!!!

    Thanks for the interesting piece.
    I wish that the world would understand that Israel wants peace, and that it must protect itself from terrorism (including terrorists that disguise themselves as “peace activists”, but attack unarmed soldiers with axes and daggers).
    The whole world, including the Muslim countries, must condemn and act against terrorist such as these.

    Reply
  12. Squires -  June 21, 2010 - 12:20 pm

    Ha. Convenient how they left out the fact that the “Palestinians” have absolutely no connection to the ancient Phillistines, who were wiped out by, IIRC, the Phoenicians a few millennium ago. Or that the region (the province of Judea, from whence comes the English word Jew) was renamed “Palestine” by foreign invaders (the Romans) in an attempt to wipe out the cultural identity of the indigenous peoples (the Hebrews). Phillistine derives from an ancient Hebrew word roughly meaning “invader”.

    “Palestine” was foreign word used by foreign invaders in an attempt to rob the indigenous Hebrews of their identity, and today’s Arabised Egyptian/Jordanians have done the same to sell Islamic antisemitism to Western audiences.

    Reply
  13. cody -  June 21, 2010 - 11:45 am

    A bank on the West?

    Reply
  14. Mikaeel -  June 21, 2010 - 11:43 am

    Palestine Forever!
    The West Bank is West Of Jordan

    Reply
    • joe -  January 27, 2015 - 10:45 pm

      lol (5 years later) wow.

      Reply
  15. yaz -  June 21, 2010 - 11:12 am

    Jacob fought with an angel whos name was peniel!!! its amazing how he was a HUMAN and he fought for a blessing and his blessing was great that gives proof of an existng GOD!!!!!!!!

    Reply

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