Words matter

If Orwell’s principle were applied to today’s coverage of Israel, the list of useless terms might include settlements, West Bank, Green Line, East Jerusalem and militants.

By
January 10, 2015 23:00
3 minute read.
Jordan Valley

Houses can be seen at the Jewish West Bank settlement of Maale Efrayim in the Jordan Valley. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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In his celebrated essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell asserts that good writers should “send some worn-out and useless phrase – some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse – into the dustbin, where it belongs.” If Orwell’s principle were applied to today’s coverage of Israel, the list of useless terms might include settlements, West Bank, Green Line, East Jerusalem and militants.

These key terms are loaded with more than objective meaning. The ways they are abused – and endlessly repeated – affect the understanding and the way people react.

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Unfortunately, they are a subset of the category of euphemism known as “politically correct,” which is neither helpful politically nor morally correct, particularly regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s the terminology that actually defines the conflict and defines what you think about the conflict,” says Ari Briggs, director of Regavim, an Israeli NGO that deals with legal land-use issues. “Whereas the journalists’ job, I believe, is to present the news, as soon as you use certain terminology, you’re presenting an opinion and not the news anymore.”

How does this work? In the Middle East, as might be expected, some terms have evolved in peculiar ways. “Palestinians,” to cite just one example, used to refer to the Jewish population of British Mandatory Palestine.

Settlers, those Palestinian Jews who before and during the Mandate established agricultural settlements and made the desert bloom a century before the Start-up Nation appeared, used to be national heroes. Today the term settler is used pejoratively to refer to a member of a Jewish community in the so-called West Bank, and is usually associated with the labels of extremism or racism.

And what happened to Judea and Samaria? They are the Roman occupiers’ Latinized translation of the biblical Hebrew names Yehuda and Shomron, which are faithfully used by the government of Israel but ignored by the world’s media.



In the best of rainy seasons, the Jordan River is only a few meters wide. The claim that its western bank is some 65 kilometers wide, encompassing Judea and Samaria, is patently absurd and just demonstrates how politicized terminology drives the ongoing conflict.

What is even more absurd about “West Bank” usage is the fact that the Jordanian government adopted the term in the 1950s in an attempt to legitimize its illegal occupation of the region as the result of its aggression in 1948. Before Israel’s War of Independence, the British Mandatory authorities commonly referred to the area as Judea and Samaria.

Which brings us to another non-geographical term that everyone uses, but few understand: the Green Line. This term, which has become synonymous with “Palestinian territories,” is not an international border but a line drawn on a map in 1949 to demarcate the cease-fire line ending the first Arab war against the nascent State of Israel.

The Green Line ceased to exist in the 1967 Six Day War, when the 19-year-old armistice was shattered by the armies of Jordan, Egypt and Syria attacking Israel.

Another ideology-driven, but geographically impossible term is “East” Jerusalem. The unique compass used by the foreign media seems to have only one direction: east. There is no designation “East Jerusalem” (capital E), such as East London; but Israel’s capital has southern, northern, western and eastern neighborhoods.

This fact fails to impress foreign journalists and politicians, ironically regarding the capital’s southernmost neighborhood, Gilo, whose land was purchased from its Arab owners by Dov Joseph on behalf of the Jewish National Fund before 1948. Gilo was once indeed occupied territory: it was Jordanian-occupied Israeli territory from 1948 to 1967, after which its Israeli sovereignty was restored.

Another term whose abuse has more worrisome, moral implications is used to refer to murderers – differently, depending on the dictates of PC. Thus one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and so on. But referring to massacres by Islamic State as carried out by militants and not terrorists makes an immoral statement.

Back in Jerusalem, accuracy in reporting is about to face the test of a new propaganda offensive by the Palestinian Authority. In its ongoing attempt to rewrite history in asserting its claim on Israel’s capital, the PA attempted to persuade the BBC to stop using the term “Temple Mount” to describe the plateau on which the Jewish people’s First and Second Temples were built. Instead, Haram al-Sharif (the Nobel Sanctuary) is preferred, which houses the Dome of the Rock and the Aksa Mosque.

Of course, if the Temple never existed, as some Palestinian scholars claim, then Jesus would never have cleared out the money changers, and where would that leave Christianity?

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