Words About War Matter

October 31st, 2023 - by David Vine / Words About War

De-Weaponizing the Debate over War and Peace
David Vine / Words About War

(October 29, 2023) — Please see attached and below ten urgent suggestions for people to use and share for discussing the mass killing in Gaza and Israel/Palestine (also at www.wordsaboutwar.org/gaza).

These suggestions build off the “Words about War Matter” Language Guide (www.wordsaboutwar.org) and come from the team that produced it.

Please share “Language Use about Gaza: Ten Urgent Suggestions” widely if you find it helpful, as we hope you do,

Language about Gaza: Ten Urgent Suggestions
When talking about mass violence, language matters. Word choices can be a matter of life and death. The language of war is frequently dehumanizing and euphemistic. This can make it easier to kill. We must use clear, accurate, honest language, describing flesh and bone impacts as directly as possible.

We must use language foregrounding the humanity of all those harmed. We must resist simplistic, binary us vs. them, good vs. evil narratives circulated by governments and media outlets that humanize some while dehumanizing others.

Promoting a Lexicon of Peace
The following are suggestions for writing and talking about violence in Gaza and Israel/Palestine. Find more suggestions at www.wordsaboutwar.org.

  1. Don’t repeat talk of barbarism, savagery, or animals. It’s racist and Islamophobic.
  2. Killed, murdered, or dead? Many have described Palestinians as dead while Israelis are killed, murdered, or massacred (“At least 70 killed in Israel; 198 dead in Gaza”). Dead and deaths erase causality and responsibility for killing. Remember, war is killing, war is murder.
  3. Humanize equally: Don’t say “Hamas killed Israeli children and families” while “the Israeli military killed Palestinian civilians.”
  4. Avoid passive verbs (were killed, were murdered). Say who is doing what, who is killing whom. “The Israeli military killed Palestinians… Hamas fighters killed Israelis….”
  5. Don’t use sports metaphors. War is not sport. There are no “teams.” Sports metaphors hide war’s human damage.
  6. Don’t use surgical or precision strikes. War is never surgical, hygienic, or clean.
  7. Don’t use language implying collective responsibility and/or punishment.
  8. Don’t conflate a government with a people. Don’t talk about Palestinians or Israelis as homogenous groups.
  9. Don’t use terrorism, terrorists, war on terror. The terms are public relations. They have no clear definitions, have Islamophobic connotations, and do not get applied to terror inflicted by states. Name the actions of groups using violence. Use: acts of mass violence, attacks on civilians, and militants.
  10. Is War accurate? War is an intense armed conflict between states or groups. Considerable evidence suggests the following terms apply (War on Gaza is another option):

Ethnic Cleansing: “ a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.”

Genocide: “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

Note: When referring to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, be explicit that the Israeli government bears responsibility for creating it through its genocide of Palestinians.