December 27, 2005


Telling it like it isn't (Robert Fisk, Los Angeles Times, December 27th, 2005)

This is only the tip of the semantic iceberg that has crashed into American journalism in the Middle East. Illegal Jewish settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land are clearly "colonies," and we used to call them that. I cannot trace the moment when we started using the word "settlements." But I can remember the moment around two years ago when the word "settlements" was replaced by "Jewish neighborhoods" — or even, in some cases, "outposts."

Similarly, "occupied" Palestinian land was softened in many American media reports into "disputed" Palestinian land — just after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, in 2001, instructed U.S. embassies in the Middle East to refer to the West Bank as "disputed" rather than "occupied" territory.

Then there is the "wall," the massive concrete obstruction whose purpose, according to the Israeli authorities, is to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from killing innocent Israelis. In this, it seems to have had some success. But it does not follow the line of Israel's 1967 border and cuts deeply into Arab land. And all too often these days, journalists call it a "fence" rather than a "wall." Or a "security barrier," which is what Israel prefers them to say. For some of its length, we are told, it is not a wall at all — so we cannot call it a "wall," even though the vast snake of concrete and steel that runs east of Jerusalem is higher than the old Berlin Wall.

The semantic effect of this journalistic obfuscation is clear. If Palestinian land is not occupied but merely part of a legal dispute that might be resolved in law courts or discussions over tea, then a Palestinian child who throws a stone at an Israeli soldier in this territory is clearly acting insanely.

If a Jewish colony built illegally on Arab land is simply a nice friendly "neighborhood," then any Palestinian who attacks it must be carrying out a mindless terrorist act.

And surely there is no reason to protest a "fence" or a "security barrier" — words that conjure up the fence around a garden or the gate arm at the entrance to a private housing complex.

For Palestinians to object violently to any of these phenomena thus marks them as a generically vicious people. By our use of language, we condemn them.

So, in the name of preserving the integrity of the English language, let's blow up some Israelis.

Posted by Peter Burnet at December 27, 2005 8:22 PM

Is this reason #188 for blowing up Jews, or #189? I've lost track.

BTW, the synagogue in Edmonton, Alberta has been vandalized for the fifth time in the last few years. I'm sure that parcel of land was once occupied by some poor Palestinian family in the 1300's.

Posted by: obc at December 27, 2005 8:51 PM

Leaving aside the moral, historical and logical errors, Fisk's flaccid column fails on its own premise--etymological dysfunction: 'Palestinian' is an invented word.

Posted by: Noel at December 27, 2005 9:51 PM

Based on the last 57 years of ME history, I have little evidence to dispute the assertion that the people who call themselves 'Palestinians' are 'generically vicious people'.

Posted by: JonofAtlanta at December 27, 2005 10:17 PM

Fisk is a pretty piece of work. The other day I tuned into a local college radio station & they had a speaker on, an Englishman, who was describing the current status of affairs in Iraq. Something like "The daily life of Iraquis is unspeakably brutal . . . The Baath party remnants are implacable, hardened fighters the U.S. can't hope to defeat . . . elections and such are sham proceedings ordered to cover the degeneration of Iraq into chaos, etc etc."

I figured it had to be Fisk, so I listened through to the end. And it was. It's interesting -- he's a very convincing speaker, and at least sounded very self-convinced. If I didn't know that over and over the last three years, his reporting has been a reliable standard by which to judge what isn't true -- whatever he says, the near opposite is likely to be the informative reality -- I could see believing him.

Posted by: Twn at December 28, 2005 11:40 AM

Fisk is a hoot. He needs to remember a little principle of history: nations that lose wars of aggression tend to lose some of their territory to the victors. Or is he also agitating for returning parts of present-day Poland to Prussia, parts of France to Germany, and parts of Russia to Japan? I'll bet not.

Posted by: PapayaSF at December 28, 2005 8:04 PM

the strongest lemming drowns the farthest out

Posted by: plato's toe at December 28, 2005 10:32 PM

The real problem for people like Fisk is that even if you grant him his description of of Jews (not Israelis, note) the Palestinian reaction is still stupid and insane.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at December 29, 2005 1:52 AM