Language is a powerful yet deceptive thing. It can be used to convey someone’s plight and it can also be used to hide unpalatable sordid deeds. Nowhere are words adulterated more for political ends than in Israel and Palestine today. It is no secret that Israel employs a legion of well-funded propagandists, and it also relies on self-appointed members of the press–the pro bono apologists, who serve the same purpose. Just like the lopsided imbalance of military power, the means to command and change language rests primarily with pro-Israeli propagandists. Their language obfuscates and exculpates Israel’s actions against a basically defenseless population; it perpetuates the injustices and contributes to a continuation of Israel’s occupation and theft of more land.
To make sense of the situation and to peer through the fog, a fraction of the post-Oslo commonly abused terms are translated in this glossary.
Imprisonment without charges, trial, sometimes without legal representation, for undefined terms. Imprisonment usually takes place in prisons and even in a concentration camp in the Negev desert.
Confiscation of land. Israel confiscates/steals land, and to legalize its claims it engages in “bilateral negotiations.” There have been no bilateral negotiations about Palestinian claims pertaining to land inside the Green line.
Bypass road network
Exclusive Israeli-only roads carving up the West Bank and Gaza — the concrete manifestation of the policy to divide and rule. All Palestinian property within an arbitrary range of the road is bulldozed, all trees uprooted. Bypass refers to the fact that the roads avoid Palestinian towns.
Caught in crossfire
Choke points strangulating Palestinian economic activity by closing roads and not letting any Palestinians pass without lengthy and often unnecessary humiliating personal searches.
An unequal contest.Clashes suggest that two equal forces are slugging it out, but the Israelis happen to have one of the most powerful armies in the world.
Closed military area
A demarcation for the press and observers to stay out so that they won’t witness the depredations of the occupation forces.
Siege and curfew. Curfew is implemented for weeks on end thereby creating an end to normal life for all innocent civilians.
Cycle of violence
Disproportionate violence. “It suggests, at best, two equal sides, never that the Palestinians are resisting violent oppression with violence.” John Pilger, New Statesman, July 1, 02.
“Yes, there is a cycle and the violence is disproportionate, but what is missing is the context. Why is there violence at all? The standard refrain, when it is rarely mentioned, is there is “hatred” on both sides. But since Israelis are like us (fun loving and child hugging) and we don’t think of ourselves as hate-filled, then it must be the other side, the Arabs, who are hateful. Add the history of persecution of Jews into the mix, and what you have is a cycle of violence based on Arab hatred of the Jews. Presto, we arrive at the Israeli propaganda line.” Nabeel Abraham.
Chauvinist ethnocracy. During the apartheid years in South Africa Whites also claimed to have a democracy and were rightly ridiculed for this posturing. Israel isn’t much different, and its political system cannot be praised or labelled “democracy” due to its systematic oppression of others. Democracy is inclusive; the Israeli political system excludes a large portion of the population. Israel is the only country making a distinction between citizenship and nationality. Thus Palestinians living in Israel have an Israeli citizenship, and an “Arab” nationality. Democracy applies to the Jewish nationals, not to the citizens of the state. There are Arab members of the Knesset, but their rights are curtailed in the Jewish state. Palestinians in the occupied territories have zero democratic rights although they are forced to pay some taxes to Israel–a case of taxation without representation.
“Israeli newspeak for keeping the Arabs from outnumbering Israeli Jews.” –Nabeel Abraham
Expulsion or exile. The dictionary definition of deportation: banishment of an undesirable person to their native land. Given that Palestinians are natives, thus legal residents, their expulsion is an imposed exile. Furthermore, the term deportation implies that the Israelis are just pursuing legal procedures. The dubious nature of the appeals process and the simultaneous demolition of the victims’ homes contravene the Geneva Convention.
Harshest admonishment uttered by the US gov’t in response to Israeli bombings or assassinations. By implication a “proportionate” response–killing less people–is acceptable. The complicating factor of the usual Israeli actions is the press coverage. However, “proportional” responses are ignored.
Occupied territories. Curiously enough this term was coined by the US gov’t under Clinton. Language reflects policy preference and the nature of the US “mediators”. (see honest broker)
Facts on the ground
Settlements. At best they are considered bargaining chips, at worst they are considered immutable.
Final status negotiation
Chimera. The Oslo framework stipulated negotiations dealing with matters of substance and most important to solve the conflict. Note these negotiations are always in the future. Current negotiations deal mostly with issues of interest to Israel, e.g., security, confiscation of more land (see bypass road network).
Demand for surrender. Anything that the Israelis offer is generous, and should be accepted. The Camp David II “generous offer” amounted to an offer of a fraction of the West Bank and Gaza, no control over borders, limited removal of settlements, and no sovereignty, yet this was supposed to be generous. In good faith negotiations the parties have a right to refuse an offer without admonishment.
