It has become axiomatic in a certain part of the American political class that words matter. Even with the necessary disclaimer that the shooting in Arizona was the work of a mentally deranged man whose political reading was confined mainly to Hitler and Stalin, and was not influenced by current political cross-currents, people across the political spectrum have pronounced the requirement that we measure our words against the harm they could do under some unforeseen circumstance. Fair enough.
But not only American rhetoric should be measured, and words should be measured for truth as well as for heat. As the Administration begins work on what appears to be the next phase of the Palestinian-Israeli “peace process” (words that clearly should be re-evaluated), let’s evaluate some fairly common Palestinian political rhetoric for the damage words can do under circumstances we can well see.
Start with “Palestine from the River to the Sea.” Every official map produced by the Palestinian Authority – whether used for school children or public buildings – shows Palestine replacing Israel. Children are taught that Haifa and Jaffa are “occupied cities” of Palestine. What harm are they doing to their children and what harm are they inviting their children to do to Israel?
— The Washington Times brought readers the words of 12-year-old Abu Ali. “‘I hope to be a martyr… I hope when I get to 14 or 15 to explode myself.’ His mother, Om Muhammad, is eager to help her son, one of six children, accomplish his goal. She helps him tug on a toy suicide bomber costume in her living room as she serves mint tea to a visitor… ‘I encourage him, and he should do this,’ said the woman, the mother of six. ”
— A children’s choir in a YouTube video produced in Jordan sings a song called, “When we die as martyrs.” The lyrics include, “Without Palestine, what does childhood mean?”
— Researcher Justus Weiner cited an Amnesty International report titled, “Killing the Future – Children in the Line of Fire.” “Signs on the walls of kindergartens proclaim their students as ‘The shaheeds of tomorrow,’ and elementary school teachers and principals commend their young students for wanting to ‘tear their [Zionists’] bodies into little pieces and cause them more pain than they will ever know.'”
— Dalal Mughrabi led the most deadly attack in Israel’s history wherein 37 civilians, including 12 children and an American photographer, were murdered. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has turned her into a role model with a public square, schools, summer camps, and sports tournaments named after her. The attack was celebrated by a Fatah spokesman as “the most glorified sacrifice action in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle.” At a public ceremony sponsored by the PA, a song about Mughrabi was sung by a children’s choir:
No one outshines the Fatah member
He mounts his machine gun on the tripod
His eyes are to Al-Aqsa – the Fatah member…
They got off the boats near the shore
Dalal [Mughrabi] fights and battles the soldiers
Be safe, you defiant, oh Fatah member! …
They went [ashore] as birds of prey, the heroic Al-Saika (PLO unit)
The men of Yasser [Arafat], Al-‘Asifa (PLO unit)
The enemy’s army fled trembling.
Let’s hail Fatah!”
Try the words “the Right of Return.” What do they mean to the PA and the people in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan and the territories – particularly those born after May 1948? Is it truthful to tell people that they will “return” to places they never lived? And if people believe they will “return” to places that have been Israel for more than half a century, are those words the embodiment of “Palestine from the River to the Sea”?
What does that mean for the “peace process”?
Abu Mazen’s Ph.D. dissertation was titled, “The Other Side: The Secret Relations Between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement.” Are those words what he believes about Jews and Nazis? Are they true? Are they so old that they are no longer operative? Abu Mazen has other words. “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it.” Just this week he said before the PA would re-enter negotiations with Israel, the United States must pledge to support a Palestinian state in the entire West Bank. “If the United States recognizes the 1967 borders as the borders of the Palestinian state, the Palestinian Authority will resume peace negotiations with Israel,” he said. “We will continue the political struggle until we have a state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Peace between Israelis and Arabs (and we should not allow substitution of the word “Palestinians” for the word “Arabs” as it is the Arab world that rejected – and in the main continues to reject – the legitimacy of Israel) is not a matter of rhetoric.
But words matter.