An alternative dictionary for the Palestine/Israel 'conflict'

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This anti-dictionary dictionary aims to clarify the perplexing language used by the mainstream media to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Roger Sheety's picture
Thursday 12 February 2015 23:15 UTC

What is the point of journalism if not to question, doubt, and challenge state or elite power? If a journalist merely reports the standard talking points of that power, isn’t he or she simply perpetuating the main message of those talking points, that all is fundamentally well with the status quo? And what exactly is so objective or impartial about such a particular stance?

The following piece is partially indebted to John Ralston Saul’s The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense, which itself was partly inspired by earlier dictionaries such as those by Samuel Johnston and Ambrose Bierce. The aim of these anti-dictionary dictionaries was to challenge and mock conventional wisdom, and use language to clarify and communicate rather than the opposite. As Saul eloquently puts it: “In the humanist view, the alphabet can be a tool for examining society; the dictionary a series of questions, an enquiry into meaning, a weapon against received wisdom and therefore against the assumptions of established power. In other words, the dictionary offers an organized Socratic approach.”

But my main source of inspiration must go to the mainstream corporate media whose obfuscation, censorship, propaganda, hypocrisy, and outright lies in the service of state and elite power - particularly on the Palestine issue - for decade after decade is really something to behold. It must truly be hard work to constantly not report the obvious, to use language to confuse rather than to clarify, to fabricate and perpetuate myths, and to de-contextualise what calls out for context.

In alphabetical disorder:

The peace process (Oslo, 1993 to the present time version): A failed attempt to convince the Palestinian people that their violent dispossession and ethnic cleansing from their homeland is just, legal, and sanctified. The first peace process began in 1919 when the World Zionist Organization presented its map of peace at the Paris Peace Conference. This map of peace included the WZO’s peaceful colonial wish to take all of Palestine, southern Lebanon, Syria’s Golan, parts of Egypt’s Sinai, and parts of western Jordan to create a “national home of the Jews”. Rejected by European elites at the time, they would soon after consent to the theft once British and French colonial rule over the entire Arab world was established and consolidated.

What would be obvious to a child somehow escapes the cognitive abilities of the majority of corporate news media editors today: that all the land that Zionists pined for in 1919, and which they officially and openly presented for all the world to see, would be nearly the exact same land they would eventually conquer and steal or, in the case of Lebanon and Egypt, attempt to conquer and steal.

Disputed: All land which Israel steals, including Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese, and Egyptian land, is known in western corporate media speak as “disputed” land. In the real world, this is known as theft.

Peace: A word that now means the opposite of its actual meaning. In Israeli/Zionist/western thinking, peace means that Israelis are allowed to kill Palestinians, steal their land, ethnically cleanse them from their homes, demolish their homes, occupy them, and place them permanently under siege with impunity and without resistance. Israelis can then peacefully return to their nice stolen homes in Haifa, ‘Akka (Acre), Jaffa, Jerusalem, Tiberias, and Safad (among other Palestinian cities) to peacefully eat and sleep there until they are ready for the next day’s peaceful bombing, plundering, and looting of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinians are also expected to have dialogue, hold hands, and sing campfire songs with Israelis while the Israeli terrorist army continues its assault on what is left of Palestine; this is known in corporate media speak as “working for peace”.

Israel: An extremely violent, racist, supremacist colonial settler state established entirely on stolen Palestinian land, through the expulsion of its indigenous people, and through the destruction of hundreds of ancient Palestinian cities, towns, and villages; a state that is armed to the teeth with nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and, therefore, a danger to the entire world. Not Jewish and not democratic, despite its hysterical and childish insistence on being recognised and called as such. For obvious reasons, not recognised by the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people.

Zionism: An extremely violent, racist, supremacist imperial/colonial ideology originating in 19th century Europe. The fantastical notion often put forth by apologists of Israel that Zionism is merely a benign form of nationalism is only belied by a century of land theft, dispossession of the indigenous people of Palestine, and the continuing destruction of their homeland, including its most recent genocidal attack on the Palestinians of Gaza which wiped 89 families and over 2,100 human beings off the face of the Earth. As with any other ideology, one simply has to observe its effect on its victims and the world at large to judge its value, rather than what its professional propagandists say and write. Also: an ahistorical, false conflation of Judaism, Jews, and apologists for Israel; a form of white supremacy. An anachronism; see also: Christian Zionism.

