“Martyrs”—the New “Militants”—and Other Washington Post Word-Play

(Updated March 14, 2015.)
They were details. And the devil’s in such details.

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 Posts 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.

Hamas, a U.S.-government designated terrorist organization, is the ruling “political party” in the Gaza Strip. Its charter, or platform, calls for among other things the destruction of Israel, its replacement by an Islamic theocracy also including Gaza and the West Bank, and genocide of the Jews.  
Those old neighborhoods–Whose?
Palestinian neighborhoods? There are Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem and some predominately Arab neighborhoods with significant numbers of Jews, but united Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. No part of it is governed by the Palestinian Authority, let alone in “Palestine,” certainly not before final status negotiations, if and when they might occur. 
Moreover, many Arabs who live in those neighborhoods last year and in 2010 and 2011 told pollsters that they would oppose their neighborhoods being included in any notional “Palestine.” According to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s David Pollock (“Half of Jerusalem’s Palestinians Would Prefer Israel to Palestinian Citizenship,” Washington Institute, Aug. 21, 2015), “in a mid-June poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (based in Beit Sahour, the West Bank), 52 percent of Palestinians living in Israeli-ruled East Jerusalem said they would prefer to be citizens of Israel with equal rights—compared with just 42 percent who would opt to be citizens of a Palestinian state. This remarkable result confirms and extends a trend first observed five years ago.
“In a similar poll in September 2010, one-third picked Israeli over Palestinian citizenship; by September 2011, that proportion had risen to 40 percent. As of today it has risen again to just over half. This is dramatically different from results in the West Bank or Gaza, where a mere four percent and 12 percent respectively, would prefer Israeli citizenship.”  
Post wording here is at best premature, at worst tendentious.
Booth and Eglash quote Daniel Seidemann as saying Herzog is telling Palestinians of East Jerualem that we don’t give a damn about them and the threat to Jewish Jerusalem isn’t the Palestinians … It’s the occupation. They identify Seidemann as founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, a group that tracks development in the city. In fact, Seidemann—a go-to source for Western news media including The Post for more than a decade—is an anti-settlement activist who opposes sale of West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and eastern Jerusalem property to Jews and has founded several organizations to further his goals. (See, for example, NPR Blames Only Israel for Undermining the Peace Process, CAMERA, Jan. 8, 2013).
The newspaper noted that the Labor Party, larger element of Herzog’s opposition Zionist Union coalition, formally adopted the Jerusalem separation proposal one month ago. The Jerusalem Post, for example, reported it on February 8 (“Labor Party votes to freeze two-state solution; Yacimovich boycotts vote”). That put The Washington Post’s coverage in the “why now?” category.
CAMERA’s 2002 Letter Writer of the Year, Stephen Silver, observed of Washington Post coverage of Herzog’s proposal, that “the plan is intended as a temporary measure to separate Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem in order to reduce the ongoing spate of violence as well as preserve and bolster long-term prospects for a comprehensive two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The article makes almost no effort to feign balance or consult independent moderate experts, and it ignores the fact that the proposal is broadly consistent with most serious proposals for an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty. It also ignores the fact that the ‘old walls’ were built to prevent terror attacks like the ongoing ones which took the life … of an American graduate student. One may support or oppose the plan for any number of reasons, but the Posts characterization of it in this article is grotesque and blatantly unfair.”
Details, details. The devil’s in such.

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