Mainstream Western media coverage of Israel is laced with toxic terms intentionally crafted to delegitimize the Jewish State. The good news is that these misleading terms weren’t written in stone 3,300 years ago, but are post-Israel independence creations. The bad news is how vastly anti-Israel imbalance has permeated Mideast reporting in recent decades.
Today, it seems that everybody but us — Israel’s enemies, the mainstream media, far-left-wing Jewish detractors of Israel — appreciates the power of public perception-shaping Israel reporting word choices. We Jewish supporters of Israel unthinkingly use these poisoned pejoratives — “West Bank … East Jerusalem … 1967 borders … Jewish settlements … etc, etc” – ourselves. This article is a plea to individually and institutionally take the lead in challenging the media’s loaded lexicon of toxic terms, first by our own pro-Israel pundits and advocates, and then by the media and public at large.
Here’s what’s at stake: Scholars say “history is what historians say it is,” but the reality is that history is what the bulk of the world’s ordinary people believe that it is. If we forfeit the Arab-Israeli conflict’s public perception-forming word choices, we forfeit our people’s history.
So here’s a baker’s dozen of poisoned pejoratives in the mainstream media’s loaded lexicon for Arab-Israeli conflict reporting. Cease using these terms. Badger pro-Israel writers and advocates to cease using them. And then, together, let’s lean on the mainstream Western media to clean up its language of Mideast reporting.
#1 – “West Bank:” Too often, Israeli spokesmen believe that “West Bank” is merely shorthand for what we all know is really Judea-Samaria. It is not. Media claims that “Judea and Samaria” is simply the “biblical name for the West Bank” stand history on its head. The Hebrew-origin names “Judea” and “Samaria” were used through 1950, when invading [Trans]Jordan renamed them “the West Bank” in order to disassociate these areas of the Jewish homeland from Jews. This term is not shorthand for “Judea and Samaria.” Under this formulation, Jordan is the “East Bank” of the original Palestine Mandate, which was designated as the homeland for the Jewish People.
#2 – “East” Jerusalem or “traditionally Arab East” Jerusalem: From the city’s second millennium BCE origins until 1947 CE, there was no such place as “East” Jerusalem. The 19 year period between when invading Jordan captured part of the city in 1948 and was ousted by Israel in 1967 was the only time in history, except between 638 and 1099, when Arabs ruled any part of Jerusalem. Palestinian Arabs have not ruled an inch of it for one day in history. In the past three millennia, Jerusalem has been the capital of three native states – Judah, Judaea, and modern Israel – and has had a renewed Jewish majority since 19th century Turkish rule. Eastern Jerusalem is just an area of the city that Israel reunified in 1967. Use the term “eastern” Jerusalem, to designate that it is a neighborhood of an undivided city.Of course, this is the area at the heart of Jewish ancient homeland, the Old City and Temple Mount.
#3 – “The UN sought to create Jewish and Palestinian States:” A benchmark clearly revealing the extent of this language deterioration is the United Nations’ own Palestine partition resolution of 1947. The U.N. there didn’t refer to “the West Bank,” but to “the hill country of Samaria and Judea,” the Hebrew-origin names by which the land of Israel’s hill country had been known from ancient times to the mid-twentieth century. The U.N. didn’t attempt to divide Palestine between Jews and “Palestinians,” as the media sometimes puts it – akin to dividing Pennsylvania between Jews and “Pennsylvanians,” but, in terms used over and over, into “the Jewish State” and “the Arab State.” And that 1947 U.N. resolution didn’t call Palestinian Arabs “the Palestinians,” but referred to Palestine’s Jews and its Arabs as “the two Palestinian peoples.”
#4 – 1948 was the “Creation and Founding of Israel” and “The War that Followed Israel’s Creation”: Israel wasn’t “created” and “founded” in 1948, artificially and out-of-the-blue. Israel attained independence that year as the natural fruition into renewed statehood of a people that had twice before been independent in that land, after centuries of hard work to re-establish a Jewish State in this historic homeland. Israel did not choose its 1948 War of Independence (not “of Creation and Founding”). War was forced upon it by the Arab states, which rejected UN partition and tried to push the Jews of Israel into the sea. It was a homeland Jewish army, Haganah, which became the IDF, that threw back that multi-nation foreign invasion.
#5- “Palestinian Militants” No they’re not. They’re mass murderers and terrorists who prey on civilians using rockets, missiles, mortars, bombs, guns, knives, car rammings , etc.
#6– “Palestinian Refugees of the war that followed Israel’s creation:” The invading Arab states bent on Israel’s destruction encouraged the Arabs (472,000 – 650,000) who fled tiny Israel to leave temporarily while they drove the Jews into the sea. The media constantly ignores the indigenous Middle Eastern Jews (c 850,000) who were expelled from vast Arab lands and Iran, with barely the clothes on their back and forced to leave behind property and businesses for which they were never compensated. Many had family roots dating back hundreds, even thousands of years. That Israel absorbed the bulk of these Jews, while Arab “hosts,” including in Arab-administered areas of Palestine itself, isolate the Arab refugees’ descendants in Western-supported “refugee camps” does not convert the Arab-Israeli conflict’s two-sided refugee issue into a “Palestinian” refugee issue. Had the Arabs accepted the UN partition plan that included a western Palestine Arab state, instead of conducting war to destroy the Jewish one, there would have been no “Palestinian” refugees. If there is going to ever be any settlement of this issue, the plight of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands must be taken into account.
