A war of words

June 3, 2008

There’s an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times on the use of the term “jihadist” to refer to terrorists:

“[T]o call a terrorist a “jihadist” or “jihadi” effectively puts any campaign against terrorism into the framework of an existential battle between the West and Islam. This feeds into the worldview propagated by Al Qaeda. It also serves to isolate the tens of millions of Muslims who condemn the violence that has been perpetrated in the name of Islam.

“Second, these words locate the ideological battle exactly where the extremists want it to be. The terms of discussion are no longer about the murder of innocents in terrorist acts; they are about theology. Read the rest of this entry »

Australian “Sorry”and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict revisited

March 24, 2008

News of Kevin Rudd’s historic apology to the Stolen Generation has reached the Middle East. In Al-Ahram, a Cairo based Arabic daily newspaper author Shahira Samy praises the Labour government for its apology to indigenous Australians. This piece, written with the backdrop of the Arab-Israeli conflict made me wonder what might be achieved if Israel was to take a momentous first step and admit liability for the refugee problem just as Kevin Rudd has in regards of the Stolen Generation. Reading the article authored by Samy, “When Australia said Sorry” made me realise that peace in the Middle East hinges on symbolic gestures as much as it does on land allocation. Recognition of the right of Israel to exist, which has been extended by the Palestinians and some Middle East Governments, is just such a gesture. In return, the Israeli’s have not offered any similar gesture failing to even recognise the dispossession of the Palestinians or suffering it has caused in the sixty years of its existence. This is not surprising as Israel was founded on a myth that “Palestine was a land without a people, for a people without a land”. The millions of Palestinian refugees and years of bloodshed have proven the fallacy of this peice of Zionist propaganda. (Let it be said also that the same Rudd government that has been widely commended for extending an apology to indigenous Australians failed to recognise the plight of the Palestinians when on Wednesday 12 March, 2008 it congratulated Israel for reaching its sixty year anniversary. The unfortunate irony of this has been pointed out by Jumana in an earlier posting and by Alan Ramsay in, “Don’t Mention the War” 8 March, 2008.)

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is but one example of how much progress is possible when people are willing to make symbolic gestures that express their contrition and seek forgiveness. All Australians fortunate enough to feel the positive force of the Rudd Government’s apology (on behalf of the Australian people), and the acceptance of the apology by indigneous Australians, understand very clearly that symbolic gestures have the power to heal. Conversely without such symbolism very little progress is possible. In both examples mentioned here, much is still left to resolve. South Africa’s people have many bridges to still cross before the legacies of Apartheid are erased. Australia, in a similar way, must make a huge effort to tackle the structural poverty and the concomitant social problems experienced throughout many of Australia’s indigenous communities. But, in both cases the essential first step of admitting the policies of the past were racist, oppressive and unjust was made and the struggle to acheive a more tolerant and harmonious future is being undertaken. The Israelis and Palestinians would both acheive much just by just saying sorry.  

It seems to me then that the first crucial step in promoting peace in the region depends on genuine statements of the recognition of the humanity of the other side. I believe that the initial gesture must come from the Israeli’s who must accept that the act of dispossessing the Palestinians has created the problem of “two people for one land”. What is possible from that point on is conjecture, but just as in the case of South Africa and in Australia the recognition that past wrongs were committed and that land was taken from its original owners has led to accommodation and cooperation and efforts aimed at constructing a more tolerant and mutually beneficial future. Such statements do not necessarily lead to the repossession of lands taken from the original owners. In both South Africa and Australia the redistribution of wealth or property has not eventuated. A statement of contrition, and acceptance of blame, has no bearing on land but is a moral issue of the highest order and a crucial initial step towards building a lasting peace in the region.

The Middle East has accommodated difference for hundreds of years and there is nothing that pre-determines that this should not occur again. I await a historic gesture from the Israeli’s that recognises the tragic past and accepting blame for the wrongs committed as the crucial moment that divides a past marked by conflict between Israeli’s and Arabs with a future of dialogue leading to peace. Without this gesture, I fear that the future will remain unchanged and both Israeli’s and Palestinians will continue to live in fear and hatred of each of other.

