Maqdisi: an 11th Century Palestinian Consciousness

Zakariyeh Mohammed is a poet and writer. Jerusalem Quarterly, n°22 & 23, 2005

It is safe to say that there has never been a thorough textual examination of the writings of ancient Arab writers, Palestinian or otherwise, regarding Palestinian identity. All of the texts known to discuss Palestinian identity date no earlier than the nineteenth century. Very rarely do these texts date as early as the eighteenth century and as such, the underlying assumption is that there is no point in seeking out older texts – the Palestinian identity is assumed to be contemporary, and no related earlier texts exist.

I believe this to be an erroneous assumption, however. Palestine, as a region, developed long before Islam and Christianity. Indeed, proof exists that its borders date as early as the fifth century BCE. Herodotus outlined this region nearly to its present-day borders, and called it “Palestine”. He says, in the context of the Persian invasion of Greece:

The Phoenicians and the Syrians of Palestine have prepared 300 ships […] This nation, according to its own self-description, has long lived on the Red Sea, where they still reside. This section of Syria and all of the areas extending from here until the border of Egypt is known by the name of Palestine.

In another paragraph he says, “In the country extending from the land of the Phoenicians to the borders of Gaza City live the Syrians, who are called Palestinians.”

So, the area extending from the border of Phoenicia to the border of Egypt was one region called ‘Palestine’. Herodotus calls its people the ‘Syrians of Palestine’ to distinguish them from the other inhabitants of Syria, as is made clear later in the passage.

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Date of publication: January 12, 2014

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