Church of God, New World Ministries

The Palestinians - Who Are They?

Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, many world leaders have wrestled with the thorny Arab-Israeli problem. Former President Ronald Reagan once expressed his fervent desire to see a solution to the Mideast conflict.

“Tragic turmoil in the Middle East runs back to the dawn of history. In our modern day, conflict after conflict has taken its brutal toll there. In an age of nuclear challenge and economic interdependence such conflicts are a threat to all people of the world, not just the Middle East itself. It is time for us all to call a halt to conflict, hatred and prejudice” (Presidential Address, Sept. 2, 1982.

Yet unconcerned by world opinion, Palestinian acts of terrorism, followed by Israelis retaliatory attacks continue casting a dark cloud over the Middle East threatening the peace and stability of the whole world!

What are some of the main issues that continue to threaten the peace of the Mideast? Former President Jimmy Carter noted, “The Middle East is perhaps the most volatile and coveted region in the world, one whose instability is almost certainly the greatest threat to world peace” (The Blood of Abraham, p. 4, 1993). He also states that “the basic cause of continuing bloodshed in the region is the struggle for land. With their swift victory in the 1967 war, the Israelis tripled the amount of land they controlled at the expense of Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinians, and Syria.” Further, President Carter explained that “the Arab-Israeli conflict is a struggle between two national identities for control of territory.

What are these “two national identities”? Mr. Carter was speaking of “the brotherhood of Arab and Jew and how they are both the sons of Abraham” all sharing “the blood of Abraham.” The Palestinian issue is a basic cause of the continuing Middle East conflict, and it must be addressed successfully if there is ever to be peace in the region.

What is the Palestinian issue? The Palestinians are convinced that all the Arab-Israeli wars have boiled up out of the Palestinians problem in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and the Lebanese invasions of 1978 and 1982 and of course--the civil wars among the Arab factions of 1970 in Jordan and 1975 in Lebanon. With a single mindedness amounting to tunnel vision, they see the restoration of Palestinian rights as the key to region and, under some circumstances, even world peace.” Today’s world leaders are struggling to balance the claims of the Israelis against the grievances of the Palestinians, many of whom are scattered throughout the Middle East.

By carefully searching the Scriptures, we can learn which ancient peoples were the ancestors of today’s Palestinians! Even though modern Palestinians both Muslims and Christians are now known as “Arabs” nonetheless, most of them are not the same people as those Bedouin Arabs who for thousands of years inhabited the Arabian Peninsula. The Bible and secular history reveal that, ethnically speaking, today’s Palestinians are a “mixed bag,” including significant members of the following ancient peoples: Philistine, Ishmaelites and Edomites.

We will first consider the Philistines. They were descendants of the Philistim whose ancestor was Mizraim (Gen. 10:13-14) from whom the ancient Egyptians also descended. The ancient Philistines, who lived in the general area known today as the Gaza Strip, were never numerous. However, they were one of Israel’s fiercest enemies, as recounted in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The borders of Palestine, also called the Lord of Canaan or the Holy Land, have never been clearly defined. The name Palestine is an ancient one, derived from the Philistines who lived there. Known as the People of the Sea, they inhabited lands primarily on the seacoast of what is now southern Israel and the Gaza Strip. The Roman conquerors wanting to obliterate both the capital and the name of the Israelites after thy smashed the final Jewish revolt, chose to call the southern part of their new Syrian province Palestine. Thereafter, those living in the former land of Canaan became known as Palestinians.

There is no biblical or historical evidence to support the conclusion that the majority of the more than five million modern Palestinians are descendants of the ancient Philistines though a significant number of the Arabs in the Gaza Strip are.

The second ancient people are the Ishmaelites (Arab Bedouins). “Bedouin (Arabic) badawi desert dweller a nomadic Arab of the Arabian, Syrian or North African deserts” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10thed.)

“Ishmael was the elder son of Abraham in the Bible. Ishmael’s mother was Hagar, an Egyptian serving maid. He is honored by the Arabs, along with Abraham, as their ancestor” (World Book Encyclopedia 1972). Collier’s Encyclopedia says, “Ishmael was banished from Abraham’s house together with his mother. Ishmael is the traditional ancestor of the Arab peoples” (1959. Vol. 11).

After the prophet Mohammed died in 632, the Ishmaelites and other desert people united in their drive to establish a far-flung Muslim Empire from the Atlantic westward into India thus fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham that Ishmael’s descendants would become “a great nation” (Gen. 17:20; 21:18). Following the Arab conquest of Palestine in 636, some Arab Bedouins began filtering into Palestine.

Though the Ishmaelites attacked Israel in ancient times, they don’t appear to have been a cruel enemy. Biblical and secular history indicate that the descendants of the Philistines and the Ishmaelites are less numerous among modern Palestinians than another ethnic group the Edomites.

