Re-evaluating how semantics are utilized when talking about Israel, is central to correcting the false narrative when it comes to most pervasive anti-Semitism in the US, which is anti-Zionism. Incorrect verbiage is not just words on a page, online, or said in casual conversation – it also leads to car ramming attacks in Jerusalem, stabbings in Judea and Samaria, rocket attacks at Israeli civilians living in the Gaza Envelope. It is European Jews being harassed and attacked by Islamists, and it is Israel Apartheid Week on many US campuses.
The Roman Empire renamed Israel to Palestina, in chiefly a temper tantrum because their three wars against Jews cost them more money and men than against any other group. Not to be outdone in deceit, Yasser Arafat, an Egyptian terrorist, renamed a good number of Arabs living in Jordan, the Gaza Strip and all over the Arab world to suddenly ‘Palestinians’ in 1964. Post Holocaust, this was the single most antisemitic geopolitical tool lobbed with grave consequences towards Jews worldwide.
Repeating the particular lie of ‘Palestinians’ plays into antisemitism and erases the concrete Jewish connection to the land of Israel. In the last two millennia, Palestine was a geographic term, occasionally even used to refer to a province within an empire, but never has it ever been used as the name of a sovereign political entity or nation. And never was the term connected or attached to Arab inhabitants of the region until the last decades of the last century. Even under the British mandate, the shorthand term “Palestinian” was universally understood to mean Palestinian Jews only, since the Arabs of the land both were referred to and self-identified as Arabs or Muslims. Palestinian Jews became Israelis and the Arabs became Jordanians. Many of those Arabs come from all over the Arab region, stemming from when the Ottomans allowed Muslims to live anywhere in their expansive borderless empire. Jews were only allowed to live in Jewish Palestine.
Today’s Arabs which live in Gaza are correctly referred to as Gazans, though their background is mostly Egyptian, Egypt has rejected them despite their formal rule over Gaza for close to two decades, due to terrorism.
Even Zuheir Mohsen, a PLO leader in Syria said in 1977…”The “Palestinian people” does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a “Palestinian people.”
Palestinian Arabs claim they live under Israeli occupation. Most actually occupied people in this world wish they lived under this type of ‘occupation.’ In reality, Judea and Samaria, the historical and legal (courtesy of the 1920 San Remo Conference) heart of Israel, where the term Jews stems from, is two-thirds occupied by a terrorist organization called Fatah. Though they claim to be more moderate, they give massive payouts to families of terrorists who murder Jews. Mahmoud Abbas himself financed the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre in 1972. In fact, the PLO has never actually revised its charter calling for Israel’s destruction.
Area A in Judea and Samaria is completely under the PLO-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) control, and Area B is militarily under Israeli security control, but what does that mean? Every aspect of administration and daily life is under the PA’s control, essentially being indistinguishable from Area A with the exception of the diminished presence of Israeli Defense Forces. Is the Israeli Defense Force there to intimidate the population? After destructive intifadas fueled by Arab terrorists, the IDF had no choice but to protect Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel from the terrorists incited by the pitiful excuse for leadership in Ramallah. The forward presence in Area B is the only way to prevent the area from becoming a solid and unrestrained launching pad for such attacks.
Many still say but what if ‘Palestinians’ identify as such, what is the harm? Most pro-Israel Arabs living in Israel say the truth, that they are Israeli-Arabs. Those who claim they are ‘Palestinian’ usually have a long-term thought that Hamas and Fatah will free ‘Palestine’ from the river to the sea, meaning destroy Israel and make it Judenrein, free of Jews. When asked where their families are from, those who claim to be ‘Palestinian’ will only say the villages their grandparents are from, when asked where their family is originally from, before Israel, they are silent. Some immigrated into the area in the decades before Israel was created, and a large percentage, especially but not only in Judea and the Hebron Mountains, are the descendants of Jewish families forcibly converted to Islam by the Ottoman rulers in the 18th century. Muhammad Abbas himself descends from a rabbinical family in Safed, although he fails to admit it. Meanwhile Jews in Israel, those who immigrated, have no qualms stating countries where their families lived beforehand, whether it is France, Poland, Morocco, Iraq, among numerous other nations.
