Words That Hurt: ZOA Activists Must Take the Lead to Change Toxic Terms

by Lee Bender and Jerome Verlin

The mainstream media’s coverage of Israel is laced with toxic terms that are intentionally crafted to delegitimize the Jewish State. It’s clear that Israel’s enemies, the media, and its left-wing Jewish detractors appreciate the power of word choice in shaping public perception. Even Israel’s supporters unthinkingly use such poisoned pejoratives as “West Bank,” “East Jerusalem,” “1967 borders,” “Jewish settlements,” and so on.

ZOA members must take the lead in challenging the use of this loaded lexicon of toxic terms — first, by our advocates and pro-Israel pundits, and then by the media and public at large. Here is what’s at stake: Scholars say, “History is what historians say it is.” But in reality, history is what ordinary people believe it is. If we forfeit the public-perception-forming word choices of the ArabIsraeli conflict, we forfeit our people’s history.

So, here is a baker’s dozen of poisoned pejoratives. We must stop using these terms. Badger pro-Israel writers and advocates to stop using them. And then, together, let’s lean on the mainstream media to clean up its language.

  1. The West Bank: The media claims that the term “Judea and Samaria” is simply “the biblical name for the West Bank.” But that claim flouts this historical fact: The Hebrew-origin names Judea and Samaria were used through 1950, when invading Jordan renamed them “the West Bank” in order to disassociate these areas from the Jewish homeland; this term is not shorthand for Judea and Samaria. Under this formulation, Jordan is the East Bank of the original British Mandate for Palestine, which designated the 20th century homeland for the Jewish people.
  1. 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 from 1948 – when invading Jordan captured part of the city – to 1967 was the only time in history when Arabs ruled any part of Jerusalem (except CE 638 to 1099); Palestinian Arabs have not ruled an inch of it for one day in history. Over the past three Words That Hurt ZOA Activists Must Take the Lead to Change Toxic Terms Article 47 Scholars say, “History is what historians say it is.” But, in reality, history is what ordinary people believe it is. If we forfeit the public perception forming word choices of the Arab-Israeli conflict, we forfeit our people’s history. ARTICLE 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 Ottoman 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.
  1. The UN sought to create Jewish and Palestinian states: The UN Partition Plan of 1947 is a benchmark that clearly reveals the extent of language deterioration. In the plan, the UN did not 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-20th century. The UN did not 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 UN resolution did not call Palestinian Arabs “the Palestinians,” but rather referred to Palestine’s Jews and its Arabs as “the two Palestinian peoples.”
  1. 1948 was the creation and founding of Israel and … the war that followed Israel’s creation: Israel was not created and founded in 1948, artificially and out of the blue. That year, Israel attained independence as the natural fruition into renewed statehood of a people who 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; war was forced upon it by the Arab states, which rejected UN partition and tried to push the Jews of Israel into the sea. The Jewish homeland army — the Haganah, which became the IDF — repelled that multi-nation foreign invasion.
  1. Palestinian militants: No, they are not. They are mass murderers and terrorists who prey on civilians, using rockets, missiles, mortars, bombs, guns, knives, car rammings, etc. A militant fights in combat; a terrorist kills innocent people because of ideology.
  1. Palestinian refugees of the war that followed Israel’s creation: The leaders of the invading Arab states, bent on Israel’s destruction, encouraged the Arabs (some 472,000 to 650,000 of them) to flee tiny Israel temporarily. The media constantly ignores the indigenous Middle Eastern Jews (around 850,000) who were expelled from Arab lands and Iran with barely the clothes on their backs and were forced to abandon property and businesses, for which they were never compensated. Many of them had family roots dating back hundreds, even thousands of years. Israel absorbed the bulk of these Jews, while Arab “hosts,” including in Arab-administered areas of Palestine itself, isolated the Arab refugees’ descendants in Western-supported refugee camps. This does not convert the Arab-Israeli conflict’s two-sided refugee issue into a Palestinian Arab refugee issue. Had the Arabs accepted the UN partition plan that included a western Palestine Arab state, instead of waging war to destroy the Jewish one, there would be no Palestinian Arab refugees. If there is ever going to be a settlement of this issue, the plight of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands must be taken into account.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Israeli-occupied West Bank, 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. “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 to 1 and 22 states 48 to 1. 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.
  1. Jewish settlers and settlements vs. Palestinian residents of neighborhoods and villages: A favorite media contrast is referencing in the same sentence “Jewish settlers” in “settlements” versus “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. Jews live in towns, villages, and cities — more accurate terms for “Jewish settlements.” PA 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—including Israel’s Knesset, Supreme Court, and other institutions—and enjoy the same rights as all Israeli citizens, including health care and education.
  1. Israel’s insistence on being recognized as a  Jewish State is a new stumbling block: New since Moses’ time. The Jewish homeland of Israel, including continuous Jewish presence, has always been central to Jewish peoplehood. In 1947, British Foreign Secretary Ernest 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).
  1. 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.
  1. 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.” Instead, always refer to Palestinians as “Palestinian Arabs.” In 1947, the UN 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. Palestinian Arabs have no language, religion, or culture distinguishing them 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. Arabs could have established a state in that territory during the 1948–’67 period that Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria. But that was not their intention, which was, rather, to destroy Israel.

Avoiding these toxic terms and cleaning up the language that is used when it comes to Israel are part of 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, biomedicine, and agriculture. It engages in humanitarian missions worldwide as a first responder; a beacon of Judeo-Christian values; a democracy that respects civil rights, women’s rights, minority rights, and gay rights; an asset and ally of the U.S.; and an oasis in a hostile, totalitarian, and theologically dominated Arab/Islamic desert. These qualities, in short, reflect our Jewish values.

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.

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