“Gaza” And “Israel”: Learn The Powerful History Of These Words

The Gaza Strip—also referred to as just Gaza—is often in international headlines. How well do you know the meaning of this name?

What does Gaza mean?

The word Gaza comes from the Hebrew Azzah, loosely meaning “strong city.” The entire region is named for its capital city, which has been conquered many times over the centuries. Among its many rulers were the Philistines.

The theme of “strength” is indirectly connected to Gaza in the Bible. According to the book of Judges, the superhuman-strong Samson was imprisoned in Gaza by the Philistines, before regaining his strength and destroying the temple of Dagon.

And it’s no coincidence that Philistines looks a little like Palestinians, the modern-day citizens of Gaza. The word Palestine is derived from a Hebrew word for “land of the Philistines.”

The word philistine has taken on a derogatory sense in English, meaning a defiantly uncultured person. But this language bastardization didn’t happen in the Middle East. It came by way of Germany, where snobby university students, starting in the early 1800s, labeled unsophisticated townspeople philister.

Where does the name Israel come from?

The modern nation of Israel derives its name from the Biblical land of the Israelites, who, according to the Old Testament, were the namesake of the man formerly known as Jacob. According to the book of Genesis, (to make a long story short) Jacob wrestled with a mysterious being for an entire night, and having held off the divine being, Jacob was renamed Israel, a word with many meanings but generally interpreted as “one who prevails.”