Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


The language of the Israeli occupation

The language of the Israeli occupation

Semantics of the Israeli occupiers
By Uri Avnery

Imagine a war breaking out between Israel and Jordan. Within two or three days the Israeli army occupies the entire territory of the Hashemite Kingdom. What will be the first act of the occupation authority?

Establish a settlement in Petra? Expropriate land near Aqaba?

No. The very first thing will be to decree that the territory will henceforth be known as “Gilead and Moab”.

All the media will be ordered to use the biblical name. All government and court documents will adopt it. Except for the radical left, nobody will mention Jordan anymore. All applications by the inhabitants will be addressed to the Military Government of Gilead and Moab.

Why? Because annexation starts with words.

Words convey ideas. Words implant concepts in the minds of their hearers and speakers. Once they are firmly established, everything else follows.

The writers of the Bible already knew this. They taught “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” (Proverbs 18:21). For how many years now have we been eating the fruit of “Judea and Samaria”?

When Vladimir Putin last week restored the old name of “New Russia” to the territory of eastern Ukraine, it was not just a semantic change. It was a claim for annexation, more powerful than a salvo of cannon shots.

“Peace” vs “political settlement”

Recently I listened to a speech by a left-wing politician, and was disturbed when she spoke at length about her struggle for a “political settlement” with the Palestinians.

When I remonstrated with her, she apologized. It was a slip of the tongue. She had not meant it that way.

In Israeli politics, the word “peace” has become poison. “Political settlement” is the vogue term. It is meant to say the same. But of course, it doesn’t.

“Peace” means much more than the formal end of warfare. It contains elements of reconciliation, of something spiritual. In Hebrew and Arabic, Shalom/Salaam include wellbeing, safety and serve as greetings. “Political settlement” means nothing but a document formulated by lawyers and signed by politicians.

The “Peace of Westphalia” put an end to 30 years of war and changed the life of Europe. One may wonder whether a “Political settlement of Westphalia” would have had the same effect.

The Bible enjoins us: “Seek peace and pursue it!” (Psalms, 34:14) It does not say “Seek a political settlement and pursue it.”

When the Israeli left gives up the term Peace, this is not a tactical retreat. It is a rout. Peace is a vision, a political ideal, a religious commandment, an inspiring idea. Political settlement is a subject for discussion.

“West Bank” vs “Judea and Samaria”

Peace is not the only victim of semantic terrorism. Another is, of course, the West Bank.

All TV channels have long ago been ordered by the government not to use this term. Most journalists in the written media also march in step. They call it “Judea and Samaria”.

“Judea and Samaria” means that the territory belongs to Israel, even if official annexation may be delayed for political reasons. “West Bank” means that this is occupied territory.

By itself, there is nothing sacred about the term “West Bank”, which was adopted by the Jordanian ruler when he illegally incorporated the area in his newly extended kingdom. This was done in secret collusion with David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, who wanted to erase the name “Palestine” from the map. The legal basis was a phoney conference of Palestinian “notables” in Jericho.

King Abdallah of Jordan divided his fief into the East Bank (of the Jordan river) and the West Bank.

So why do we insist on using this term? Because it means that this is not a part of Israel, but Arab land that will belong – like the Gaza Strip – to the state of Palestine when peace (sorry, a political settlement) is achieved.

Until now, the semantic battle remains undecided. Most Israelis talk about the “West Bank”. “Judea and Samaria” has remained, in common parlance, the realm of the settlers.

Jewish squatters: “Mitnahalim” vs “Mityashvim”

The setlers, of course, are the subject of a similar semantic battle.

In Hebrew, there are two terms: Mitnahalim and Mityashvim. They essentially mean the same. But in common usage, people use Mitnahalim when they mean the settlers in the occupied territories, and Mityashvim when they speak about settlers in Israel proper.

The battle between these two words goes on daily. It is a fight for or against the legitimacy of the settlement beyond the Green Line. Up to now, our side seems to have the upper hand. The distinction remains intact. If someone uses the term Mityashvim, they are automatically identified with the political right.

The Green Line

The Green Line itself is, of course, a leftist concept. It makes a clear distinction between Israel proper and the occupied territories. The colour comes from the fact that this border – actually the 1949 armistice line – was always marked on the maps in green. Until…

Until the (left-wing) minister of labour, Yigal Alon, decreed that henceforth the Green Line would no longer be marked on any map. Under an old law dating back to the British Mandate, the government owns the copyright for all maps printed in the country, and the minister of labour was in charge.

This remained so until Gush Shalom sued the government in the Supreme Court. Our argument was that since on the two sides of this line different laws apply, the citizens must have a map that shows them what law they have to obey at a given place. The ministry gave in and promised the court that it would print maps with the Green Line marked.