Palestine: Primarily, the homeland of the Palestinian people from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. For some, this is “the Holy Land”; though why this land is more holy than, for example, Lebanon or Syria or Bolivia or Japan or Turtle Island (North America) or anywhere else, is not clear.

What is truly baffling, however, is why the indigenous people of the Holy Land - that is, the Palestinians - are being persecuted, expelled from their homes, and massacred in large numbers, year after year, as the “international community” watches on. Perhaps a new definition of “holy” is required, one that is more suitable to the backward and upside down ideology of Zionism.

Resistance: All peoples without exception have the right to resist imperial/colonial conquest, occupation, and invasion in whatever means possible. No American or Canadian, for instance, would tolerate an unwanted stranger into her or his home and would naturally resist such an intrusion. Why the west and corporate media insist that Palestinians must be the sole exception to this universally recognised and understood right remains a mystery.

Theodore Herzl: The founder of Zionism and the hero of Israel. In his remarkably dull, naive, and racist 1896 pamphlet, Der Judenstaat (German for “The State of the Jews”), wherein he outlines his colonial dream, Herzl would actually blame European Jews for their own persecution. Thus he writes: “The Jewish question exists wherever Jews live in perceptible numbers. Where it does not exist, it is carried by Jews in the course of their migrations. We naturally move to those places where we are not persecuted, and there our presence produces persecution. This is the case in every country, and will remain so, even in those highly civilised - for instance, France - until the Jewish question finds a solution on a political basis. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of Anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America.”

Herzl also considered Jews as “a race”, spoke of Jewish immigrants as “infiltrators”, and regarded the indigenous Arabs of the entire Arab world as savages. “We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism,” he would write, paving the way for the Israeli barbarism to come. When one looks at Israeli society today, one can therefore understand why this exceptionally anti-humanist and racist thinker is viewed there with such reverence. See: Anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism: Very simply and uncontroversially, hatred of or hostility to Jews as Jews. The attempt by Zionists to change the meaning of anti-Semitism and equate it with criticism and rejection of Israel is as insidious and erroneous as Israel’s (false) claim to represent and speak on behalf of world Jewry. Indeed, this latter claim can itself be viewed as anti-Semitic as it presumes that world Jewry is a monolithic entity that supports Israel’s destruction of Palestine, its apartheid, and its occupation. As Omar Barghouti says: “Anyone who says, ‘All Jews are...’ (anything that comes after ‘are’) is an anti-Semite... [this] dehumanizes Jews; it makes them more or less human, but not human.”

Oil/gas/petrol: Implicitly, according to western punditry, all oil belongs to the United States of America, regardless on whose land and what body of water it happens to be under.

Arabs: The indigenous peoples of much of what is today called the “Middle East”. Contrary to racist, western generalisations, Arabs are multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-tempered, and multi-faceted—like all other peoples around the world.

The west: A mythical political alliance/entity led (read: bullied) by the United States of America and with no connection to geographic, historical, or sociocultural realities whatsoever; a fiction.

The United States of America: An empire with more than 730 military bases around the world, which spends six times more on its military and weapons of mass destruction than its nearest rival, which regularly bombs weaker nations, which regularly subverts democratic movements in other countries, which spies on its own citizens and incarcerates them in disproportionately high numbers, and which insists that it is not an empire.

Radical: One of the fundamental messages of such American scholars as Noam Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, Howard Zinn, Tom Engelhardt, and Chris Hedges, for example, is that the United States cannot be a properly functioning democracy at home and, at the same time, wreak havoc abroad as an empire. Sooner or later, they argue, things at home begin to fall apart, not to mention all the enemies the empire creates in its ceaseless wars around the world through its industry of death. In the corporate mainstream media, this commonsense and even classically conservative view is known as being “radical” and is thus virtually ignored.

