You say terrorist, I say militant…

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Four months into the “knife intifada” in Israel, Sunday’s attack on an Israeli woman in her home in the West Bank settlement, Otniel, where she was stabbed to death in the presence of her children by a Palestinian man, did not receive major attention in world papers.
by Geoff Sifrin | Jan 20, 2016

Taking Issue

It’s as if they have grown accustomed to random Israelis being stabbed in streets and homes - not only in the Occupied West Bank, but Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ra’anana and elsewhere in Israel - as just another round in the interminable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since October last year, Palestinian stabbings, car-rammings and gun attacks have killed 25 Israelis; 94 Palestinians have been killed whom Israel has described as assailants. Often attackers know beforehand that they will almost certainly be killed by security forces after their deed, making it essentially a suicide attack. 

With so much brutality worldwide, goes the international media’s thinking, what does another attack on an Israeli settler matter? Look at the examples of ISIS, Syria, Burkina Faso, Paris.

When they do report on it, however, they face the journalistic question of what to call the attackers, while maintaining “objectivity”. Not that long ago, papers refused to call Palestinians or Islamists who carried out such acts “terrorists” but used the neutral word “militants”. With the rise of ISIS and Islamist attacks on Western cities, however, the word terrorist has become more accepted usage.

However, “shooter”, “gunman”, “attacker” and other neutral terms are still used. There is no simple answer to the journalist’s genuine dilemma.

Although neutral terms have a place in police investigations and legal proceedings, where guilt or innocence is still in doubt, in most of these stabbings there is no question of mistaken identity, self-defence or an accident.

The words we use indicate our values. In 2007, South Africa’s then ambassador to Israel, Reverend Fumie Qiba, condemned the Palestinians’ methods, including suicide bombings against innocent Israelis, despite his active role in South Africa’s armed struggle and empathy with the Palestinians.

“Today,” he said, “we are the only country, on moral grounds” that can tell the Palestinians: “‘We don’t think your strategy of using suicide bombers is justified. It is terrorism. It is not accepted by international law. It has nothing to do with the military code’.

“Every bomb that kills civilians,” he warned, “is counterproductive”, undermining the Palestinians’ cause.

Things have worsened in the social media age, where the naming of acts like these, their perpetrators and victims, is no longer determined primarily by journalists. Anyone with a Facebook page or Twitter account, whatever his agenda or worldview, can reach thousands of readers.

Amidst increasing concern worldwide against pervasive incitement on the Internet, the Israeli legal advocacy group Shurat HaDin is threatening to hang billboards across the street from the home of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, urging him to combat Palestinian incitement on his social media platform which has billions of users.

“If [Zuckerberg] doesn’t see the incitement, we will display it opposite his California home,” Shurat HaDin said in a statement. For example, a post from the Palestinian Fatah political party's Facebook page is showing Palestinian children brandishing rifles ready to use against Israelis.

Israel’s Public Security Minister on Sunday proposed new legislation to compel social media platforms to remove posts which directly incite murder or violence. He wants an Israeli law to be enacted in conjunction with other Western countries. 

Evil exists and must be named as evil. What happened in Otniel was evil. Even if one opposes Israeli settlements in the West Bank, there are other, less barbaric ways to contest it.


Read Geoff Sifrin’s regular columns on his blog



  1. 3 Choni 20 Jan
    Mr.Sifrin, Otniel is not a West Bank settlement.
    It is a thriving Israeli town in Judea in the biblical heartland of Eretz Yisael.
  2. 2 Mordechai 21 Jan
    Choni, good on you. So sad Mr Sifrin promotes the false narrative of the Occupied West Bank instead of the truth being Judea. What is equally sad is that he is given a platform by this publication to promote this false narrative
  3. 1 nat cheiman 26 Jan
    The West bank is not occupied . It belongs to Israel. It is the Palestinians ( I dont know what else to call them)that unlawfully occupy the West Bank.
    Soon to be got rid of, perhaps to Sweden or Denmark. Maybe France and Germany. Britain would take a few hundred thousand of these pests


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