For lack of an alternative, all Israelis use the term “Green Line”. Since rightists do not recognize this line at all, they have not invented an alternative word. For some time they tried the term “Seam-Line”, but this did not catch on.

“Occupied territories” vs “liberated territories”, “administered territories” and “disputed territories”

A line between what? At the beginning of the occupation, the question arose what to call the areas just conquered.

We of the peace camp called them, of course, “occupied territories”. The right called them “liberated territories” and floated the slogan “Liberated territories will not be returned”, a catchy rhyme in Hebrew. The government called them “administered territories” and later “disputed territories”.

The general public just settled for “the territories” – and that is the term used nowadays by everybody who has no interest in stressing his or her political conviction every time these areas are mentioned.

“Palestinians” vs “our neighbours”

This raises the question about the Wall.

When the government decided to create a physical obstacle between Israel and the occupied territories – partly for expansion, partly for genuine security reasons – a name was needed. It is built mainly on occupied land, annexing in practice large areas. It is a fence in open areas, a wall in built-up ones. So we simply called it “the Wall” or “the Fence”, and started weekly demonstrations.

The “Wall/Fence” became odious around the world. So the army looked around for a term that sounded non-ideological and chose “separation obstacle”. However, this term now appears only in official documents.

With whom are we negotiating about the political settlement? Ah, there is the rub.

For generations, the Zionist movement and the state of Israel denied the very existence of a Palestinian people. In the 1993 Oslo Agreement, this idiotic pretence was dropped and we recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the “representative of the Palestinian people”. But the Palestinian state was not mentioned, and until this very day our government abhors the terms “Palestinian state” or “State of Palestine”.

Even today the term “Palestinians” evokes conscious or unconscious rejection. Most commentators speak about a political settlement with “our neighbours” – by which they do not mean the Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians or Lebanese, but You Know Who.

“Palestinian Authority” vs “Palestinian National Authority”

In Oslo, the PLO negotiators strenuously insisted that their new state-in-the-making should be called the “Palestinian National Authority”. The Israeli side vehemently objected to the word “National”. So the agreement (actually a “Statement of Principles”) calls it the “Palestinian Authority” and the Palestinians themselves call it the “Palestinian National Authority”. Palestinians who need urgent medical treatment in Israeli hospitals are turned back if they bring financial documents signed by the “Palestinian National Authority”.

So THE fight goes on along the semantic front. For me, the really crucial part is the fight for the word Peace. We must reinstate it as the central word in our vocabulary. Clearly, loudly, proudly.

As the hymn of the peace movement (written by Yankele Rotblit as an appeal by the fallen soldiers to the living) says:

“Therefore, sing a song to peace / Don’t whisper a prayer / Sing a song to peace / In a loud shout!”
ends

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Valerie Morse: Key And NZ Police At G20: What A Contribution

While 200 New Zealand police officers are helping to repress protests outside of the G20 in Brisbane this week, John Key has been inside pushing the interests of giant multinational corporations to fast track the World Trade Organization (WTO) ... More>>

ALSO:

Gabriela Coutiño: Ayotzinapa Caravan Meets With EZLN In Oventic

In their visit to Zapatista Territory, parents of the 43 students disappeared from Ayotzinapa Guerrero, agreed with the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), to articulate a national grassroots movement that would question forced disappearances ... More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Talk Of A Third Intifada: Where To From Here, Palestine?

When a journalist tries to do a historian’s job, the outcome can be quite interesting. Using history as a side note in a brief news report or political analysis oftentimes does more harm than good. More>>

ALSO:

David Swanson: Who Says Ferguson Can't End Well

Just as a police officer in a heightened state of panic surrounded by the comfort of impunity will shoot an innocent person, the Governor of Missouri has declared a state of emergency preemptively, thus justifying violence in response to something ... More>>

Melanie Duval-Smith: Homeless Is Where The Heart Is

So, you are not allowed to feed the homeless on the streets of Florida. Last week, a 90 year old man and two Christian ministers were arrested for doing just that. I can hear the cries of the right wingers from here. “Not in our back yard”, ... More>>

John Chuckman: What We Truly Learned From the Great War and the Absurdity of Remembrance Day

No matter what high-blown claims the politicians make each year on Remembrance Day, The Great War was essentially a fight between two branches of a single royal family over the balance of power on the continent of Europe, British foreign policy holding ... More>>

Redress Information: A European Call To Suspend EU-Israel Association Agreement

More than 300 political parties, trade unions and campaign groups have called on the European Union to suspend its “association agreement” with Israel. The agreement, which came into force in 2000, facilitates largely unrestricted trade with Israel ... More>>

Ramzy Baroud: The Age Of TV Jokers: Arab Media On The Brink

As I was finalizing my research for this article, I found myself browsing through a heap of hilarious videos by mostly Egyptian TV show hosts Tawfiq Okasha and Amr Adeeb. More>>

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news