The Holocaust: The destruction of European Jewry in Europe by other Europeans. Despite having nothing to do with Palestine, or Syria, or Lebanon, or Egypt, or Iraq for that matter, Zionists and other Israel apologists insist on justifying the destruction of Palestine, her people, and other countries in the region with the Holocaust - to the horror of humanists everywhere.

The right to exist: All human beings, without exception, have the right to exist. States, corporations, and racist ideologies, being abstractions—albeit with deadly consequences—however, do not have the right to exist. See Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, apartheid South Africa, and the United Fruit Company for instance.

Palestine/Israel “conflict”: A corporate media abstraction used to cover up and obfuscate the continuing destruction of Palestine by creating a false balance and ethical equivalency between the colonisers and the colonised where no such balance and equivalency exists to begin with. See also: “Both sides.”

“Both sides”: A favoured term among so-called “liberal” politicians and pundits alike. Palestinians have their olive trees uprooted by the thousands, their farms burned, their homes destroyed, their land stolen, their ancient towns and villages razed, their history and culture appropriated, and their children shot, maimed, and murdered by Israel. But who is responsible? Nobody in corporate (liberal) media circles seems to know for sure; it must be then that “both sides” are to blame.

Other “both sides” phrases repeated ad nauseam include: “both sides are being unhelpful”, “both sides must make painful compromises for peace”, and “both sides must come to the table”. Why Palestinians are to blame for their ethnic cleansing and dispossession and why they must compromise their inalienable human rights to their own oppressors is never made clear by these faux liberal pundits.

“Pro-Israel”: Because “Israel” was established through ethnic cleansing, massacres, and the wholesale destruction of hundreds of ancient Palestinian towns and villages, and because the state is maintained through racist apartheid laws, military occupation, and regular massacres particularly in Gaza, then “Pro-Israel” must mean that one is pro-ethnic cleansing, pro-massacres, pro-apartheid, and pro-destruction of indigenous peoples.

Saudi Arabia: America’s number one all-time favourite dictatorship in the Arab world. In corporate media speak, Saudi Arabia is also known as a “moderate” Arab state. Other moderate Arab states include Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco. Moderate Arab states are distinguished from non-moderate Arab states by their brutality to their own citizens and their subservience to the United States and, thus, to Israel.

Hasbara: Literally, “explanation” but in effect and practice, propaganda and fabrication. According to Israel, it is very difficult for the rest of world to understand why Israel continues to steal Palestinian land, bomb Palestinian neighbourhoods and refugee camps, and generally kill any Palestinian who gets in the way. It is also much too hard, according to Israel, for the world to understand why it continues to occupy Syrian land, bomb Syrian territory, and terrorise Lebanese, especially in southern Lebanon. Therefore, it must be “explained” to the rest of the dim world why indeed Israel is doing all these horrible things because it’s too complicated and besides, Israel is in a “tough neighborhood” (that is, in a region that doesn’t like being bombed, invaded, and dispossessed).

It is a special type of collective delusion when an entire state even feels it necessary to create propaganda “fellowships”, whole government departments, and even international tours featuring its paid propagandists whose entire purpose is to fabricate silly tales to excuse and justify the state’s crimes against humanity. What that word or term for this collective delusion is has yet to be invented.

“Honest broker”: Like “peace,” a phrase that now means the opposite of its actual meaning. In the real world, “honest broker” would mean someone or some organisation that is simultaneously knowledgeable and disinterested in the final outcome of a particular conflict and therefore qualified to help reach a settlement; usually respected by the parties involved. In the make-believe world of corporate media, however, the “honest broker” between Palestinians and Israelis is the United States -the same state that has given Israel over $US233.7 billion in military and other aid since 1948, which rearms it whenever it wishes, particularly as it slaughters Palestinians, which provides special treatment for Israeli companies via elite business “free trade” agreements, and which gives it unlimited diplomatic cover and support.

