With the approach of our annual fasts of Tammuz 17 and Tisha B’Av, which commemorate the Roman incursion into Yerushalayim in 70 C.E., the destruction of our beloved state of Judea and the beginning of our long and tortuous diaspora, my thoughts turn to the name “Palestine.”
We don’t refer to the Arabs who live in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) as Ammonites, Moabites or Edomites for the simple reason that those countries are no longer in existence and these Arabs were born after their extinction. Now, since Palestine no longer exists, why do our own Jewish authors, journalists and reporters, who are well aware that Palestine stopped existing after the formation of our beloved Israel in May 1948 call these stateless Arabs Palestinians? Why does this insulting misnomer and anomaly go on and on? When will this mishegas stop?
Why do I say insulting? Well, in addition to the obvious lack of accuracy in calling West Bank Arabs “Palestinians,” Jews who are knowledgeable about the origin of this word have never been happy, and in fact are quite perturbed with calling our dear Eretz Yisrael Palestine. Why so? Let’s explore how this name originated and why. Well, the Romans, yimach shmom, invaded our beloved Eretz (then called Judea, hence we are Judeans, and for short: Jews) in the year 70 C.E. in reaction to our forbears’ attempt to rebel against their cruel and evil domination of our land.
In their murderous rage, the Roman hordes, coming from the north, decimated every Jewish community in their path and when they burst through the walls of Yerushalayim they looted the Temple, burned it to the ground, and then murdered every Jewish man, woman, child and babe in arms. The Gemara reports that the blood of our ancestors flowed down the hills of Yerushalayim in rivulets that were as high as the nostrils of the Romans’ horses. Proud of their loot, including the tall seven-branched golden menorah of Bayis Sheni, they carved an image of their loot in stone on the arch of Titus, yimach shmo, and it can be seen to this day in Rome.
Not being satisfied with that, the Romans put every building in the city to the torch, and when the land was flat, ploughed the land with salt so that nothing would grow and the city would be dead to vegetable and fruit growth for centuries. They forbade any Jewish survivor who would already be in Eretz or come to Eretz from entering Yerushalayim (which they renamed), and to blot the Jewish name “Judea” from existence they renamed the territory Palestine, after the hateful Plishtim who were our enemies for centuries, right through the era of the Shoftim and even through malchus Shaul until Dovid Ha’Melech subdued them once and for all.
Some decades after the destruction of Eretz, the Roman Emperor Hadrian forbade the practice of Yiddishkeit as well as teaching the Torah, and cruelly murdered many of our ancestors including the burning alive of our beloved and revered Rabbi Akiva, while undressed naked and wrapped up with a scroll of our Torah. To prolong the torture, those evil people placed wet sponges on his chest.
In view of this history how can anyone with even a moderate care for our loss of independence, the destruction of our Bais Hamikdash, our dispersal and suffering persecution for many centuries in countries to where we fled, and our own personal suffering three fast days a year (which our forbears have maintained for close to 2,000 years now), continue to propagate the memory of the hated Romans by perpetuating their insulting name “Palestine?” Again I ask: When will it stop?Reuben E. Gross, PhD