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Palestine - semantic skullduggery scuttles sensible solutions

By David Singer - posted Tuesday, 26 June 2012


The Palestinian Authority (PA) Ministry of Information has now issued a book instructing Palestinian Arabs on the words they should use to replace " the Israeli and American dissemination of poisoned terms".

Palestinian Arabs are encouraged to use terms that indicate that Israel is the result of "a racist, colonialist endeavor," and the book instructs Palestinians never to use the name "Israel" alone but instead to use the term "Israeli colonialism." To use "Israel" by itself is damaging, according to the PA, because to do so "describes Israel as a natural state."

Whilst most of the misleading and deceptive terms to be employed are not new - the book highlights official PA approval and acceptance of the use of such terms in the semantic war that has been ongoing for the last 130 years - alongside the actual conflict that has been played out between Jews and Arabs during that period.

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For example - the use of the term "West Bank" was introduced by Jordan in 1950 to replace the biblical names "Judea and Samaria" - names that had been used throughout the centuries and were still being used by the British Mandate authorities in 1948. This change of name has been an effective propaganda tool in trying to erase any Jewish connection with and entitlement to these areas after they were occupied by Jordan in the 1948 War of Independence and subsequently lost by Jordan to Israel in the 1967 Six Day War

Similarly the use of the term "freedom fighter" instead of the term "terrorist" has had an impact on the way the Jewish-Arab conflict has been perceived.

Describing the conflict as the "Arab-Israeli conflict" or the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" also suggests that the conflict only begun in 1948 and completely ignores the important legal and historical milestones that had taken place in the previous 30 years.

Encouraging the use of the words "racist and apartheid" in the same breath as the word "Israel" or the words "land theft" where "State lands or waste lands" are involved - conjure up poor and negative images of Israel that every day confounds the world with its scientific, agricultural, medical and intellectual discoveries.

These carefully chosen and continuously used terms have had remarkable success in aligning countries around the world to lend their support to the creation of a new exclusively Arab state between Israel and Jordan for the first time ever in recorded history. That is no mean feat.  

Yet this kind of semantic war has been one of the major obstacles to resolving the conflict.

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Whilst both sides are using different terms in talking about the conflict - any attempt to come to meaningful decisions in resolving the conflict is bound to fail - until both sides start talking about the conflict using the same language.

It is fair to say that in this kind of semantic tug of war - the People of the Book have been linguistically outsmarted by the successors to the authors of the One Thousand and One Nights.

But this brand of semantic war pales into insignificance when one considers the semantic war being waged when the parties are using the same terms - but applying different meanings to those terms.

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About the Author

David Singer is an Australian Lawyer, a Foundation Member of the International Analyst Network and Convenor of Jordan is Palestine International - an organisation calling for sovereignty of the West Bank and Gaza to be allocated between Israel and Jordan as the two successor States to the Mandate for Palestine. Previous articles written by him can be found at www.jordanispalestine.blogspot.com.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by David Singer

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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