“Gaza,” “Israel,” — learn the powerful history of these words

The Gaza Strip — also referred to as just Gaza — has made international headlines again. On Sunday, the Israeli government announced that it will ease the overland blockage of some goods into the Palestinian territory.

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 19th century, labeled unsophisticated townspeople “philister.”

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.”

For extra credit: What is the West Bank the western bank of?

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