Demographic threat: A racist Israeli term used to dehumanise and demonise Palestinians, particularly infants. Once upon a time such racist terms were mostly used by Israelis; today, though, even nominally liberal Americans have adopted them as their own in speeches and newspaper articles, and thus use such terms to justify and normalise the killing and continued dispossession of Palestinians.

Palestinians: The indigenous people of Palestine. See also: Diaspora.

Diaspora: The majority of the indigenous people of Palestine live in Diaspora due mainly to the fact that either they or their parents or their grandparents were expelled from Palestine beginning mostly in 1948 and continuing on to the present day, and are not allowed to return. David Ben-Gurion (that is, David Green), one of the main architects of the Palestinian Diaspora, wrote in a 1937 letter to his son: “We must expel Arabs and take their place.” The planned expulsion of the Palestinians would by 1948 be formalised in what the Zionist leadership named “Plan Dalet.” Yet, despite Zionists saying they would expel and take the place of Palestinians, despite carefully planning one of the largest ethnic cleansing operations in a century, and despite carrying out the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in full view of the world, the Palestinian Diaspora remains for the corporate mainstream media a source of bewilderment and mystery.

Right of return: A taboo topic in the corporate press for some puzzling reason. All peoples of the world without exception have the right to return to their homes and land in the event of displacement. The Palestinian right of return is based entirely on universally recognised morality, ethics, and international law. In corporate media speak and even academe, however, the right of return is “controversial” and “problematic”. Not controversial or problematic, apparently, is Israel’s wholly fabricated, sectarian, and racist “law of return” and “birthright” programme which allows Jews (especially White ones) from anywhere in the world and with no roots whatsoever in Palestine to “return” to a place they have never been to, be given instant Israeli citizenship, and to join the Israeli “Defense Forces” to kill and drive Palestinians off their land and out of their homes into a state of Diaspora.

BDS—Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions: Currently, the most effective non-violent form of resistance to the genocidal Israeli colonial-settler project in Palestine. For more information, please visit http://www.bdsmovement.net/ and http://www.pacbi.org/. According to Israel and its media apologists, this is the way Palestinians want to “destroy Israel” - through human rights, equality, and justice.

Al Nakba: The destruction of Palestine which continues to this day; carried out by European and Russian Zionist colonists and aided and enabled by Britain, Europe, the United States, and much of the west. Rarely, if ever, mentioned as the actual source of the Palestine/Israel “conflict” in the mainstream press. For more details, please visit Palestine Remembered.com, Dr. Salman Abu Sitta’s Plands.org, and Zochrot.org. See also All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, edited by Walid Khalidi, one of Palestine’s greatest scholars and historians.

Terrorism: All colonial settler states, such as Israel for example, are essentially established through terrorism. Imperialism and colonialism are also inherently terrorist and even genocidal, which explains why corporate media never regards the terrorism of the United States, or Israel, as terrorism.

“Cycle of violence”: A corporate media term meant to signify complexity and nuance, particularly regarding Palestinian violence, but which actually explains nothing and in effect positions Israel as the victim of the Palestinian people who it bombs incessantly as it dispossesses them. The “cycle of violence” would indeed be an accurate term if those using it would acknowledge the true initiator of violence. Thus, the colonial settler conquers, kills, and steals, and the indigenous native responds, defends, and reacts. Or as the quintessential colonial settler David Ben-Gurion (that is, David Green) put it in 1938:

“Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves… A people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily... politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves... The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country” (Zionism and the Palestinians, Simha Flapan, 141–142).

ISIS: A terrorist organisation which recruits its terrorist fighters worldwide and is based on fundamentalist, violent, and extreme interpretations of religion.

IDF: A terrorist organisation which recruits its terrorist fighters worldwide and is based on fundamentalist, violent, and extreme interpretations of religion.

“Two-state solution”: The process whereby Israel continues to steal the remaining 22 percent of Palestine it could not steal in 1948. According to this solution, sanctified by the international community, Palestinians are supposed to “negotiate” with their dispossessors, conquerors, and oppressors for this remaining 22 percent as it is being stolen right from under them and with the help and cover of the honest broker, the United States and its client states.

