Marty Harris is an assistant digital editor at the Lowy Institute.
The International Press Institute has just released a guide for journalists on 'loaded language in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict'.
Journalists in the region may be particularly invested in the conflict, because they live in it with their neighbours and families. They have personal stories and convictions that create ethical obligations that may conflict with their obligation to professionalism and unbiased reporting.
Drafted by six unnamed Israeli and Palestinian journalists, it carefully explains the loaded nature of 150 words or phrases used to describe aspects of the conflict. The report highlights the historical baggage attached to these words and phrases, and why they are offensive to one side of the conflict or the other. Indicative of how difficult it is to talk about this particular conflict, this is how the authors explain the use of the term 'peaceful demonstration':
There is an Israeli view that finds the use of the expression peaceful demonstration offensive when it is used to describe events involving altercations with Israeli soldiers, police and Israeli citizens, which include the throwing of stones, rocks, or Molotov cocktails.
They find this usage offensive because stones and Molotov cocktails have been known to kill people, and because it could wrongly suggest that Israeli soldiers or police officers arbitrarily shot at demonstrators who were not being aggressive.
Conversely, the Israeli side sometimes labels Palestinians attending demonstrations as rioters. This is equally loaded because it implies that the intention of protestors is violence, and that they are possibly armed.
Palestinian media and officials sometimes use the terms peaceful demonstration, popular resistance, or peaceful marches to refer to popular actions taken by Palestinians to protest Israeli policies toward the Palestinian Territories and Palestinians.
There is a Palestinian view that these protests and acts of civil disobedience are a way to speak out against settlement building in the West Bank. Those who hold this view use the descriptor peaceful to distinguish the movement from the violent actions of the first and second Intifadas.
You can get a copy of the full report by contacting the International Press Institute directly.
Photo by Flickr user Michael.Loadenthal