Palestine, the biblical Holy Land, named for the Philistines and also called Canaan. Its boundaries, often imprecise, have varied widely. Palestine now usually refers to the region bounded by the Mediterranean on the west, the Jordan River and the Dead Sea on the east, Mt. Hermon on the Syria-Lebanon border to the north, and the Sinai Peninsula in the south. It includes almost all of modern Israel and extends, as well, into present-day Jordan and Egypt. There were Paleolithic and Mesolithic cultures in Palestine, and Neolithic Jericho emerged by about 7000 B.C. Semitic peoples arrived about 3000 B.C. and founded a Bronze Age civilization. About 1000 B.C., after warring against Canaanites and Philistines, the Jews succeeded in establishing a kingdom that later split into Israel to the north and Judah to the south. In the eighth century B.C. the Assyrians overran Israel and in the sixth century B.C., Judah was conquered by the Babylonians. Palestine later fell to Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies of Egypt, and the Seleucids of Syria. An independent Jewish state arose again briefly in the second century B.C., but the region was then incorporated into the Roman empire. In the fourth century A.D., control passed to the Byzantines and the conquest of Palestine by the Arabs, beginning in A.D. 630, marked the beginning of 1300 years of Muslim rule, which ended with the collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1918.
In response to Zionism, Jews had been emigrating to Palestine since the 1850s. Seeking to establish a Jewish homeland, the immigrants met with increasing resistance and hostility from Muslim Palestinians. With its Bal-four Declaration in 1917, the British government, which had become dominant in the region after World War I, left an ambiguous legacy that satisfied neither Muslims nor Jews. Between the two world wars, Jewish immigration increased as did political tensions between Jews and Muslims. Following World War II and the Nazi-organized mass murders of European Jews, there was a mass exodus to Palestine. In 1948, the Jews accepted a U.N. recommendation to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, but the Arabs rejected partition. The British left the region and, since the founding of Israel, Palestine has been the focal point of a struggle between the State of Israel and its Arab neighbors and inhabitants, a struggle that has resulted in chronic warfare and terrorism. As a result of an agreement between Israel and the PLO (1993), limited authority was given to the Gaza Strip and Jericho.