I'm not a regular diarist or commenter at DK, both because I'm often too busy to write and because this community is so full of active, erudite members with well-developed opinions on world matters that, whenever I feel inspired to add something to the discussion, I typically find that someone else has already said it, and better. While I am an obsessive lurker here, relying on the Kossack family for some of the best community-based reporting and opinion pieces on issues that are overlooked by both the traditional media and the larger blogosphere, I tend to add my voice only when I feel there is something important to be said that I haven't seen articulated elsewhere.
Over the past few days, I've been following the many lively discussions concerning the current conflict in Gaza with a great deal of interest, and have found a few opportunities to add something new to the discussion by commenting. Consequently, I've seen a trend in the language used in said discussion that I feel warrants a diary. I'm not talking about ad hominem attacks or Godwinism or any of the other rhetorical misconduct that is (thankfully) largely absent from the activity here. I'm talking about the labels we use to classify the belligerents in this conflict - namely "Palestinian" and "Israeli" - and I am appealing to the DK community to be more careful about the broad employment of those terms.
The Palestinian people are not lobbing missiles over the border into Israel. The Hamas authorities and militants with the support of Hamas (and myriad other militant groups) are the ones responsible for the attacks on Israel, just as the Palestinian people didn’t kidnap and murder those Israeli teenagers. Likewise, the Israeli people are not as a nation responsible for the brutal war currently being waged against Gaza. The Likud government and its hawkish coalition are the ones that have instituted the policies that set up the blockade and used the kidnappings as a pretense for their actions in Gaza that (arguably) initiated the latest round of fighting. I understand that both Hamas and Likud were democratically elected by their respective constituencies, and that there is an argument to be made that their policies reflect the will of the people they represent. I would respond by asking the members of this community how they felt about the actions of the Bush administration, and whether they were comfortable with any implication that all Americans were complicit in the invasion of Iraq. The point is that, as with any action taken by a government, there is dissent and disapproval of the behavior of the decision-makers in this conflict, and the idea that the entirety of either the Israeli or Palestinian people agree with what their leaders are doing is a dangerous and harmful simplification that creates yet another obstacle on the road to peace.
To paint the population of either nation with so broad a brush is not only inaccurate, it's detrimental to the discussion here and to the cause of a peaceful and lasting resolution to the decades-old conflict between these two nations. As long as these generalized labels are used to describe the two sides in this conflict, the world community - and the nations themselves - will continue to see the picture in black and white. As long as we continue to condemn the Palestinians and Israelis for the actions of Hamas and Likud, we perpetuate the simplistic lies that all Palestinians are Jihadi terrorists and that all Israelis are warmongering imperialists. The result is that the two sides (and their respective supporters and detractors around the world) feel increasing solidarity with the violent and extremist elements amongst them. When a lie (or in this case, a miscategorization) is repeated often enough, it starts to gain credibility. When a group is misidentified in a certain way frequently enough, that group eventually starts to think of itself in that way, and the nuance of the situation - the very thing that would allow the Palestinians and Israelis to recognize that their shared plight is the result of the decisions made by their leaders and that they would be better served by a permanent and just peace - gets lost in an increasingly polarized game of Us versus Them.
My hope is that a lasting peace in Israel and Palestine can be achieved in my lifetime. In order for that to happen, there are many difficult choices that need to be made by both countries and by the international community. One of the easier decisions is the way we use our words to define individuals, groups, governments and populations as a whole. Language is much more powerful than many of us recognize. Let's make sure we're using it for the cause of peace.