Halpern: Words failed them


I'm thinking

By Micah D. Halpern

Issue of November 27 2009/ 10 Cheshvan 5770

Language and terminology are essential tools in diplomacy and international relations. If you do not understand the nuances of language, if you aren’t aware of changing terminology, you will not be able to correctly predict change and you will make mistakes.

The number of linguistic and cultural illiterates involved in the Middle East peace process is staggering. Just take a look at the uproar over what is happening in Gilo.

Permission has been granted for the building of 900 new apartments in Gilo, most with four or five bedrooms. Permission came not from the Office of the Prime Minister or Foreign Minister, not from the Ministry of Absorption or even from the Ministry of Housing. The Municipality of Jerusalem made the decision to build and granted permission to build and is determined to see that the apartments are built. And that’s the way is should be.

Why? Because Gilo is a Jerusalem neighborhood, not a settlement.

Gilo is one of the original neighborhoods created after 1967 in order to belt Jerusalem and make certain that it could not be divided straight down the middle as it was between 1948 and 1967. Gilo never was a settlement and was never intended to be a settlement; it is a neighborhood.

Much like the neighborhoods Ramat Eshkol, Ramot and East Talpiot, Gilo is there to help spread out the city of Jerusalem. These are not outlying communities; they are part and parcel of the city. Their traffic patterns are Jerusalem’s traffic patterns; their traffic jams are Jerusalem’s traffic jams. In Jerusalem, there is no feasible way to build up, so it is built out. As the country grows, so grows Jerusalem, and by extension, so grows Gilo.

The vast majority of Israel, across the political spectrum, is unconcerned by building in Gilo. The reason is obvious to everyone who understands the nuances of the region. Jerusalem is different; Jerusalem is special.

The Palestinians understand that. When discussing the 900 apartment units on Palestinian radio and in Palestinian newspapers, Gilo was referred to, simply and accurately, as Gilo. It was not referred to by its Arabic name; it was referred to by its Hebrew/Israeli name. It was not referred to by the Arabic names of the hills surrounding the area, names similar in sound to Gilo, as is often done in the Arab world. It was Gilo, plain and simple.

The greater Arabic press also referred to Gilo and to East Jerusalem by their Hebrew names and not as settlements. The Secretary General of the United Nations referred to the site as East Jerusalem as did UN spokespeople. And on most English news websites of the Arabic newpapers the area is not even referred to as Al Kuds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem, but as Jerusalem.

Even MAAN, the most read news site among Palestinians, does not refer to Jerusalem as Al Kuds — and the only sites that get more hits in the Palestinian areas than MAAN are Google, Yahoo, MSN and YouTube. Had these apartments been built ten years ago, it would have been considered settlement activity and all the residents would have been called settlers. But time has marched on, terminology has changed, the facts on the ground have changed.

So if all of Israel gets it, if most of the Palestinians and the greater Arab world get it, who still doesn’t get it? I’ll give you a hint. Officially, the United States makes no distinction between East Jerusalem and the West Bank — both are categorized as disputed territory.

Now, isn’t that interesting?

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. Read his latest book THUGS. He maintains The Micah Report at www.micahhalpern.com