#7 – Israel “Seized”Arab Lands in 1967: It did not. The 1967 war, like its predecessors, was a defensive war forced upon Israel. Israel’s neighbors did not want to compromise; they simply wanted to destroy the Jewish State. The newly obtained Israeli territory was meant to provide a security barrier and ensure this could never happen. Moreover, these parts of the Palestine Mandate were not “Arab lands” to which Jews had no historical or legal claim.
#8 – Israel’s “1967 Borders:” The 1949 Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement expressly declared the “green line” it drew between the two sides’ ceasefire positions as a military ceasefire line only, without prejudice to either side’s political border claims. The post-’67 war UN Resolution 242 pointedly did not demand Israel retreat back to the 1949 ceasefire lines.
#9 – “Israeli-Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem” and Gaza: That the media insistently calls Israeli presence in the heart of Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria “Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories” does not make it so. Israel has strong legal grounds for its presence there. “Occupation” is an international law term referencing foreign presence in the sovereign territory of another state. The land of Israel’s last sovereign native state before modern Israel was Jewish Judaea. The land ratio of Arab lands to Israel is 625-1, 22 states to one. The vast majority of Arabs in Judea-Samaria are ruled by their own government, the Palestinian Authority. Gaza is also bordered by Egypt, and not one Jew or Israeli lives in that territory, which is ruled by Hamas.
#10 – “Jewish Settlers and Settlements” vs. “Palestinian Residents of Neighborhoods and Villages:” A favorite media news article contrast is referencing in the same sentence “Jewish settlers” in “settlements” and “Palestinian residents” of nearby “neighborhoods” and “villages.” Jews are not alien “settlers” in a Jerusalem that has had a Jewish majority since 19th century times or in the Judea-Samaria Jewish historical heartland. Where Jews live are towns, villages and cities, not “Jewish settlements.” Palestinian Authority President Abbas has repeatedly stated that no Jews will be permitted to live in a future Palestinian state on these lands: that is racist and apartheid. Yet, Arabs live in Israel and participate in its democratic culture, serve in the Knesset, Supreme Court and other institutions, enjoying the same rights as citizens as all Israelis, including health care and education.
#11 – Israel’s insistence on “Jewish State” recognition is “a new stumbling block”: New since Moses’ time. The Jewish homeland of Israel, including continuous homeland-claiming Jewish presence, has always been central to Jewish peoplehood. In 1947, British Foreign Secretary Bevin told Parliament that the Jews’ “essential point of principle” was a sovereign Jewish Palestine state (and that Arabs’ “essential point of principle” was to prevent it). Prime Minister Netanyahu has enunciated a fair formula: Israel is prepared to recognized a Palestinian Arab state if they will recognize that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People.
#12 – “Palestinians accept and Israel rejects a Two-State Solution:” Wrong on both counts. Both the U.S. and Israel define ‘Two States’ as two states for two peoples – Jews and Arabs. The Arabs insistently reject two states for two peoples. Many Israelis, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, support that plan – conditioned on an end to Palestinian terror. The Arabs continuously and consistently deny Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish People, no matter where its borders are drawn. The Arabs have rejected a state of their own, living side-by-side with Israel, six times since 1937.
#13 – “The Palestinians”: The United Nations’ 1947 partition resolution called Palestine’s Arabs and Jews “the two Palestinian peoples.” Nothing is more self-delegitimizing and counter-productive to achieving peace based on Arab recognition of Jews’ right to be there, than that Jews should go around calling Palestinian Arabs “The Palestinians.” In 1947, the U.N. called Palestine’s Jews and its Arabs “the two Palestinian peoples,” and even the Associated Press has acknowledged that during the Mandate Muslims, Christians and Jews living there were all called Palestinians. Arabs living there abhored being called “Palestinians” as that term was commonly meant for the Jews. The P.L.O. was not even formed until 1964. Palestinian Arabs have no distinguishing language, religion, or culture from neighboring Arabs, and have never been sovereign in Palestine, whereas the Jews, with a presence stretching back three millennia, have had three states there, all Jerusalem-based. During the 1948-67 period that Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria, Arabs could have established a state in that territory. But that was not their intention, which was to destroy Israel. Instead, always refer to them as “Palestinian Arabs.”
Finally, and very significantly, it is our duty collectively and individually to be ambassadors for the truth, and to help win our future by helping win back our past. It should go without saying that the safety and security of the Jewish community is bound inextricably to a strong Israel. Emphasize Israel’s positives as it strives to engage in tikkun olam (repairing the world). Israel is “the Start Up Nation,” a small nation that has made a huge difference, sharing with the world its accomplishments and inventions in high-tech, bio-medicine, agriculture. It engages in humanitarian missions worldwide as a first responder, is a beacon of Judeo-Christian values, is a democracy that respects civil rights, women’s rights, minority rights, gay rights, is an asset and ally of the U.S., and an oasis in a hostile, totalitarian and theologically dominated Arab/Islamic desert. These, in short, reflect our Jewish values. Remember: if you forfeit the language, you forfeit our heritage and history.
Lee S. Bender, co-President of ZOA’s Greater Philadelphia District, and Jerome R. Verlin, a recent vice-president, are co-authors of Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-to-Z, Pavilion Press (Philadelphia) 2012. They have written numerous articles and are launching a website and app devoted to countering anti-Israel media bias, www.factsonisrael.com.