“Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem are immediately recognizable. In Issawiya, for example, there are flags flying for Palestinian political factions and the walls are covered with graffiti celebrating Palestinian martyrs [emphases added]—assailants who were shot and killed while attacking Israeli soldiers and civilians.”
So read a paragraph in “An Israeli leader wants to build walls in Jerusalem, put Arabs on the other side,” (Washington Post, Mar. 8, 2016 print edition). By Post Jerusalem Bureau Chief William Booth and correspondent Ruth Eglash, it reported a proposal by Isaac Herzog, head of Israel’s opposition Zionist Union coalition, to erect barriers between the capital’s predominantly Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.
Martyrs? The immediately trailing specificity—“assailants who were shot and killed while attacking Israeli soldiers and civilians”—makes clear the dead were anything but martyrs.
But The Post’s language, in context of the article itself, was insufficient. Martyrs, for 2,200 years in Western society, have been people willing to die for their religion—or more recently also a secular ideology—not those who kill for it.
The concept of martyrdom took root if not originated among Jews in the second century B.C.E., who suffered death rather than violate religious commandments at the order of Syrian-Greek overlords. It spread among early Christians who sacrificed themselves rather than submit to official dictates to worship Roman gods.
Regardless of celebrations by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority on the West Bank or Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian assailants killed while attempting to murder Israeli Jews are not martyrs. Somewhat more accurately they are “martyrs,” or so-called martyrs. Specifically, would-be or actual murderers.
By omitting quotation marks or qualifying adjectives, let alone not choosing specific nouns The Post unintentionally or otherwise oxymoronically equates “martyr” with assailant. Some Muslim clerics have done likewise, ruling it’s not suicide—prohibited by Islamic law—but “martyrdom” to die while killing infidels.
Whitewashing, one word at a time
By such a process, one small if insinuating example after another, news media sanitized “terrorist” as “militant” beginning 30 years and more ago, especially in cases of Palestinian “militants” who attacked Israeli or Jewish targets. (See, as one example, CAMERA’s “Updated: NPR Discovers Terror on the West Bank,” Aug. 15, 2003.) Militants in American history have been and are, as identified in some standard college texts, assertive trade unionists, feminists, environmentalists and the like. But not killers.
“Execute” more recently has often displaced murder to the semantic advantage of terrorist killers from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Boko Haram and so on. (See “It’s not execution but murder,” CAMERA in The Washington Times, Sept. 18, 2014.) Substituting “martyr” for terrorist—one who threatens or attacks non-combatants to influence wider audiences and government policies for political, religious, economic or other reasons—does likewise.
“Political factions”? What factions might these be whose flags The Post reports fly in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem such as Issawiya and in the West Bank? The newspaper didn’t say. But it was possible to find out.
As CAMERA’s Jerusalem office noted, former hunger striker Samer Issawi is from Issawiya (as the name suggests) and at the time the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine organized marches there in his support.
The U.S. State Department included the major DFLP faction on its foreign terrorist organizations list from 1997 to 1999, not that its members did not stage terrorist acts before and have since, as Issawi’s example indicates.
In 1974, the DFLP committed the Maalot massacre, during which 25 Israeli schoolchildren and teachers were murdered. Issawi was sentenced in 2002 to 26 years for repeated attempted murders. And even after the second intifada faded in 2005, Israeli forces killed DFLP members attempting to carry out attacks. (As noted, for example, in “Kristof’s Blame-Israel Rant,” CAMERA, Mar. 21, 2007.)
Issawi comes from a “political” family. The day before The Post article appeared in print, his brother Medhat and sister Shireen, lawyers in Issawiya, were sentenced to eight and four-year prison terms, respectively, for acting as Hamas messengers.