by Gary Fields
Language, as George Orwell remarked, is a proxy for power. According to the celebrated author of “1984,” those in power use language to disseminate truth selectively through a process of representation and concealment. When applied to the region of Israel/Palestine, Orwell’s insights reveal how this interplay of representation and concealment permeates the exercise of power, and why, absent changes in the discourse of the powerful side, there is little reason to expect any progress in the situation.
This month, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reiterated Israel’s intention to build 3,500 additional units of housing for Jewish settlers in the Palestinian West Bank while demanding at the same time that the Palestinian leadership do more to dismantle what the Israeli leader refers to as the “terror infrastructure.” A critical examination of these words testifies to the asymmetry of power between the two sides, while providing insights on why the conflict stands little chance of abating.
The term, “infrastructure of terror” is an emotionally charged metaphor commonly employed by the powerful side in the conflict to condemn what it insists is the single obstruction to peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. This term, however, is far from a neutral representation of why hostilities between the two groups persist. Its use bears witness to issues in the conflict rendered invisible by the stronger of the two belligerents.
When invoked by the powerful side, this potent slogan empties the conflict of all references to the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory. In the process, this metaphor creates a language about the situation purged of issues deriving from the occupation such as housing settlements, water rights, freedom of movement and sovereignty. It shrouds these issues beneath the same veil of silence hiding the occupation itself. The consequence is a conflated sense of who has power and who is subjected to domination, and a discourse distorted by the concealment of issues most fundamental to the conflict.