Millennia before Palestinians appeared on the world stage following the Six-Day War, the “West Bank” was already known as Judea and Samaria. “Palestine” dates from the League of Nations Mandate (1923) that granted England governing power over the land, including Trans-Jordan, that was previously controlled by the defeated Ottoman Empire. The Mandate recognized “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine.” “Palestinians” were not mentioned; Arabs in the Land of Israel lacked national consciousness as a people. Two decades after the birth of Israel, following the Six-Day War, they borrowed so extensively from Jewish and Zionist sources as to virtually constitute historical plagiarism.
“Palestine” had emerged as an abbreviation of “Syria-Palestine,” imposed by Roman conquerors in the 2nd century CE to obliterate the Jews’ connection to their biblical homeland. Modern conceptions of Palestine did not appear until the 19th century, when British artists and writers began to explore the ”Holy Land.” Jews, wrote Rev. Alexander Keith, are “a people without a country” while “their own land . . . [is] a country without a people.” Several years later Lord Ashley Cooper described “a country without a nation” needing “a nation without a country.” That nation, he asserted, was “the ancient and rightful lords of the soil, the Jews!”
During the early years of the British Mandate, Arabs in Palestine still had little awareness of a distinctive national identity. Testifying before the Peel Commission in 1937, Syrian leader Auni Bey Abdul-Nadi asserted: “There is no such country as Palestine. … ‘Palestine’ is alien to us. It is the Zionists who introduced it.” Even Columbia history professor Rashid Khalidi, an expert on Palestinian identity, would acknowledge that before World War I “Palestine” did not exist in Arab consciousness. Zionist land development served as a magnet for Arabs from Middle Eastern countries who came to Palestine in search of a better life and eventually became “Palestinians.”