A guidebook from the Austria-based International Press Institute helps journalists chose words carefully when reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–because words are weapons. Social media has accelerated the trend, but this is nothing new.
Etgar Keret, an Israeli novelist, said he had been troubled by some of the terms favored by journalists, politicians and even friends in Tel Aviv. There is no Hebrew word for “assassination,” Mr. Keret said, so killings of Hamas operatives are described with a phrase meaning “focused obstruction.” Instead of “civilians,” he said, slain children and women are sometimes called “uninvolved.”
“There’s something about this ‘uninvolved,’ there’s something passive about it,” Mr. Keret said. “You admit that he is not somebody who is trying to destroy you, but you don’t give him any other identification. It was not a child who wanted to learn how to play the piano,” he said, adding, “it was just somebody who didn’t shoot at us.”
There is a long history here of such euphemisms. The journalist Amos Elon called it “word laundry,” and David Grossman explored the phenomenon in “The Yellow Wind,” his 1987 study of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation. “A society in crisis forges for itself a new vocabulary,” he wrote, using “words that no longer describe reality, but attempt, instead, to conceal it.”
More on this “War of the Words” from On the Media.