Why Israel’s first leaders chose not to call the country ‘Palestine’ in Arabic
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Why Israel’s first leaders chose not to call the country ‘Palestine’ in Arabic

National archive reveals a debate on the eve of independence over whether Arabic speakers should refer to the the new Jewish state as 'Filastin,' 'Sayoun' or 'Eesra'il'

David Ben-Gurion, flanked by the members of his provisional government, reads the Declaration of Independence in the Tel Aviv Museum Hall on May 14, 1948 (photo credit: Israel Government Press Office)
David Ben-Gurion, flanked by the members of his provisional government, reads the Declaration of Independence in the Tel Aviv Museum Hall on May 14, 1948 (photo credit: Israel Government Press Office)

Days before the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948, Zionist officials met to decide what the new country would be called in Arabic, a document released Thursday by the state archive shows.

The document mentions three options: Palestine, or Filastin; Zion, or Sayoun; and Israel, or Eesra’il.

The three officials — who included Bechor-Shalom Sheetrit, later a prominent Cabinet minister — were working under two assumptions: That an Arab state was about to be established alongside the Jewish one in keeping with the UN’s partition resolution the year before, and that the Jewish state would include a large Arab minority whose feelings needed to be taken into account.

Part of the document on the discussion of the Arabic name for the state.
Part of the document on the discussion of the Arabic name for the state.

They rejected the name Palestine, they wrote, because they thought that would be the name of the new Arab state.

“It is likely that the Arab state that will be established in the Land of Israel will also be called Palestine in the future, which could cause confusion,” the officials wrote.

They rejected the name Zion, or Sayoun, seemingly because the words “Zion” and “Zionist” already had a pejorative meaning in the Arab world. Calling the country Zion “would cause real difficultly for the Arab citizen in the Jewish state,” the document says.

In the end, they opted for the most straightforward option: Eesra’il, or Israel.

The document can be found here.

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Israel’s state archive regularly releases historical documents of interest on its English-language blog, here. The archive’s Twitter feed is here.

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