Objectivity: Frantz Fanon, one of the greatest theorists of colonialism, understood that objectivity in the colonial sphere always reinforces the imperial narrative. Thus in The Wretched of the Earth he writes: “The nationalist leaders know that international opinion is forged solely by the western press. When a western journalist interviews us, however, it is seldom done to render us service. In the war in Algeria, for example, the most liberal-minded French reporters make constant use of ambiguous epithets to portray our struggle. When we reproach them for it, they reply in all sincerity they are being objective. For the colonized subject, objectivity is always directed against him” (37).

In her Foreword to Censored 2014: Fearless Speech in Fateful Times, Sarah van Gelder similarly writes: “Journalists are considered objective when their reporting accepts the dominant worldview as a given, without questioning beliefs and assumptions that may or may not hold up to scrutiny. The good journalist, in other words, goes along with the worldview of the powerful” (16).

In the Palestine/Israel context, thus, western journalists who live in stolen Palestinian homes, who never speak to Palestinians whose homes are demolished on a daily basis, who never speak to Palestinian families whose daughters and sons and fathers and mothers are shot and killed by occupying “soldiers” on a daily basis, who repeat official Israeli talking points without critique, and who are seemingly clueless on the contextual background of the very subject they are reporting on, are known as objective, serious journalists.

Egypt: Once upon a time, the most powerful Arab state, a centre of Arab culture and positive, open nationalism led by Gamal Abdel Nasser (hated by Western elites). Today, it is the most subservient Arab state to the United States and Israel, sectarian, and led by a third-rate, tin-pot dictator (loved by western elites).

Edward Wadie Said: Arguably the greatest writer and thinker to emerge from the Arab world in the last one hundred years, writing entirely in English; author and editor of dozens of books and essays; with an astounding 40-year academic career that included teaching at Columbia University, Harvard College, and Yale University among others; and a founding figure of postcolonial studies. He also happened to be Palestinian and a fierce critic of US imperialism and, therefore, mostly ignored by the mainstream press during much of his lifetime.

“Shared values”: A common phrase used by both elected and unelected elites, and their paid media propagandists (particularly in North America and Europe), to indicate their shared corruption, hypocrisy, and criminality. In 1967, for example, Israel invaded and stole the rest of Palestine—the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, as well as Syria’s Golan and Egypt’s Sinai, killing at least 22,000 Arabs and expelling at least another 300,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and 130,000 Syrians from the Golan. In the process, Israel would ethnically cleanse and destroy several more ancient Palestinian villages including ‘Imwas, Beit Nuba, and Yalu. On the ruins of these villages and stolen Palestinian land, an artificial public garden, the so-called “Canada Park,” was created with the help of the Jewish National Fund of Canada for some $15 million Canadian, all tax-deductible of course.

Because both Israel and Canada are based on the theft and appropriation of indigenous people’s land, culture, and history, “Canada Park” therefore symbolises the “shared values” of the two colonial settler states.

Christian Zionism: A belief in the supremacy of White Christians to all other people in the world. A belief, also, in the non-existence or magical invisibility of the Palestinian people summed up here in 1865 by William Thomson, Archbishop of York, and quoted from Basem Ra’ad’s crucial Hidden Histories: Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean:

“This country of Palestine belongs to you and to me, it is essentially ours. It was given to the Father of Israel in the words: ‘Walk through the land in the length of it, and in the breadth of it, for I will give it unto thee.’ We mean to walk through Palestine in the length and in the breadth of it, because that land has been given unto us. It is the land from which comes news of our Redemption. It is the land towards which we turn as the fountain of all our hopes; it is the land to which we may look with as true a patriotism as we do to this dear old England, which we love so much” (Ra’ad, 125).

Thus the indigenous people of Palestine were made to notionally disappear before the attempt to make them physically disappear later on in the 20th century. Although European and North American pilgrims would continue to visit Palestine throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, they would, with rare exceptions, persist in not seeing the people whose homeland they coveted.

- Roger Sheety is an independent writer and researcher, and is a regular contributor to PalestineChronicle.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ibinfalasteen.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.