The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rife with disputed terms, rulings and more. Explanations on these issues are complex and take more than a sentence to clarify. Reporters are wise to seek expertise in terminology from the foreign desk of their news outlets or other sources. Here is some basic context on the most-disputed questions, which include the ability of the United Nations to rule and enforce its resolutions.
How should reporters refer to the Palestinian land?
While there is currently no country called “Palestine,” the creation of a Palestinian state is a likely possibility in the future as part of the often-referred-to “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Meanwhile, there is debate in the media over how to refer to Palestinian-controlled land. The Palestinian Authority, established in 1994, controls what can be called the “Palestinian territories.” Palestinians and Israelis may also refer to these areas, which include the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as “occupied Palestinian territories” or the “occupied territories,” a term which for some denotes a particular political position. Since the Six-Day War of 1967, the United Nations has regarded those territories as being under Israeli military occupation, though the Palestinian Authority has exercised varying measures of control over the areas since the 1994 Oslo Accords. Reporters should take into account how their sources and their papers handle this controversial nomenclature issue.
Is the Palestinian government recognized as a legitimate national government?
Established in 1994, the Palestinian Authority, or Palestinian National Authority, is a recognized administrative political entity, but not a national government. It was recognized by Israel, as part of the 1994 Oslo Accords, as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Authority has an official armed police force and has held national elections. In 2006, the Hamas party defeated the ruling Fatah party in the national elections leading to an armed conflict between the two. Fatah is the recognized leader of the Palestinian Authority but its control extends only over the West Bank, with Hamas controlling the rest of the territories. Palestine gained nonmember observer status at the United Nations in 2013.
Is Israel illegally occupying Palestinian land?
- Israel says no. It says the land was captured in a defensive war, the Six-Day War of 1967.
- Palestinians say yes. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 called for Israel to withdraw armed forces from the territories captured in the Six-Day War. The ruling was reaffirmed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 338 in 1973 after the Yom Kippur War. (Both sides interpret the results of the 1920 San Remo conference differently.)
Are Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank "illegal?"
- Israeli settlements are communities built for Israeli Jewish settlers in areas that it captured during the 1967 Six-Day War.
- Israel says they are not illegal. It says it captured the land in the defensive Six-Day War of 1967. It says the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids an occupying power from confiscating occupied land and transferring its own population to that territory, does not apply to the West Bank and Gaza.
- Palestinians say they are illegal. The settlements have been declared illegal under international law by the United Nations Security Council in resolutions 446 and 452 of 1979.
Is the security barrier/wall illegal?
- The Israelis say no, that the barrier is a necessary measure of self-protection against suicide attacks.
- The Palestinians say yes. In July 2004, the U.N. International Court of Justice ruled that the West Bank security barrier is illegal and said construction should stop immediately. The court’s decision is not binding but can serve as a basis for U.N. action.
- In August 2004, Israel’s Justice Ministry recommended that the Israeli government should consider applying the Fourth Geneva Convention to the West Bank and Gaza. Israel has not followed that recommendation. It says that the Geneva Convention does not apply to the territories it occupied in 1967 because there was no sovereign power there before their capture.
Do suicide bombers justify the Israeli actions toward Palestinians?
- Israel says yes. The number of suicide bombings has decreased significantly since Israel began building the security barrier, which is a 26-foot concrete wall. Its path has been the source of legal disputes.
- Palestinians say no. They say they are all being punished for the actions of a few, and that few Palestinians approve of suicide bombings or terrorism. Hamas’ victory in the 2006 elections called that claim into question. Many Palestinians and observers say Hamas’ victory was more a rejection of Fatah than a vote for Hamas. They also point out that Hamas has vowed to cease suicide attacks.
Are the human rights of Palestinians being violated by the Israelis?
- Israel says the security barrier, military checkpoints and other efforts are necessary to contain terrorism. It says Israelis’ human rights have been violated repeatedly in Palestinians’ terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings, against Israeli civilians.
- Palestinians say yes. They say that the wall isolates them economically, causing businesses to fold and unemployment to rise. They say the security barrier separates some people from their own land so it cannot be harvested or accessed. They say the wall separates them from health care facilities, endangering their health, and sometimes separates them from family, friends and schools. They say the wall — along with the growing number of settlements and new bypass roads that only access Israeli settlements — is cutting Palestinian villages off from each other. Military checkpoints slow people trying to get to work, endangering their jobs. In addition, Palestinian homes are regularly bulldozed to the ground by the Israeli military. Palestinians say they and their property are regularly attacked by Jewish settlers, particularly in rural areas. Behind all this activity, Palestinians say, is an overall plan to force Palestinians to leave Israel and the Palestinian territories by making it impossible for them to safely live there.
The Middle East Policy Council is a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. It works to educate Americans on the political, economic, and cultural issues in the Middle East relevant to the United States.
The Guardian posts an interactive timeline of the protests that occurred in the Middle East during the Arab Spring.
The International Press Institute has prepared a handbook for journalists, titled “Use With Care: A Reporter’s Glossary of Loaded Language in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” It’s available in print or PDF form (registration required) and includes suggested alternatives to problematic terms.