A Primer on Israeli Doublespeak

It is indeed a great irony that George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, the same year Israel was created. For this nation, above all others, has proven itself most adept in the use and promulgation of doublespeak.

Defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “evasive, ambiguous, high-flown language intended to deceive or confuse,” Israeli governments have always relied on it to justify the expansionist nature of their state, excuse the confiscation of land and minimize the extent to which its inhabitants have been mistreated or abused.

A few examples:

The Security Fence

The monstrosity which Israel is constructing along the entire length of the West Bank is no more for security than it is a fence. The barrier, started in 2003 and now more than half complete, is scheduled to run over 450 miles and reach a height of 25 feet ­ four times longer than and twice as high as the former Berlin Wall. Composed of concrete and electrified wire, surrounded by trenches and mounted with strategically positioned sniper towers, calling it a “fence” is more than farcical.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled construction of the barrier illegal (a verdict, of course, ignored). Within the last week, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued a report indicating that it will “restrict access to workplaces, health, education, and to places of worship.” In addition, it fully recognized that Arab-majority East Jerusalem will be severed from the West Bank by its route. In another area, 50,000 Palestinians would be completely isolated and restricted to the zone between it and Israel resulting in their inability “to access critical services such as schools, clinics and shops in either Israel or the West Bank without special permits.”

More telling is where the barrier is being built. According to the UN report, 80% of it on West Bank land.

The “security fence” is thus an offensive structure rather than the defensive one it purports to be. It is just one illustration of how Israel attempts to obfuscate a reality ­ in this case, a very expensive land grab – through use of language.

Moderate Physical Pressure and Work Accidents

Israel was at one time the only country to officially sanction the use of torture, euphemistically referred to as “moderate physical pressure.” Lea Tsemel, a defense lawyer and founder of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) remarked, “Israel is the only Western country that openly uses torture. This is not some brute in the secret services beating up a prisoner. It’s done in the open. There is quiet legitimation by a high-ranking commission and government ministers” (New York Times, May 8, 1997).

The Sunday Times had already arrived at the same conclusion in June 1977: “Torture of Arab prisoners is so widespread and systematic that it cannot be dismissed as ‘rogue cops’ exceeding orders. It appears to be sanctioned as deliberate policy.”

Whenever a detainee died under torture, it was dismissed as an unfortunate “work accident.” It took a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1999 to ban the practice. Unfortunately they have now reversed themselves. A judgment issued this past June allows Shin Bet to use methods regarded by PCATI as torture when in a “ticking bomb” situation. With likely wide interpretation of this circumstance, it appears a green light has just been issued to reinstate the practice.

The Absent Present

This bizarre term was used describe those Palestinians who were not driven out of Palestine in 1948, but remained within what was to later become Israel. If they temporarily left their homes or were away from their land during the war, they were prevented from reclaiming it. Confiscation of the property of the “absent present” was then permitted (Haaretz, January 14, 1955).

The Abandoned Areas

“We take the land first and the law comes after.”

– Yehoshafat Palmon, Arab Affairs advisor to the mayor of Jerusalem (Guardian, April 26, 1972).

Whether to assuage the conscience of emigrating Jews or not, the Zionists who founded Israel passed a series of discriminatory laws with harmless and protective sounding titles explicitly for the purpose of expropriating inhabited Palestinian land. In some instances, these laws were made retroactive.

They carried such names as the Emergency Defense Regulations, the Abandoned Areas Ordinance, the Emergency Articles for the Exploitation of Uncultivated Lands, and as described above, the Absentee Property Law.

These laws all attempted to reinforce the myth peddled by Zionists depicting Palestine as “a land without a people.” Nonetheless, they were aptly described by the Jewish writer Moshe Keren as “wholesale robbery with a legal coating.”

Definition of Israeli doublespeak: the use of language to hide crimes of the state.

It would surely make Big Brother proud.

RANNIE AMIRI is an independent commentator on issues dealing with the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at: rbamiri@yahoo.com.


1. Zayid, Ismail. Zionism: The Myth and the Reality. American Trust Publications, Indianapolis, 1980.



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Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on Middle East affairs.

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