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Israeli Lawmaker: There Can’t Be a Palestine Because Arabic Has No ‘P’

An Israeli lawmaker suggested that the etymology of the word Palestine affected land rights issues.

A Jewish settler (L unseen) places the Israeli flag on a road sign while Israeli troops encircle Palestinian villagers protesting after the Israeli army cut off branches of olive trees on a road leading to the Jewish settlement of Tekoa, in the occupied West Bank, southeast of the town of Bethlehem, on November 25, 2013. Israeli authorities have given the go-ahead for the construction of 829 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, settlement watchdog Peace Now said. AFP PHOTO/MUSA AL-SHAER        (Photo credit should read MUSA AL-SHAER/AFP/Getty Images)
A Jewish settler (L unseen) places the Israeli flag on a road sign while Israeli troops encircle Palestinian villagers protesting after the Israeli army cut off branches of olive trees on a road leading to the Jewish settlement of Tekoa, in the occupied West Bank, southeast of the town of Bethlehem, on November 25, 2013. Israeli authorities have given the go-ahead for the construction of 829 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, settlement watchdog Peace Now said. AFP PHOTO/MUSA AL-SHAER (Photo credit should read MUSA AL-SHAER/AFP/Getty Images)

Arabs and Jews have spent decades fighting over disputed territory they both claim is rightfully their own. But how could Palestine possibly be the name of Arab land if native Arabic speakers can’t even pronounce the letter “P”?

That’s a point that was raised by Anat Berko, an Israeli lawmaker and member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party, during a debate over the two-state solution in the Knesset Wednesday.

“There isn’t even a ‘p’ in Arabic,” she said. “It’s a borrowed term that’s worth analyzing.”

The Arabic alphabet does not have a direct equivalent for the “puh” sound, and the Arabic name for “Palestine” is said “Falesteen.”

Tamar Zandberg, a lawmaker from Meretz, a left-wing secular party that supports a two-state solution, didn’t think that analyzing Berko’s point was worth anyone’s time.

“Are you for real?” she yelled at Berko. A number of opposition lawmakers joined Zandberg in criticizing Berko as she reportedly repeated “There is no ‘puh’ sound!” over and over again.

“The source of the name is clear,” Berko added.

According to the Jerusalem Post, that was a reference to Palestina, the Roman name for the area. Berko was in effect arguing that the term isn’t connected to the Arabs living in the region as a way of invalidating their claims to the territory.

The Jewish Virtual Library maintains that the origin of the word Palestine remains at least partially unknown, and could be related to the Egyptian and Hebrew word “peleshet,” which was used to describe migrating populations also known as the Philistines. Another variant of the word Palestine reportedly appeared in Greek literature as early as the fifth century BC.

“There are attempts by some, MKs too, to lead the state into chaos and bring in subversive forces to light a fire between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and that is a bad attempt,” she said.

Photo Credit: MUSA AL-SHAER/AFP/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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