Noah Bassil

Palestine coverage through 4 Mar 08

March 4, 2008

One week has elapsed since the last article summary posted and what a week it has been! Israel managed to kill dozens of civilians in this short period while simultaneously pulling off another of its great PR triumphs, recharacterizing as *defensive* its military attack on a jam-packed tiny strip of land densely populated with trapped refugees possessing no defensive capacity of their own. One of the world’s most sophisticated armies is confronted with the equivalent of gerry-rigged molotov cocktails and responds by pounding the entire civilian population into the ground. Of course per Alan Dershowitz (publishing in today’s WSJ) there is no such thing as a civilian Palestinian or Lebanese, and indeed I would guess on his reasoning there are no Arab civilians more generally if said Arabs are in Israel’s cross-hairs. By his definition, a Palestinian, Lebanese or other Arab killed by Israel is a militant. Well, that’s not the take of B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, reporting on the tally of death from Israel’s mindless onslaught of last week — but more on that below. Read the rest of this entry »

ADC condemns Israeli Deputy Minister’s comments

March 3, 2008

Here is another take on this issue from the premier Arab-American civil rights organization in the U.S.  It also provides some concrete figures on the death toll in Palestine and Israel. Read the rest of this entry »

Saudi labels Israel’s killing in Gaza as “copying…the Nazis”

March 3, 2008

Yet more on language, which somehow seems to be the common factor in most of our postings and comments this past week.  AP is reporting that an unnamed official in Saudi Arabia is likening Israel’s attack on Gaza, in which more than 70 have been killed, to Nazi war crimes:

“Saudi Arabia, which condemns the Israeli war crimes against the Palestinian people and the threats of Israeli officials to turn Gaza into an inferno, sees that Israel through its actions is copying the war crimes of the Nazis.”

AP describes this remark as coming in response to Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai’s use of the word “shoah,” which can be translated as “holocaust,” to describe what the Gazans were “bringing onto themselves” with the continued firing of rockets into Israel.  The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, has settled for just calling Israeli actions “war crimes” without likening them to Nazism.

More on Israel and language

March 1, 2008

It’s funny that just a couple of days after Noah and I responded to a comment about the inappropriateness of a comparison between Nazism and Zionism and posted bits from Yonatan Mendel’s analysis of the word choices of the Israeli press, there’s a bit of a furor over an Israeli deputy minister who used a certain word to describe what the Palestinians would “bring upon themselves” if they didn’t stop firing rockets from Gaza into Israel. (See the BBC coverage here, and the Guardian’s coverage here.)  Apparently the word he used in Hebrew was “shoah,” and “shoah” is the word that in Israel is usually reserved only for referring to the Holocaust.

In a private discussion board that I lurk on, there’s some debate over whether the word should be translated as “holocaust” or “catastrophe,” but what nobody doubts is the fact that the Israeli deputy minister’s logic — that somehow the victims of a holocaust/catastrophe bring that suffering upon themselves — is astonishing.

– L.L. Wynn

Yonatan Mendel’s “Diary” in the LRB

February 29, 2008

A shout out to Asli Bali who alerted me to this piece by Yonatan Mendel in the London Review of Books. Mendel discusses the language of Israeli journalism and how it works to sustain the political status quo when it comes to the matter of Palestine. Mendel is doing his PhD at Cambridge on language and security, but he previously worked for the Israeli news agency, Walla, and that’s what he draws on in this piece. Here are a few quotes:

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“In most of the articles on the conflict two sides battle it out: the Israel Defence Forces, on the one hand, and the Palestinians, on the other. When a violent incident is reported, the IDF confirms or the army says but the Palestinians claim: ‘The Palestinians claimed that a baby was severely injured in IDF shootings.’ Is this a fib?” …

“Another example: in June 2006, four days after the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped from the Israeli side of the Gazan security fence, Israel, according to the Israeli media, arrested some sixty members of Hamas, of whom 30 were elected members of parliament and eight ministers in the Palestinian government. In a well-planned operation Israel captured and jailed the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem, the ministers of finance, education, religious affairs, strategic affairs, domestic affairs, housing and prisons, as well as the mayors of Bethlehem, Jenin and Qalqilya, the head of the Palestinian parliament and one quarter of its members. That these officials were taken from their beds late at night and transferred to Israeli territory probably to serve (like Gilad Shalit) as future bargaining-chips did not make this operation a kidnapping. Israel never kidnaps: it arrests.” …

“Remarkably, there are no Occupied Territories in Israel. The term is occasionally used by a leftist politician or columnist, but in the hard news section it doesn’t exist. In the past they were called the Administered Territories in order to conceal the actual fact of occupation; they were then called Judea and Samaria; but in Israel’s mass media today they’re called the Territories (Ha-Shtachim).

– L.L. Wynn