Palestinians out. “Zoned areas in the Israeli-occupied Arab residential areas of the territories which are protected allegedly for environmental reasons. A legal sleight of hand to prevent Arab development.” –Nabeel Abraham
Catch all opposition group. An Islamic opposition group fostered by the Israeli secret services during the first intifada. Its purpose was to undermine the support for the PLO. Since then it has become an effective opposition force opposed to Arafat’s sell out. Anyone voicing criticism of the “peace process” is automatically classed as a Hamas supporter. Several leading intellectuals who objected to Arafat’s shoddy approach to negotiations earned themselves a Hamas label by both Israelis and the Palestinian “authority”.
Held in detention
Hostages. Practice that became common during the first intifada whereby Israeli occupation forces imprison family members of wanted persons. Several Lebanese hostages have languished in prison without charge, trial, and with no prospect for release. Shaykh Ubayd has been held for more than 13 years. They are held even though the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon has come to a partial end.
The United States. The country supplying Israel with most of its weapons and giving no-strings-attached economic handouts–several billion dollars every year not counting forgiven loans.
Attack. “The latest euphemism, ‘incursion’, is from the vocabulary of lies coined in Vietnam. It means assaulting human beings with tanks and planes.” John Pilger, New Statesman, July 1, 02.
Palestinian News, Education. Describing the consequences of occupation to its own population. The term “instilling hatred” is used to describe any Palestinian news or information, and forms the justification to bomb Palestinian TV and radio stations, and even target individuals linked to some schools. Also a justification to remove accreditation of all Palestinian journalists. Israelis find it galling to be called assassins, thieves, and occupiers. Palestinians are not allowed to convey their experience to others. Palestinian existence is criminalized, and so is their voice.
Israeli Defense Forces, IDF
Occupation Forces. I “D” F confers some legitimacy, but it is a misplaced respect for a fully equipped army of occupation.
the “Israeli side”. Today’s euphemism for the occupation forces. Azmi Bishara, July 25, 2002, Al Ahram A curious adoption of a euphemism by both Israelis and the Palestinian “authority”.
Offers you can’t refuse. “In essence, Israel holds most of the ‘cards’ and its willingness to use the population as hostages, coercing the Palestinian leadership to accede to ever more onerous demands.” Dr. Majed Nassar
Israeli desire to determine the outcome of negotiations on the basis of balance of power instead of a balance of justice.
Man of Peace
Resistance. Western media cannot portray the Palestinian resistance as military because this label obviously doesn’t apply. Instead they use “militants” also conveying the impression of armed gangs, and therefore easier to justify Israeli assassinations. (see targeted killings)
Moderate physical pressure
Torture. Israel is the only country in the world where torture is legal and used routinely.
Subsidized settlement expansion. Justification to continue expanding settlements. Every time demands are made for Israel to stop building settlements on occupied land, its retort is that expansion of existing settlements must continue to accommodate “natural growth”, i.e., the subsidized stream of immigrant colonialists. Many of the settlements have a large percentage of empty housing, bringing into question the need for further expansion.
Human shields “The use of a local resident as a ‘human shield’ is a war crime. That was confirmed, on live television, by a senior reserve officer, the former president of the highest military court. The Fourth Geneva Convention expressly forbids the use of ‘protected persons’ (as the convention calls inhabitants of an occupied territory) for such purpose. This practice, like the practice of compelling Palestinian neighbors to tour buildings suspected of being booby-trapped, is similar to the killing of hostages in retaliation for resistance actions It was disclosed that this is a widely-used method, which has even been given a regular military appellation: ‘neighbor practice’. Not long ago the army promised the Supreme Court to give up the practice [but] had no intention at all of fulfilling the promise.” –Uri Avnery, Palestine Chronicle, Aug. 19, 02
Settlement. Israelis and their apologists insist that Gilo is just another neighborhood of Jerusalem. The fact is that it is built on illegally confiscated occupied land–thus a settlement.
No building permit
Order for destruction. An excuse to demolish Palestinian homes. Israeli buildings built without a permit are issued with one retroactively and are spared. No Israeli-owned home has ever been demolished for lacking a permit. Palestinians cannot in general obtain building permits.
Another attack. Military operations are given names to make them more palatable–it is a military marketing gimmick. Any journalist referring to an attack on refugee camps by the operation’s name is in the very least not trying to be objective.
[Note that Ariel Sharon’s pronunciation of this is closer to “piss process.” He seldom refers to “peace” as an outcome. He is always in favor of the peace process, but not peace.] Ruse to placate world opinion. A perpetual process not intended to reach any conclusion. A means for Israelis to gain time and consolidate their hold on the occupied territories by expanding the “facts on the ground”, i.e., the settlements. From their viewpoint, the longer the negotiations leading to endless haggle the better. Occasionally, if negotiations are advancing, they may need a timely disruption, e.g., hold an election and it is time to start the negotiations all over again!