It is the 3rd group who settled the area, Edomites, that makes up the largest percentage of modern Palestinians. When considering Old Testament history, one people the Edomites-- stands out as having a persistent hatred toward the people of Israel. In fact, the Bible records numerous incidents in which the Edomites attacked God’s people.

Who were the Edomites? Both the Bible and secular history reveals that many of the modern Palestinians are their direct descendants. They were close relatives of the Israelites, being descended from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Like Jacob, Esau the father of the Edomites, had many sons whose many descendants became “clans” (Gen. 36). His firstborn son was called Eliphaz, whose concubine bore a son named Amalek, father of the Amalekites one of the cruelest and most aggressive branches of the Edomites (vs. 10-12). None of Israel’s ancient enemies were as vengeful toward the Israelites as were the Edomites. From the beginning they bore a deep resentment toward Israel and his descendants.

How did this deep-seated enmity come about? Even before Esau and his twin brother Jacob were born, God told their mother, Rebekah, “Two nations are in you womb, two people shall be separated from your body: one people (the Israelites) shall be stronger than the other (the Edomites) and the older (Esau) shall serve the younger (Jacob)” (Gen. 25:23).

The older twin, Esau, sold his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a bowl of soup (vs. 29-33). “So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils. Thus, Esau despised his birthright” (vs. 33-34).

Later, Isaac gave a fabulous blessing to his younger son Jacob (Gen. 27:18-29). Those fantastic blessings included the “dew of heaven,” the “fatness (literally “fat places”) of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine” (v. 28).The fabulous blessings promised Jacob’s descendants would later include the rich land of North America, Australia and New Zealand, plus much of Northwest Europe lands inherited by Israel’s modern descendants.

Under God’s inspiration, Isaac said to Jacob, “let people serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren (including Esau and his descendants), and let your mother’s sons bow down to you” (v. 29).

Not long afterward, Esau came in to see his father to receive Isaac’s blessing. But Isaac told him that his brother had already received the chief blessing. “Indeed I have made him your master. What shall I do now for you, my son” (v. 37).

“And Esau lifted up his voice and wept. Then Isaac his father answered and said to him. ‘By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother’” (vs. 38-40).

Jacob’s purchase of the birthright and his duplicity in obtaining the birthright blessing caused Esau to have great enmity toward him. “So Esau hated Jacob” (then said) ‘I will kill my brother Jacob’” (v. 41). Jacob’s mother and father then urged him to flee to Haran (Syria) to live with his uncle Laban until Esau’s anger abated. (According to Genesis 28:9 Esau married his Uncle Ishmael’s daughter thereby cementing a long-standing closeness between the Edomites and the Ishmaelites.)

Many years later, God told Jacob to return to the Promised Land, where He would bless him (Gen 32:12). Before meeting Esau on his return journey, Jacob spent an agonizing night in prayer, then prepared a huge present to give to his brother (vs. 13-23).God delivered him from his brother, and changed his name to “Israel,” meaning “Prevailer with God” (vs. 24-32).

After having met the next day, the brothers parted company amicably but the descendants of Esau, the Edomites, never forgot the fact that their ancestor had foolishly sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup, and later lost his father’s blessing through Jacob’s trickery.

The Bible admonishes us to beware “lest any root of bitterness (such as the Edomites’ bitterness toward Israel) springing up cause trouble lest there be (a) profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For afterward when he wanted to inherit the blessings, he was rejected” (Heb. 12:15-17).

The Amalekite branch of the Edomites was the first to attack the Israelites after they left Egypt. “Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim” (Ex. 17:8). “So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword” (v. 13). Then God told Moses, “Write this for a memorial in a book and recount it that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (v. 14).

Moses told the Israelites “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God” (Deut. 25:17-19). In fact, there are many different accounts in the Old Testament of Israel warring against the Amalekites Edomites!

When the Israelites refused to obey God’s Word, and make an abortive attempt to force their way into the Promised Land, they were defeated by their enemies, including the Amalekites. “Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who dwelt in that mountain came down and attacked them, and drove them back as far as Hormah” (Num. 14:45).

Some years afterward, God used a brave man named Gideon, and his small army of 300 valiant men, to deliver the Israelites from a larger invading army. “Now the Midianites and Amalekites, all the people of the East, were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number” (Judges 7:12).

Many years later, God had Samuel tell Saul, “I will punish what Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them” (I Sam. 15:2-3). But King Saul did not obey God’s command, sparing their King Agag (vs. 7-8). Later, we read that an Amalekite slew King Saul (II Sam. 1:1-16). In II Chronicles 20:22 the Edomites attacked Judah, but were defeated, in the day of King Jehoshaphat.

Many years later, after the Jews had been taken captive to Babylon, a wicked Edomite named Haman planned to slay the Jews. “After these things King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I 486-465 B.C.) promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite (a royal descendant of Amalekite kings), and advanced him and set his seat above all the princes who were with him” (Ester 3:1).

