A Rose By Any Other Name

[tweetmeme] Ban Ki Moon recently traveled to Israel and Palestine. Moon reiterated that the construction on Palestinian land was illegal and must stop – pretty normal demands from the international community, as nearly the entire world takes a tougher stance on settlement construction than the US.

The interesting thing about the trip was not the trip or anything Moon said during the trip, but rather how it was reported in the media. In the New York Times, reporter Isabel Kerschner focused on what were called “violent and illegal” riots, the actions of the ‘Peace Quartet’ and Netanyahu’s 10-month moratorium on construction outside of Jerusalem.

Indeed the only part of Moon’s condemnation of Israeli actions was:

In his news conference in Ramallah, Mr. Ban called on Israel to act responsibly, and said that any settlement activity in the occupied territories was “illegal” and “must be stopped.”

The BBC version of the story focuses mainly on the diplomatic row between Tel Aviv and Washington and the Israeli retaliation to a rocket from Gaza (The rocket – not from Hamas – killed one worker in Israel and Israeli rockets hit several tunnels injuring several).  Does, however, include a video of the Moon press conference in which he declared all settlements illegal and the following quotation:

“The world has condemned Israel’s expansion plans in East Jerusalem.

“Let us be clear: all settlement activity is illegal anywhere in occupied territory, and this must stop.”

The BBC article is more focused on illegal Israeli actions than the Times article.  But consider the French article from Le Monde (followed by my translation):

“Nous condamnons fermement, au nom du Quartette, les récentes mesures israéliennes en vue d’établir 1 600 unités de logements dans une colonie” de Jérusalem-Est, a réaffirmé le secrétaire général de l’ONU après avoir rencontré le premier ministre palestinienSalam Fayyad. “Toutes les activités de colonisation sont illégales n’importe où dans les territoires occupés et cela doit cesser”, a-t-il rappelé.

“J’ai pu voir de mes propres yeux les restrictions qui pèsent sur les Palestiniens. Même sur votre territoire, vous n’êtes pas en mesure de développer ou même maintenir une vie économique normale”, a déploré M. Ban qui a assuré l’Autorité palestinienne du “soutien ferme” du Quartette pour le Proche-Orient (ONU, Etats-Unis, UE, Russie) en faveur de la création d’un Etat palestinien“viable et indépendant”.

We strongly condemn, in the name of the Quartet, the recent Israeli measures to build 1,600 housing units in the colony” of East Jerusalem, affirmed the UN Secretary General after having met with Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad.  “All the colonizing activities are illegal regardless of where in the occupied territories and it must stop”,he said.

I can see with my own eyes the restrictions that weigh on the Palestinians.  Even on your land, you are not developing or even maintaining a normal economic life,”deplored Mr. Ban who assured the Palestinian Authority of “firm support” from the Quartet for the Near East (the UN, the US, the EU and Russia) in favor of the creation of a “viable and independent” Palestinian state.

Obviously, the most striking difference between the French and English is the use of the term colonization (and colonies…).  The Europeans in general are rhetorically tougher than the US and this is no surprise, but why does the English press (and Ban Ki Moon) use the term settlements and not colonies? Of course, the easiest translation of settlement into French is “colonie,” but that does not answer the question of terminology.

In Walt and Mearsheimer’s famous study on the Israeli lobby, they (uncomfortably) use the terms “colony” and “settlement” interchangeably, but favored the use of “settlement.”  In Palestine, the Israeli settlements are undoubtedly colonies – “a country or area under the control of another country and occupied by settlers from that country,” according to the Oxford dictionary.  So why did the term settlement even arise and why do we continue to use it?

The simple answer is connotation.  Clearly after the hundreds of years of European colonization and the disastrous wars of independence, a “colony” has a bad name.  It brings to mind repression and cultural domination – exactly what is happening in Palestine.  Settlement, on the other hand seems peaceful and brave as if the settlers are wielding man’s power over mother nature.

The French translate “settlement” to “colonie” because there is no other appropriate word; because settlements are colonies.  It is unlikely that the English press and politicians will start using the terms of colonization to describe Israeli actions, but we should start to view them for what they really are.

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