Case closed. Of 25 Israeli army investigations in the past 22 months, six were closed without a result; others have yet to be completed. “The army hardly ever opens investigations into cases of unlawful killing,” says Lior Yavne, Btselem’s spokesman. “The army is basically conducting a policy of impunity. Soldiers realize they can do anything they want and they will not face problems.” –Marie Colvin, “Cruel death of a West Bank local hero”, Sunday Times, July 21, 02
Grudging Israeli pullout of occupying forces over the area it chooses, on a timescale it determines, and only after it obtains guarantees that the local population will be policed to its satisfaction. No settlements are ever dismantled, only areas where the cost of occupation has become too high.
Proof of residency
ID confiscation. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are often asked to show their ID papers to prove their residency rights. Often police confiscate the identity papers, and thereby these people lose their right of residency. It often leads to the families in question being split up and losing their homes. The victims of this bureaucratic “transfer” policy number in the thousands. ID papers are generally not reissued–the victims cannot prove their residency because the papers were confiscated. Photocopies of ID papers aren’t considered valid proof to reissue documents.
Satrap selection. Political transformation that delivers the collaborators with Israelis and Americans. Any politician signing up to this must accept to oppress their own population to comply with Israeli/US demands. Arafat had signed on, but couldn’t deliver.
Pretext to flatten homes, clear agricultural fields, trees, and so on. Making a lunar landscape out of the West Bank and Gaza.
Kinder/Gentler Aggression. “If this is the latest Israeli military spin, the reality for Palestinians is that even ‘restraint’ by the Israeli army is enough to make their lives miserable. The army may no longer be destroying vast chunks of Palestinian cities, but it continues to terrify Palestinian civilians by indiscriminate shooting. The army still sends tanks and troops into Palestinian towns for forays of several days, as it did in Jenin last week, or for a single night as it did twice in the northern part of the Gaza strip. Curfews are slapped on or lifted without notice, making life for all Palestinians unpredictable and humiliating.” Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, August 9, 02.
Retaliation, or Israelis never initiate violence, they always respond.
State terror, or wholesale violence. The actions taken as reprisals are: (1) collective punishment on targets unrelated to the original action, and (2) totally out of proportion to the original action. On both accounts the actions are in contravention of the Geneva Conventions. Several times Israel has wrecked ceasefire agreements by assassinations or deliberate actions meant to aggravate the situation.
Right of Return
Bringing in your people to displace us. “We regard it as morally wrong that this legal entitlement should be bestowed on us while the very people who should have most right to a genuine ‘return’, having been forced or terrorised into fleeing, are excluded.” letter by British Jews renouncing their “right of return”, The Guardian, Aug. 8, 02.
The “right of return” requires a determination to drive out the native population–it is all in the name of creating lebensraum.
Stones. Palestinians throw stones at soldiers in tanks and armored vehicles–it is a symbol of defiance and resistance.
Their security. Demand that the occupiers not be attacked, and that the violence not spill over into Israel proper. Security always refers to the safety of Israelis, it never refers to Palestinian concerns.
The stolen land. Jews-only garrison villages built on violently confiscated Palestinian land. The purpose of the settlements is to make a permanent claim to the land, and impede the formation of a Palestinian State. These garrison villages always appear on Israeli maps, whereas the Palestinian villages whose land was confiscated for the same settlements disappear from the maps.
Strongholds, nests of terror
Refugee camps, home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, mostly refugees from villages conquered by Israelis.
Grounds for imprisonment or assassination. ” to say nothing of many thousands of ‘suspects’ rounded-up and still imprisoned by Israeli soldiers” Edward Said, Punishment by Detail, Aug. 8, 02. (see administrative detention)
Assassination where a military commander plays the role of judge, jury, and executioner. It lists as a war crime under the Geneva Conventions where the occupier has a duty towards the captive population.
“Nobody asks whether all these people killed were in fact terrorists, or proved to be terrorists, or were about to become terrorists.” Edward Said, Punishment by Detail, Aug. 8, 02.
Retail violence, resistance. An oppressed population has a right to resist and use violence when there is no alternative. Its violence is labeled “terrorism”, and judged to be illegitimate. Israeli violence is always found to have redeeming characteristics. (see retaliation)
“A euphemism for replacing Arabs by Jews, reminiscent of some uses of ‘urban planning’ in the United States.” Noam Chomsky in The New Intifada.
The obscene euphemism for ethnic cleansing (which is itself a euphemism).
Accounts of Israeli forces’ depredations. Reports are only confirmed when either Israelis say so or when “Western” journalists report them. Palestinian accounts of events don’t count to substantiate a report, and at best are ascribed the “alleged” adjective.
Paul de Rooij lives in London, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org