Haman plotted to slay all the Jews throughout the Persian Empire, which then included the Promised Land (vs. 6-15). But after Haman had built a gallows on which to hang his Jewish revival, Mordecai, matters were reversed, and Haman was himself hanged.

God revealed through Moses that there would be continual problems between Israel and the Amalekites or Edomites in Exodus 17. “Because the Lord has sworn: the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation: (v. 6).

Could it be that this prophecy extends even to our day? Are the present-day Palestinian attacks against the Israelis merely another chapter in the long-suffering bloody feud?

The ancestors of many of today’s Palestinians first began migrating into southern Palestine or Judea several centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ. These Edomites were then called Idumeans. Both the Old and New Testaments mention a nation called Idumea (Isa. 34:5-6; Ez. 35:15; 36:5; Mark 3:8). The Romans later appointed an Idumean, Herod the Great, as king over all of Judea. Where was Idumea located, and who were the Idumeans?

The Edomites had originally lived south of Judah, in the general area located between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. Later, however, after the Ten Tribes of the Kingdom of Israel and the Two Tribes of the Kingdom of Judah were uprooted from the Promised Land and taken captive, Edomites began settling much of the Jews’ former land (Ez. 35:10-12).

The Edomites had once inhabited Mount Seir south of Judah. “So Esau dwelt in Mount Seir: Esau is Edom” (Gen. 36:8). Sometime after the Jews were taken captive to Babylon, many Edomites living near Judah’s southern border started moving north into the nearly depopulated land of Judah. The Encyclopedia Britannica says, “There was some movement upwards from the south of Judah of groups closely related to Edomite and kindred peoples of South Palestine and Northern Arabia. The immigrants, like the new occupants of Samaria, gradually assimilated themselves to the new soil (subsequently) the Edomites were responsible for a new catastrophe” (“Palestine,” 11th ed., vol. 20).

They began claiming the lands formerly occupied by the peoples of Israel and Judah. They said, “These two countries (Israel and Judah) shall be mine, and we will possess them” (Ez. 35:10).

What did God think of the Edomites, who had appropriated Israel’s land as their own? “Thus says the Lord God: Surely I have spoken in My burning jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Idumea, who gave My land (promised to Judah and Israel) to themselves as a possession, with whole-hearted joy and spiteful minds, in order to plunder its open country” (Ez. 36:5)!

God solemnly declares He will punish the Edomites for their hatred and cruelty toward His people. “Because you have had an ancient hatred, and have shed the blood of the children of Israel! By the power of the sword at the time of their calamity, therefore, as I live, says the Lord God, I will prepare you for blood, and blood shall pursue you since thou have not hated blood, therefore, blood shall pursue you” (Ez. 35:5-6; Isa. 34:1-10).

Later, during the time of the Hasmonean kingdom of the Maccabees, a Jewish priest-king called John Hyrcanus (135-104 B.C.) forced those Edomites living in Idumea to be circumcised and convert to the Jewish religion and customs, “He conquered Idumea (Edom) and compelled its inhabitants to adopt Judaism” (Encyclopedia Judaica, “Hyrcanus, John.” Vol. 8).This blurred temporarily, the distinctions between Jew and Edomite. Yet numerous New Testament references show conclusively that those same Edomites, including Herod the Great, later committed terrible atrocities against the Jewish people including the killing of babies at Bethlehem in his attempt to murder the infant Jesus Christ (Matt. 2:16).

About 70 years later, during Rome’s war against Judea in 66-70 A.D. 20,000 heavily armed Idumean troops were treacherously admitted into Jerusalem, and mercilessly butchered tens of thousands of Jews (Josephus, War of the Jews, bk. 4, chaps. 4-5).

Is there a faint flicker of hope indicating that the ancient enmity that has troubled the Arabs and Israelis during much of this century may at last come to an end?

Both the Old and New Testaments make it clear that Israel’s most spiteful enemies were the Edomites. And it was they who harassed and slaughtered the Israelites time after time. It was the Edomites not the Philistines or Ishmaelites-- who, a few centuries before Christ, pushed northward into the heartland of Judah, even claiming the ancient Jewish city of Hebron as their own.

In modern times some of these same people’s descendants have resorted to frequent acts of terrorism, destruction, mayhem and bloodshed, openly declaring that, if they get their chance, they will drive the Israelis into the sea! The bitterness that some Palestinians have shown, both toward Israel and toward the United States, is but a continuation of an ancient hatred between the descendants of Esau and Jacob! Consider incidents such as the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the massacre of Americans on the Achille Lauro cruise ship in 1985, or the Israeli athletes butchered at Munich in 1972 when Palestinian terrorists invaded the Olympic Village.

Bible prophecies reveal that, after yet a future bloodbath the Arab-Israeli conflict will finally be resolved, not my men, but by the Prince of Peace, who at long last, will teach all nations the way of peace (Isa. 9: 6-7; Micah 4:1-5). Then, and only then, will the troubles between the Israelis and the Palestines be resolved. God speed that day!

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