Speaking with one voice

A few weeks ago, when we started looking into what the segregation wall, or the so-called ‘security fence’, was being called in the US media, we discovered something quite disconcerting. We looked at three separate Palestinian official bodies and discovered that each body used its own expression to refer to the wall: the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations calls it ‘the expansionist wall’; the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department calls it ‘the West Bank wall’; and the Palestinian Ministry of Information calls it ‘the colonisation wall’.  

When we examined three Israeli official entities –” the Israeli Ministry of Defence, the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs –” we discovered, not surprisingly, that they all use the exact same expression about the wall: ‘the security fence’.  

Such contrast was also striking between how human rights groups and the US mainstream media refer to the wall: Human Rights Watch calls it ‘the West Bank barrier’; Amnesty International calls it ‘the barrier/fence/wall’, and the United Nations Human Rights Commission calls it ‘the West Bank wall’. By contrast, the US media, by and large, call the wall, ‘the security fence’ or ‘the security barrier’.  

The findings are disconcerting but, frankly, not surprising. The Israeli government and its supporters are well aware of the crucial importance of maintaining the status quo narrative –” at least in the minds of a woefully misinformed American public –” that Israel’s actions, harsh and unfortunate as they may be at times, are all motivated by the impulse for self-preservation. And since narratives are sustained by language and metaphor, central to the mission of maintaining the narrative is an obsessive attention to the language and images with which the narrative is told.  

And so, actions that are patently designed and executed to collectively punish a whole population are called ‘security measures’; hits by death squads are called ‘military operations’; the deliberate expansion of illegal colonies is called ‘natural growth’; Ehud Barak’s ultimatum to Arafat in Camp David II is morphed into ‘Ehud Barak’s generous offer’, and so forth. But as crucial as the care that was given to come up with just the right crafty euphemisms is the discipline of adopting the same euphemism by all official entities to refer to a particular action, situation or event.  

We find no comparable craftiness or discipline among those who support the Palestinian struggle.  

To be sure, the presence of variety and equivocation in language among those who support the Palestinian struggle for self-determination is a reflection of the true grassroots and uncontrolled nature of this support. It is a sign that the support Palestinians enjoy is genuine, organic, not artificially contrived or controlled by a central ideological power.  

But that variety in language critically undermines any effort to chip away at the well-entrenched paradigm that reduces all Israeli actions to one word: ‘security’.  

To challenge a set of expressions and images sustaining a particular paradigm, we must come up –” collectively –” with exactly one set of competing expressions and images. In other words, we –” who reject the official Israeli paradigm –” need to get together and establish one common set of words and expressions, to compete with the official Israeli lexicon.  

When official Israel and its supporters talk about ‘targeted killing’, their goal is to focus attention on the notion that Israel is going out of its way to identify and eliminate –” ‘target’ –” only ‘the guilty ones’. One expression and only one expression should compete against that euphemism, for instance, ‘extrajudicial murder’, a phrase that reminds people that the killing is not sanctioned by any law and that it is, therefore, by definition, ‘murder’. And instead of talking about ‘by-pass roads’, we could refer to them as ‘Jewish-only roads’; instead of saying ‘curfew’, we could all agree to say, ‘military siege’; instead of saying ‘settlements’, we could all agree to say, ‘Jewish-only colonies’, and so forth.  

To that end, PMWatch and Al Awda are heading a project, with the participation of dozens of other groups, to compile a standardised common lexicon that will ultimately provide our side with a common language to use when writing or talking about the Palestinian struggle. Once complete and adopted, this lexicon will be available to use by anyone appearing in interviews or writing letters, opinion pieces or essays, discussing the conflict.  

The process of developing this lexicon is inclusive, and hence we seek input from all those who support the idea of adopting a common language. To enter your input, please go to: http://www.pmwatch.org/pmw/cast/feedback.asp  

We can’t seriously compete in the struggle for the hearts and minds of people when we don’t even have one common vocabulary that we can hammer back against the relentless brainwashing from the other side. Truth will not prevail unassisted –” especially when confronted by an immense spin machine that never rests.

The Lexicon: available on-line at, http://www.pmwatch.org/pmw/language/ and http://www.al-awda.org/language/  

– ‘Collective punishment measures’: vs. ‘security measures’.  

– ‘Death squads’: vs. ‘crack down on militants’ or ‘military operations’.  

– ‘Deliberate expansion’: vs. ‘natural growth’.  

– ‘Ehud Barak’s ultimatum’: vs. ‘Ehud Barak’s generous offers’.  

– ‘Extra-judicial murder’: vs. ‘targeted killing’.  

– ‘Invasion’: vs. ‘incursion’.  

– ‘Israeli colonizers’: vs. ‘Israeli settlers’.  

– ‘Israeli Occupation Forces’: vs. ‘Israeli Defense Forces’.  

– ‘Jewish supremacy agenda’: vs. ‘demographic concerns’.  

– ‘The Israeli occupation of Palestine’: vs. ‘the Palestinian-Israeli conflict’, ‘the Palestine-Israel conflict’.  

– ‘Israel-first’: vs. ‘pro-Israel’ or ‘pro-Israeli’: point here is that the Zionists are putting everything second to Israel, including US interests, human rights, etc.  

– ‘Israel’s segregation wall’: vs. ‘security barrier’, ‘fence’, etc.  

– ‘Israeli conscripts’: vs. ‘Israeli soldiers’.  

– ‘Jewish-only colonies’: vs. ‘settlements’.  

– ‘Jewish-only roads’: vs. ‘by-pass roads’.  

– ‘Israeli assault against Palestinian towns’: vs. ‘military operation’.  

– ‘Military checkpoints’: vs. ‘checkpoints’.  

– ‘Military town siege’: vs. ‘curfew’, ‘town lockdown’, ‘town closure’.  

– ‘Occupied Jerusalem’: vs. just ‘Jerusalem’. Also, include ‘Occupied Jerusalem’ when talking about the OTs (we often say just West Bank and Gaza when referring to the OTs).  

– ‘Occupied’: in general, use the word ‘occupied’ when referring to WB/GS/JR and the Golan Heights.  

– ‘Palestinian political prisoners’: vs. ‘Palestinian prisoners’.  

– ‘Palestinian resistance fighters’: vs. ‘Palestinian militants’.  

– ‘Palestinian armed resistance’: vs. ‘Palestinian violence’.  

– ‘Palestinian struggle for independence’: vs. ‘intifada’ or ‘uprising’.  

– ‘President Arafat’: vs. ‘Arafat’.  

– ‘Random mass detention’: vs. ‘security sweep’.  

– ‘Torture’: vs ‘physical pressure’.