Archive for October, 2008

Israel, Palestine, and “Israel-Palestine”

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

The way things are expressed is important. Language and thought are interdependent; some philosophers think that reasoning is language. Politicians understand this well. For example, Republicans like to annoy their opponents by referring to them as the ‘Democrat’ Party instead of  the ‘Democratic’ Party, which is its correct name (there’s an interesting discussion of this usage, which may go back to the 1920’s, here).

Recently I’ve noticed the usage “Israel-Palestine” to refer to the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. I began to see it first in pro-Palestinian and left-wing commentary, but now it seems to have leaked into the mainstream. For example, here is a quotation from Thomas L. Friedman, writing in the NY Times:

That [low oil prices] is a good thing because Iran also funds Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and the anti-U.S. Shiites in Iraq. If America wants to get out of Iraq and leave behind a decent outcome, plus break the deadlocks in Lebanon and Israel-Palestine, it needs to end the cold war with Iran. Possible? I don’t know, but the collapse of oil prices should give us a shot.

What’s wrong with this locution? First of all, there is — as yet — no such political entity as ‘Palestine’ and certainly not ‘Israel-Palestine’. There was a geographical region called ‘Palestine’, named by the Romans and successively controlled by the Byzantines, various Muslim dynasties, Crusaders, Ottoman Turks and finally the British. In 1921, the British lopped a big chunk off  the eastern part of the Palestine Mandate and created Transjordan (today called Jordan). And in 1948 the state of Israel came into being in the western part.  What’s left, of course, is politically undefined, partly controlled by Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority.

The left-wing usage implies that they are talking about a single political as well as geographic entity, a ‘state of its citizens’ which they would like to see created in place of the Jewish state and the territories (such a state would last only as long as the resulting civil war).

Friedman, as far as I know, supports a two-state solution, so why doesn’t he say “Israel and the Palestinians”?

Some day, when the Palestinian Arabs — after all, there is no reason why Israelis are not also geographical Palestinians, Palestinian Jews — are prepared to accept the fact that there is and will continue to be a Jewish state in the Middle East, there could also be a Palestinian Arab state. They can call it فلسطين, Filastin, and then it will be correct to say “Israel and Palestine”. But there will never be anything called “Israel-Palestine”.

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