If only George Orwell could come back from the dead.
In a column today titled “Semantic Minefields,” New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt asks whether “new construction authorized by Israel in East Jerusalem” should be called “Jewish ‘housing’ or ‘settlements’?" I wonder…
Here’s more from Hoyt’s column:
Nathan Dodell of Rockville, Md., said it was “tendentious and arrogant” to use the word “settlements” four times in the article when the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has explicitly rejected it in relation to East Jerusalem. Obama has used the term himself to refer to construction in East Jerusalem, and [Helene] Cooper told me, “I called them settlements because that’s the heart of the dispute between the Israelis and the United States: settlement construction in Arab East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want for an eventual Palestinian state.”
But to Dodell, she was taking sides. He asked why she didn’t use a neutral term like “housing construction.”
Settlement is a charged word in this context, because it suggests something less than permanent on someone else’s land. Israel argues that all of Jerusalem is its undivided capital, a claim not recognized by the United States and most of the world. Articles by Times reporters in Jerusalem do generally use words like “housing” instead of “settlement.” Still, Ethan Bronner, the bureau chief, said it would be unwise to adopt a hard and fast rule, because some areas of the city taken by Israel in 1967 had long been Jewish neighborhoods while others, built more recently, had the feeling of settlements.
I think Cooper should have found a more neutral term. As with Katrina, it is best to use language as precise as possible. But like Bronner, I don’t think a rigid rule is the solution.
Using the term “settlement” is itself a euphemism. “Colonies” is probably the best way to describe the illegal Jewish areas built on Palestinian land. Like other colonial-settler enterprises, these areas privilege Jews over the indigenous Palestinians, decisions are made by Israelis for the benefit of Jews only, and economic exploitation of Palestinian resources takes place routinely, among other hallmarks of colonialism.
Hoyt thinks “settlements” is a charged word because it merely “suggests” that Israelis are living on Palestinian land. It seems like Hoyt is woefully ignorant about the facts in Palestine: the use of the word “settlement” is factually accurate because Israeli Jews who live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are stealing Palestinian land, period. They are living on land that is not theirs, and any agreement within the two-state solution framework will have to mandate that these colonies be dismantled.
International law is clear. But apparently, Hoyt believes that a neutral term like “Jewish housing” should be used, because Israel argues that all of Jerusalem is theirs, while the rest of the world and international law say otherwise.
Using the term “Jewish housing” is complete hasbara. How can you deny Jews the right to live somewhere, a layperson could reasonably ask, if they see the term “Jewish housing” in regards to the row about East Jerusalem?
Sometimes I forget: facts and the truth mean little to the Times when it comes to Israel/Palestine. War is peace, settlements are Jewish housing.