The Other War: Islamist Wordplay 101

"Settlements", "occupied territories", "preconditions", etc. - how they are used and abused when talking about Israel.

Ari Lieberman,


The early months of 1948 did not bode well for the Yishuv, Israel’s pre-state Jewish population. Arab marauders roved the countryside seeking out soft, isolated targets and attacking with ruthless barbarity. The situation was particularly acute in Jerusalem where supply convoys on the roads leading to the ancient Jewish city were subjected daily ambush.

 As part of a wider effort to clear the roads leading to Jerusalem, the pre-state para-military forces of the Irgun and Lehi were charged with capturing the village of Deir Yassin, a strategic position that dominated the western approaches to Jerusalem.

By any measure, Deir Yassin was a hostile Arab village whose residents partook in the Battle of Kastel, exchanged daily fire with the Jewish neighborhood of Givat Shaul, provided refuge to Arab irregulars and engaged in the almost ritualistic daily ambushes of Jewish vehicular traffic.

On April 9, 1948 the battle was joined with Jewish forces advancing under withering fire from entrenched and well-armed Arab combatants. Several hours later the battle was over and the village was captured. Five Israelis were killed and dozens injured. Between 100 and 120 Arabs, combatants as well as some civilians were killed. The very nature of close-quartered urban combat made civilian casualties inevitability. In addition, Arab combatants had turned nearly every house into a fortification and some actually disguised themselves as women.

Arab propagandists soon swooped in and conjured up fantastic stories of rapes, baby killings and wildly inflated civilian casualty figures.

Most contemporary studies of the battle have, for the most part, debunked these spurious allegations. Yet today in Arab folklore, Deir Yassin is synonymous with “massacre” and every Arab schoolboy is spoon-fed this lie from the moment he’s able to attain the most rudimentary form of comprehension.

“Massacre” is defined as “the unnecessary, indiscriminate killing of a large number of human beings or animals, as in barbarous warfare or persecution or for revenge or plunder” and when used as a verb, describes “the unnecessary and indiscriminate killing of a large number of persons.” However, for Islamists, the word carries an entirely different meaning and addresses every lawful attempt by Israel to defend it’s citizenry from aggression.

Deir Yassin is just one example of Islamist word-play.

More recent examples include the Battle of Jenin in April 2002, the three-week winter Gaza offensive of 2008-09 and the Israeli naval intercept of the Mavi Marmara.

During Israel’s operation Defensive Shield in the spring of 2002, Israeli forces entered the city of Jenin (dubbed the suicide capital of the West Bank) in search of terrorists and their infrastructure. The Israelis could have just leveled the place with airstrikes but negated this option because the risk of collateral damage was deemed too great.

Over 20 soldiers and 50 terrorists died in bitter close quartered urban combat but this minor detail did not prevent the PA’s Minister of Propaganda, Saeb Erekat from declaring that a “massacre” occurred and 500 civilians were killed.

In December 2008, prompted by a surge of Hamas rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead. The former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp said of Israel’s actions during the war, During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare. Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.”

But the Islamists, who provoked the war, saw it differently. Gaza chieftain Ismail Haniyah stated that, “Palestine has never witnesses an uglier massacre.” There’s that word again, rearing its ugly head over and over and repeated ad nauseam.

Perhaps the most extreme example which highlights the absurdity of Islamist wordplay was evidenced by Turkey’s response to Mavi Marmara incident. Video footage of the incident attests to the fact that the IDF resorted to deadly force only after its troops were violently set upon by Islamist mercenaries. Nine mercenaries with various extremist Islamic affiliations were killed.

Turkey’s Erdogan referred to the incident as a “massacre” and compared it to the murder of the 3,000 victims of the Sept 11 attacks. The offensiveness and ludicrousness of the comparison is readily apparent and demonstrates the length to which Islamists have distorted the meaning of “massacre.”

But the Islamists have not limited their corruption of language to a single word. On the contrary, they have enlarged and expanded it. Take for instance the word, “victory.” It is defined as “a success or triumph over an enemy in battle or war.” However, the Islamists attach an entirely different meaning to the word. To them, if you survive an Israeli assault with your capital intact, it’s considered a victory. If you survive long enough to give a press conference on yet another “massacre,” perpetrated by the “Zionist entity,” you are considered victorious.

A stunning example of this absurdity is amply demonstrated by Israel’s three-week Gaza offensive of 2008/09. During the course of the battle, the IDF quickly established military dominance, inflicted severe casualties on Hamas, established a kill ratio of nearly 80 to 1 and sent the stalwart and proficient warriors of Hamas scurrying like frightened rabbits.

Following the battle, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, speaking from the safety of his luxury Damascus HQ almost comically said, the resistance won the battle in Gaza and the enemy failed in the field as it failed in politics.” That sentiment was echoed by various Gazan leaders, who after emerging from their basement hideout of Shifa Hospital, declared Hamas “victorious.”

The Arab-Israeli conflict is peppered with examples of Arab leaders proclaiming phantom victories that bear no relation to reality and that are in fact, divorced from reality. Arab reality is rooted in a convoluted mixture of lies and fantasy and Arab linguistics is merely a reflection of this skewed and deeply flawed perception.

Words carry with them very powerful meanings and if repeated often enough, begin to take root in our everyday vernacular.

The modern city of Ariel, built on barren land untouched in over 1,000 years and which boasts a prestigious university and over 17,000 residents is referred to as a “settlement” in the “occupied” territories. The word “settlement” conjures up images of colonialist takeover while the term “occupied” completely negates the argument that these territories are in-fact the subject of a bona-fide dispute.

Yet some media outlets and Israelis parrot these words simply because they’ve infected our every day manner of speaking. Some, of course, do so intentionally.

The next time you hear someone speak of “massacre,” “occupation,” or “settlement,” take the time to correct them and politely inform them of the power and misuse of words.