Israel is Engaged in a War of Words
The Middle East conflict is a war of words. In some cases, words are assigned new meanings. In other cases, propagandistic phrases are insistently pounded home until they become part of our everyday nomenclature.
This war, like all the other wars Israel has fought, is a defensive war, unasked for and undesired. But unlike the other wars, Israel is not the victor here. There are no six day triumphs and no modern day miracles. There are no spoils of war to claim and certainly no glory.
In fact, we’ve all but conceded this war, the war on words. We’ve succumbed, believing ourselves outclassed and outmanned. Only a few diehards continue to fight this battle, which means there can be no turning things around to our advantage, no last minute save.
Left-wing journalists explain that “West Bank” is now the accepted term and tell me I’m being picayune, not to mention awkward, by insisting on, A) Judea and Samaria, or, B) The disputed territories.
One right-wing colleague tells me that by refusing to use the word “Palestinian” to describe the Arab population of Israel, I am a big turn-off to fence-sitters that might otherwise be persuaded to my viewpoint. He says that it’s as if I don’t consider them a real people deserving of human rights.
He says that my refusal to use the word “Palestinian” makes me look racist.
Yet I am positive that the only way to win this war is to avoid the use of language that has been foisted on us, language that not only is not descriptive of reality, but is loaded with skewed political sentiment. The propagandists have absconded with the words, with their true meanings, thus revising history and facts on the ground.
Facts become myths, myths become facts. The mainstream media adopts these terms, which are descriptive only of a false narrative and tell a lie.
I am a writer in love with words. To me, it’s nothing short of word thievery. Word theft must be met with an iron fist, a harsh refusal to comply in any way, no matter what, for contrary to the rhyme I learned as a child, names (and those that use them) can certainly kill.
How many young people have been radicalized by seeing the words “occupied territories” or “occupation?” How many accept this imaginary state of affairs as the truth and nurse a hatred of Israelis slash Zionist slash Jews? How many people accept the pat (and untrue) explanation that the building of homes by Jews in Judea and Samaria is illegal according to international law?
It has been said so often and so long that even the U.S. Secretary of State uses these words and terms without a second thought.
But the truth of the matter is very far from these phrases, and is in fact, the antithesis of them.
Should someone dare to speak the truth, threats are issued. For example, when Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop stated that the use of the term “occupied” in conjunction with the word “Jerusalem” has a pejorative connotation and presumes a particular outcome prior to negotiations, vague threats were issued relating to Australia’s economic situation until Australia modified its words, choking them back, choosing economic cooperation and oil over truth.
I am just one person. I alone will therefore guard my tongue and the words it is honored to utter.
The “West Bank,” for instance, will always be Judea and Samaria to me, except when I’m bending over backward to give the Devil his due, in which case I will consent to call these areas, “disputed territories,” which at least is not a lie. Judea and Samaria are lands indigenous to my people the Jews. Many Arab people insist these territories belong to them. Hence, a dispute! They’re mine. Someone else wants them!!
Occupation? In the 1948 War of Independence, the Arabs refused to accept Partition, even though they were granted approximately 80% of the British Mandate for Palestine as an Arab National Home, AKA Transjordan – now simply Jordan. This is even though the land given to Abdullah at the time of Partition had earlier been promised to the Jews by Britain and the League of Nations for a Jewish national home according to the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo Conference.
The Jews were given a bum deal and still acceded to Partition. But the Arabs? They wanted the whole shebang. They wanted the Jews gone. DEAD. Pushed into the sea.
And so the Arab states attacked Israel and grabbed more than that generous 80% of the land, occupying it in contravention of international law, as determined by the UN vote on Partition. Not to mention the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo Conference. Until 1967, when the Arabs again attacked Israel, and Israel took back Judea and Samaria, only two UN member states called the Jordanian occupation of Judea and Samaria a legal one. That would be: Great Britain (duh) and Pakistan.
Repeat: no other UN member state considered Jordan’s land grab a legal occupation.
Israel only took back, during a defensive war, its rightful territory under international law. This is aside from the historical indigenous aspects of the land ownership issue. For more about that, you’ll need to read Ryan Bellerose’s excellent Israellycool piece on the subject, Who’s Indigenous?
And what of “Palestinian?” I have Palestinian relatives, Jews that lived under the British Mandate and still have their old identity cards listing their nationalities as “Palestinian.” But where did the word “Palestine” come from?
The origins of the word are in fact, Roman. It is widely accepted among historians that in 135 CE, the Emperor Hadrian changed the name of the region from Provincia Judaea to “Provincia Syria Palaestina” in order to erase the Jewish connection to this area. This was in response to the second Jewish Revolt against Rome by Bar Kochba.
Furthermore, the modern-day Arab residents of the area are known to have emigrated from Arab lands to what is today Israel, in the wake of Jewish prosperity. According to Fred M. Gottheil :
There are several problems associated with estimating Arab immigration into Palestine during the 1920s, the principal one being that Arab migration flows were, in the main, illegal, and therefore unreported and unrecorded. But they were not entirely unnoticed.
Demographer U.O. Schmelz’s analysis of the Ottoman registration data for 1905 populations of Jerusalem and Hebronkazas (Ottoman districts), by place of birth, showed that of those Arab Palestinians born outside their localities of residence, approximately half represented intra-Palestine movement—from areas of low-level economic activity to areas of higher-level activity—while the other half represented Arab immigration into Palestine itself, 43 percent originating in Asia, 39 percent in Africa, and 20 percent in Turkey. Schmelz conjectured:
‘The above-average population growth of the Arab villages around the city of Jerusalem, with its Jewish majority, continued until the end of the mandatory period. This must have been due—as elsewhere in Palestine under similar conditions—to in-migrants attracted by economic opportunities, and to the beneficial effects of improved health services in reducing mortality—just as happened in other parts of Palestine around cities with a large Jewish population sector.”
Moreover, surnames common to this population betray their original geographic origins. From Elder of Ziyon:
al-Masri – the Egyptian
al-Mughrabi – the Moroccan
al-Djazair – the Algerian
al-Yamani – the Yemeni
al-Afghani – the Afghan
al-Turki – the Turk
al-Hindi – the Indian
al-Hourani – the Hauranite (from southern Syria)
al-Kurdi – the Kurd
al-Ajami – the Iranian
al-Shami- the Syrian
Khamis – Bahrain
al-Araj – part of Morocco
Halabi – Aleppo, Syria
Bardawil – named after a lake in Egypt
The Arabs will speak about their origins in Arabic only.
I will say it straight out. The only indigenous people of the land of Israel are the Jews. Jews neither “occupy” territory nor contravene international law when they build homes in Judea and Samaria. There is no such thing as a Palestinian people. There are only Jews and a migrant Arab population that clamors for the land and for ridding that land of Jews.
I believe that we will not win this war of words until we refuse to speak the language of propaganda. I maintain that in giving lip service to a false narrative we will not win hearts and minds. Rather, let us prepare our minds with the facts and fight the lies with truth.
Let the truth shine through the thievery of words and ring out proud and loud.
May we not fear to stand up for what is right and true so that we may finally and decisively win this war.
Varda Meyers Epstein is a third-generation Pittsburgher now living in Israel for over three decades. A mother of 12, Varda serves as a communications writer at a car donation program that underwrites educational initiatives for children, Kars4Kids, and blogs on politics at several media outlets including Israellycool.