[Published May 2010]
Semantics has played and continues to play a very important role in attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel as the Jewish National Home.
The recent decision by two Arab Parliament Committees calling on all Arab League members to halt “all direct and indirect contacts with Israel” highlights the dangers inherent in the use of loose - but deliberately and carefully chosen - language.
The reasons for that decision were explained in the following communique:
“All relations should be severed in protest of the policy of expulsion Israel carries out in Palestine, the latest decision being the expulsion of tens of thousands of Palestinians living in the West Bank into Gaza, which is a new chapter of ethnic cleansing,” the panels said, in reference to two military orders enforced in April which expanded the definition of an “infiltrator,” thereby rendering potentially thousands of Gaza residents in the West Bank susceptible to deportation.”
In reaching this decision they were no doubt encouraged by the following comments made by the executive director of the Palestine Center - Yousef Munnayer. Commenting on the same military orders Munnayer wrote:
“There is little doubt that Israel has both the motive and the tendency to use these types of policies as tools for ethnic cleansing. With such ambiguity in these orders, a history of ethnic cleansing and the capacity to carry out such horrific acts, the world should be very wary of what is happening in the Israeli occupied West Bank where Israel is charged under international law with the protection of the native population and not its endangerment”
Munnayer no doubt had been encouraged to propound such views following earlier comments made by Nabil Abu Rudeina - the spokesman for Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas - who said in relation to the delivery of dozens of Court ordered eviction notices to Arab residents and threatened house demolitions for illegally built structures in East Jerusalem:
“It is an organised campaign of ethnic cleansing,”
Not unremarkably - generalised claims that Israel is engaging in ethnic cleansing are now regularly appearing in articles such as that written by Sam Bahour - a Palestinian-American management consultant living in Ramallah - who writes:
“... the tools of boycott, divestment and sanctions are much more powerful non-violent methods than negotiating in vain with a government bent on ethnic cleansing.”
The term “ethic cleansing ” was defined by a 1993 United Nations Commission to mean:
“the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogeneous.”
Certainly people are entitled to question and criticise anything the Israeli Government does - and the issue and enforcement of the military orders in question is a matter of legitimate public debate.
But for the Arab League and commentators like Munnayeh to describe such military orders as “a new chapter in ethnic cleansing” or as “tools for ethnic cleansing” is outrageous.
The implementation of those military orders against illegal Arab residents cannot possibly result in the West Bank becoming “ethnically homogeneous”. Enforcement of those orders cannot possibly result in 2.5 million Arabs being removed from the West Bank. That is a canard - pure and simple.
Even more preposterous is the Palestinian Authority spokesman’s claim that Court ordered evictions after hearings between disputing litigants amounts to “ethnic cleansing”
How can the enforcement of eviction orders - or even the demolition of a few dozen illegally built houses - against a small number of unsuccessful litigants amount to rendering East Jerusalem “ethnically homogeneous”?
The Arab League and the Palestinian Authority are playing with fire in using such language. It is clearly intended to incite the civilian Arab populations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to violence in the fear that Israel has embarked on a campaign to rid the West Bank and East Jerusalem of its Arab populations.
The history of Arab rioting in Palestine following incitement by the ruling Arab authorities in 1920,1929 and 1936 is well documented.
The need to avoid the use of incitement and hostile propaganda has long been recognised and deemed essential to achieve any peaceful resolution of the Arab- Israeli conflict.
The Oslo Accords (1993) stipulate:
“Israel and the Council [Palestinian Authority - ed] shall seek to foster mutual understanding and tolerance and shall accordingly abstain from incitement, including hostile propaganda, against each other and, without derogating from the principle of freedom of expression, shall take legal measures to prevent such incitement by any organizations, groups or individuals within their jurisdiction.”
President Bush’s Roadmap (2003) specifically provides:
“All official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel.”
Maybe the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority might claim they are using the term “ethnic cleansing” to convey a meaning different to that defined by the UN Commission.
If this is indeed the case then it is incumbent on them to define what they mean when they use it to berate Israel for implementing policies with which they disagree.
In the absence of any such explanation one can only reasonably conclude that the two Arab political organizations most intimately involved in securing a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict are adopting the language of incitement to deliberately railroad any such solution.
It is difficult to control individuals who recklessly and with apparent malice use the term “ethnic cleansing” to incite and vilify. They need to be individually confronted and exposed.
The Arab League and the Palestinian Authority are entirely different cases.
The fact that they can continue to make these statements without challenge by interested parties such as America and the European Union - indicates the slippery slide to the edge of the abyss that Israel and its Arab protagonists are fast approaching.
Loose lips sink ships. They can also sink any hope of a peaceful resolution of the 130 years old dispute between Arabs and Jews.