What is 'Israel-Palestine'?

It’s common to hear the term “Israel-Palestine” when referring to either Israel or the Palestinian Territories, particularly in academic circles. Students and professors in any American college —  from your local college to an Ivy League university — are likely  to refer to “Israel-Palestine” (also written as “Israel/Palestine”) as if that was the name of a country. In this age of extreme political correctness, apparently many are willing to overlook the little fact that there is no such country of “Israel-Palestine.”

Most people are probably not using the term out of spite.  Rather it seems the majority use it for precisely the opposite effect: they want to be as politically sensitive and least offensive as possible when discussing a highly charged topic. Yet professors and other academics that have the responsibility to teach, tend to ignore this phrase rather than correct it. Instead, they sometimes adopt it themselves. This misstatement has become indicative of a greater problem of teaching sensitive topics such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, and there is no easy answer for how it should be improved. What is clear however is that unambiguous inaccuracies need to be corrected, and “Israel-Palestine” is one such inaccuracy.

The term “Israel-Palestine” has traditionally been used by those of a more left-leaning and pro-Palestinian persuasion. Some use it to give legitimacy to the Palestinian narrative and cause, others to de-legitimize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and still others simply because they believe it the least offensive term in a conflict where the mere name “Israel” can exude angst and disdain.

Open up an Iranian or Arab newspaper, and it is very possible you will read a report out of “Occupied Palestine,” which refers not just to the West Bank and Gaza Strip but to all of Israel as well. In their view, the very idea of a Jewish state is illegitimate. The fact that there are at least 56 Muslim states, and that the Palestinian Authority’s own draft constitution states that Islam is its official religion, is willfully overlooked. Some states don’t even like acknowledging Israel’s existence, and thus simply refer to it as the “Zionist Entity.”

Regardless of whether certain countries and people feel Israel has a right to exist, the reality is that it does exist and has been a member state of the United Nations since 1948. Palestine on the other hand, does not. This is not meant to de-legitimize the existence of a Palestinian national identity or people, both of which very clearly are present in the world today. Rather it simply means that at the current time there is no independent, sovereign state of Palestine. Both according to the definitions of the United Nations and the older Montevideo Convention, “Palestine” would not be considered a sovereign state. This is due to the fact that there is little agreement whether between Hamas and Fatah, or the Arabs and Israelis, as to what the territory and borders of a state of Palestine would include.

In conversations with Palestinians and Israelis alike I found that both see the name “Israel-Palestine” rather odd. Israelis feel it is part of a continuous campaign since its declaration of independence in 1948 to de-legitimize its existence. Palestinians feel such a name takes away from their ability to be viewed independently of Israel. If you were to attend a lecture at a university in Tel Aviv, Ramallah or Gaza City, it is very unlikely you would hear anybody refer to an “Israel-Palestine.” When you land in Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, it does not say “Welcome to Israel-Palestine” it says “Welcome to Israel.”

Why then, has such a term become so commonplace in the halls of America’s finest academic institutions, and why is nobody doing anything about it? Next time you hear somebody say they just returned from a trip to “Israel-Palestine,” you may want to ask them to correct themselves.