OpinionMiddle East

Mideast words that don’t mean what they say

The way the terms “occupation,” “Palestinian” and “West Bank” are used is no joking matter.

Words have power. Credit: Pixabay.
Words have power. Credit: Pixabay.
Moshe Phillips
Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press.  

The International Criminal Court is examining Israel’s policies in what it calls the “occupied Palestinian West Bank.” But how can the court possibly render a fair verdict when that very term is a complete and utter falsehood?

For as long as any of us can remember, the phrase “occupied Palestinian West Bank” has been a regular part of the vocabulary used by the media, as well as the political and diplomatic world. The fact that those words have been around for a long time doesn’t make them true.

Contemporary American English includes all sorts of names and phrases that don’t mean what they actually suggest. “French fries” are not French. “Koala bears” are not bears. “Driveways” are for parking, not driving—and parkways are the opposite. That’s all great fodder for stand-up comedians who specialize in observational humor.

But the way the terms “occupation,” “Palestinian” and “West Bank” are used is no joking matter.

“Occupation” was accurate for a short period of time. But Israel’s “occupation” of the territories in question ended long ago.

The Israelis first occupied those areas in self-defense during the Six-Day War in June 1967. Between 1993 and 1995, however, that occupation came to an end. It was replaced by an agreed-upon division of the region between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Israelis withdrew from the parts where 98% of the Palestinian Arabs reside. There are no Israeli troops, no Israeli administration and no Israeli military governor there anymore. So who exactly is “occupying” it? The Palestinian Authority, of course.

The P.A. has its own armed troops (euphemistically called “security forces”), its own administration and its own governors. It runs the courts, the police, the schools, the news media and everything else that constitutes an occupation.

The only part of the area that Israel occupies is where Israelis reside. And that Israeli presence is stipulated by the Oslo Accords. Not that Israel’s right to the area is based on the Oslo agreement, of course. It’s based on 3,000-plus years of continuous Jewish inhabitation and many centuries of Jewish national sovereignty—not to mention international law and the Hebrew Bible. But the fact is that the P.A. agreed to it.

“Palestinian” is not an authentic term either, which is to say that when the Romans coined that term in ancient times, that did not automatically confer “Palestinian” ethnicity upon the people who were living there. Of course, in principle, new nationalities can be invented, as some of the Arabs living in that region eventually did.

Still, that’s no reason for the rest of us to pretend that the history, culture and language of Palestinian Arabs are substantively different from that of Jordanian Arabs or Syrian Arabs. It simply isn’t. So to say that a particular territory is intrinsically “Palestinian” is false.

Finally, we have the term “West Bank,” which is just as inauthentic as the rest, although it’s also geographically false. Parts of what the International Criminal Court is calling the “West Bank” are more than 40 miles to the west of the Jordan River. Obviously, no river bank in the world is 40 miles wide.

The term “West Bank” was invented by journalists after the 1948 war as a matter of literary convenience. It designated the area that Jordan occupied (yes, occupied) from 1948 to 1967. Arab propagandists gradually saw it as a useful alternative to the term “Judea-Samaria,” which is historically and geographically correct but reminds everybody of the area’s Jewish roots. So “West Bank” is, in effect, a de-Judaizing device.

The president of the National Religious Broadcasters, Troy Miller, recently urged Christian news media to use “Judea-Samaria” instead of “West Bank.” And many of them undoubtedly will do so. After all, the world’s 2.4 billion Christians know that both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible repeatedly use the terms “Judea” and “Samaria,” and don’t refer to “Palestine.” Supporters of the Palestinian Arab cause, including many in the international news media, no doubt will continue to use the inaccurate term because it helps the cause.

This brings us back to the International Criminal Court and its ongoing investigation of the non-occupied, non-Palestinian, not-West Bank.

Since the entire case is based on a false premise, the verdict inevitably will reflect politics rather than truth. But the rest of us know the truth.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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