Israel was not ‘created’ nor was it ‘born’ in 1948, it was the Jewish homeland for thousands of years, occupied throughout the ages, most recently by the British after the Ottomans were defeated. At first the British came rather peacefully, to ensure that the Balfour Declaration would be realized, but within a short amount of time the antisemitic White Papers were drafted to limit Jewish immigration to Jewish Palestine, which shut the gates of refuge just when they were needed most desperately.
These Jewish immigrants, mostly coming from war ravaged Europe, were joining a Jewish population which was largely Sephardic, who were in Jewish Palestine for hundreds of years after the Spanish Inquisition. That populace joined an established Jewish presence, some of which never left the land, and established strong communities in Jerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron, and Safed. There were Jews living in Gaza as well, as is illustrated by a 6th century synagogue recently unearthed.
Yet the British detained and sent back Jews attempting to escape from lands in which they were never considered real citizens and in which a third of the globe’s Jewish population was exterminated. More than that, the British forbade those Jews who did manage to reach the Jewish homeland to possess any arms and ammunition, but willingly allowed the Arabs in the British Mandate of Palestine to arm themselves. British leadership stood by when Jews were murdered in Hebron, along with other pogroms across Israel.
The violence coupled with the British restriction of Jewish prayer at Judaism’s holy sites set the tone for the need to have freedom after thousands of years. Jewish independence in Israel was hard fought, saying Israel was ‘created’ in 1948 takes away from the actual struggle to drive out the British occupiers. In 1948, Israel was internationally recognized and a modern government was formed, but first, Israel was liberated by Jews.
Another common antisemitic semantics mistake beloved by the US leftist media especially, is when Judea and Samaria is described as the West Bank. It is the anglicized version of Cis-Jordanian Palestine, a geographical term which properly refers to all of the area of the Mandate of Palestine to the West of the Jordan River, including what is today Tel Aviv, Haifa and everything else lying to the east of the river. The geographic areas to the east of the river were called Trans-Jordanian Palestine, which then became the Trans-Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom, and then just the “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.” When Jordan illegally occupied the ancestral heartland of Israel, Judea and Samaria, along with the eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter, it called the areas Jordan. When it used the term West Bank in that period, it meant the portions of the West Bank (Cis-Jordanian Palestine) which were occupied by the new state of Israel in 1948. It is only after the 1967 War, when Israel acquired the territory and Jordan was expelled, did some in the West begin to call the area the “West Bank.” When the Arabs use the term West Bank (rarely used since they prefer to use the term Palestine), there is no indication that they mean just Judea and Samaria, but they do not bother much to correct Westerners who use the term, tactically hiding their broader aspirations behind deliberate obscurity.
The west bank of the Jordan River is Israel. The eastern bank is Jordan. Therefore, the ‘disputed territories’ are certainly not actually disputed. That land belongs to Israel historically and legally – all of it, Area A, B, and C, which are areas in which Israel maintains both security and administrative control. Judea and Samaria are not disputed lands. Jews who live in that part of Israel are not settlers but Jewish residents in Jewish communities. Today, Israel seeks to apply sovereignty over Area C in Judea and Samaria, it is not annexation, as that region legally is in Israel, and is not part of a foreign country.
One of the counter-arguments many cite is the fact that the Israeli government uses much of the aforesaid terms and, therefore, it is thus acceptable. And yet, officially Israel does not use the term. They have always called them either Judea and Samaria or the “administered territories,” or just “the Territories.” The difference is that Israel is in a very volatile region, where one ill-perceived word can set off a war. At some point in the not so distant future, the hope is Israel will also not only use, but insist on the use by others of historically accurate language. The least those who support Israel can do is to use correct semantics which upholds historical accuracy and not add to the antisemitism, which stems from anti-Zionism.
Laureen Lipsky is a Member of the Center for Security Policy New York Board of Regents