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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

February 03, 2003



Out of 5,400 words, President Bush devoted 18 words to the Israeli crisis during his State of the Union address. The last word in his isolated sentence stands out - "Palestine".

If you are fearful of the context, you have a right to be. Here is the full sentence: "In the Middle East, we will continue to seek peace between a secure Israel and a democratic Palestine."

This is how dangerous semantics can get. Palestine is even on the lips of the president, as if an established political unit and would-be sovereign nation by that name is an accepted fact.

Of course, Bush's speechwriters probably tossed in the line to make some obligatory involvement to resolve the situation in Israel. Perhaps they intentionally inserted the word "Palestine" because of the symbolic importance attached to it by supporters of the Palestinians, which itself is a questionable term.

Words and terms floated by the Arab side have been creeping into the lexicon, and now the most potent word has been added to the Oval Office's vocabulary.

There has never really been a place called "Palestine" in relation to any Arabs who reside in Gaza or on land located east of Israel proper to the Jordan River. That land is generally referred to as the West Bank, which for that matter has itself been subject to dispute.

Certainly, the Bush administration needs to reconsider its use of that word. At the very least, his lone reference to the Israeli conflict strongly implies an accepted Arab land called "Palestine" slated to become a sovereign nation in the near future.

That's sufficient to legitimize the word "Palestine," which in turn legitimizes the idea that this is Palestinian land.

I lean to the view that that land is for the Jewish people, on grounds that there are already 22 Arab countries and they possess a far vaster land mass. Why do they need yet another state? However, I concur with Ariel Sharon's view that it is disputed territory.

In reality, it is disputed. Many Israelis, diaspora Jews and other supporters of Israel fervently believe it is Jewish land, while supporters of the Palestinians fervently believe it is Arab land.

Obviously, they use the word "Palestine" to legitimize the idea of a Palestinian state.

Supporters of Palestinians who have discussed the situation slip the word "Palestine" into the first sentence, signaling that their minds are already made up.

It gets really disturbing when people in political or professional positions who need to be objective employ such terms.

In Thursday's Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, letter-writer Steve Feldman reported that the managing editor of The Philadelphia Daily News, Ellen Foley, used that word during a meeting when Feldman and other representatives of Philadelphia Jewish organizations complained to her and another editor about a photo spread depicting Palestinian suffering.

Feldman wrote, "Foley's misclassification of the place where the photos were taken as 'Palestine,' as she mentioned to us at the meeting, demonstrates the mindset in the Daily News newsroom."

To paraphrase a book entitled "Israel on the Mind of America," we are now faced with Palestine on the lips of President Bush.

Hopefully he will rethink his semantics.

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