Doublespeak on Gaza

Dave Kellaway examples the ideological language and false narrative on Palestine produced by most of the mainstream media, the governments of Biden and Sunak as well as Starmer’s Labour party


“Doublespeak is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms (e.g., ‘downsizing’ for layoffs and ‘servicing the target’ for bombing), in which case it is primarily meant to make the truth sound more palatable (…) The term ‘doublespeak’ derives from two concepts in George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, ‘doublethink’ and ‘Newspeak’, despite the term itself not being used in the novel” (Wikipedia)

Like many watching or reading news coverage about the genocidal offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, I get angry and exasperated at the way language is used to distort and nullify their daily experience. Language is an important weapon to persuade people to see things in a way that supports the narrative of the Israeli government, the United States, Sunak and Starmer.  Nearly all the mass media controlled by billionaires or the state create and reproduce this narrative to different degrees.

Decolonise the narrative graphic.

Nevertheless, many journalists working for these institutions do make an effort to get the real story out even if their reports are overdetermined by that official narrative. In any case people are not so gullible.  Images and films coming into our living rooms every day show the devastation and the thousands of women and children killed. They come into contradiction with the propaganda the Israeli government wants you to believe. Opinion surveys here has shown big majorities supporting the Palestinians. The false narrative is only partly successful, we need to demolish it completely.

Here is a basic 10 point primer of the doublespeak used in the offensive against the Palestinians.

(doublespeak in bold and italics – analysis of reality in normal text below each example)

  1. Israel’s war on Hamas It is not a war between two countries with conventional armies and air forces. Israel is carpet bombing and laying siege to Palestinians.  Gaza remains an occupied territory whose frontiers and vital services were tightly controlled by Israel even before October 7th.  Israel has launched a genocidal offensive inside this occupied territory against a whole people. A flattened terrain through mass bombing and the forced removal of the population provides the only way of inflicting some sort of defeat on Hamas.  The latter is an irregular guerrilla force of some sophistication but that can scarcely be described as a symmetrical army to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).  Western media like Sky News have usually employed the headline ‘War against Hamas’ for their coverage whereas Al Jazeera used the heading – the ‘War against Gaza’.
  2. Gaza, West Bank Al Jazeera correctly refers to Occupied Gaza or the Occupied West Bank, which is accurate.
  3. Israeli Settlers These are illegal Israeli settlers who have a fanatical adherence to the idea of greater Israel ‘from the river to the sea’, which would force all Palestinians out. Their actions have been condemned under international law and the United Nations. The idea that the Palestinians have any authority or autonomy in the West Bank beggar’s belief. The IDF are ever present and a half million of these illegal settlers encroaches daily on Palestinian land. Since October 7th nearly 400 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, the IDF stand aside when these illegal settlers attack Palestinians.
  4. We need a humanitarian pause but Israel has the right to self-defence (official Labour Party position #1) Israel can allow its victims to get some food water and medicine for a few days but continue to kill and bomb the day after the pause. It is like giving a condemned person a cigarette and their favourite meal before executing them.
  5. Creating the conditions for a sustainable ceasefire (official Labour Party position #2) This is the new variant on humanitarian pause, initiated by US and swiftly followed by Sunak and Starmer.  We won’tcall for the bombing to stop now, we still support Israel’s war aims of defeating Hamas, but we have to be seen to be wringing our hands and crying crocodile tears about too many civilian deaths because some of our electoral base and world opinion is very critical of the Israeli government and opposed to the mass killings.
  6. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza What is happening in Gaza is not an act of god, an earthquake or a tsunami. The carpet bombing and the blockade of Gaza by the Israeli government is the direct and only cause of the humanitarian crisis. Famines and earthquake death tolls are not entirely natural events outside of societal causes either, but here we have a government directly taking decisions to cause the crisis, with full knowledge and understanding of what it is doing.
  7. Hamas is responsible for the dire straits of the Gaza Palestinians because of its terrorist attack on October 7th.  Israel has the right to respond to the threat to its existence and the horrors of October 7th. If Israel does not eliminate Hamas now there will further events like October 7th.  It has the right to self-defence as Starmer/Sunak/Biden have continually repeated. Is it serious to believe that October 7th, despite its violence against civilians and the 1000 plus deaths, was in itself evidence that Hamas’s military capability could effectively put the existence of Israel in danger? Even if you adopt the Biblical eye for an eye model of retaliation, the response has been completely disproportionate – at this date by about 25 times. Even in law if someone breaks into your house and shoots a relative dead you are not entitled to go out and kill all their family, neighbours and several nearby towns.  Nothing justifies the actions of Hamas on October 7th, socialists do not support indiscriminate killing and terror, but you cannot understand that savagery without understanding the prior 70 odd years of historical context.
  8. You don’t negotiate with terrorists like Hamas The media and government always repeat this so-called truth but we all know once supposed terrorist groups have real mass support or run governments that you are bound to do so. Israel and the US are already negotiating with Hamas through intermediaries in Qatar and Egypt and some hostages have been released as a result. The IRA was always defined as a terrorist group but negotiations were ongoing well before the Good Friday agreement. Is indiscriminate killing by Hamas on October 7th really that much different from indiscriminate killing by Israeli air or drone power. Can indiscrimination be defined only if it involves killing at close quarters? As Peter Hain, a Labour peer, has argued (2nd January, Guardian) much more cogently and honestly that his Labour leader, Israel is unlikely to really deliver a deathblow to a movement and ideology like Hamas and there will have to be negotiations.
  9. Israel has targeted bombing systems aimed at destroying Hamas bases Even US intelligence sources have admitted that around 50% of its ordinance is so called dumb bombs that cannot be precisely targeted.  Irrespective we have to then accept that the IDS intelligence is accurate in saying its bombs are aimed at Hamas operatives. You have to take at face value the IDS propaganda that many hospitals and schools are just covers for Hamas bases. We never got to see the notorious Hamas command and control centre at the North Gazan hospital. When you see IDF soldiers slaughtering three Israeli hostages, bare-chested and waving a white flag you either have to question the quality of their intelligence or recognize the IDF will kill unarmed people surrendering… if they think they are actually Palestinians.  No mainstream media has particularly picked up on this horrific event in terms its implications about how the IDF operates.
  10. Hamas-run territory’s health authority… Palestine Red Crescent is aligned with Hamas… Hamas is using the population as human shields. The TV and Press never say ‘the Likud coalition run IDF reported the killing of Hamas operatives’. The UN have validated the health authorities’ figures as accurate in previous conflicts. The figures do not even include the thousands we know are still buried under rubble.  Israeli propaganda has consistently said the figures are overestimated.  In fact the IDF overestimates the number of Hamas fighters included in these overall figures.  As for the human shields line – was this ever used then or since to describe the military tactics of the various anti-fascist partisan forces fighting against the occupation of their country during the Second World War. Hamas fighters have no air force or tanks, they cannot challenge the IDF to some sort of fair fight in the open ground. How are they supposed to resist an occupying force that is bombing and firing at them? Starmer and Sunak talk a lot about Israel’s right to self-defence but what about the right of the Palestinians to self-defence?  What is certain is that the IDF is using the Gazan civilian population as human obstacles that get in the way of reducing the territory to rubble. 

Perhaps the most horrific use of doublespeak was heard the other week when the IDF had to admit it had killed at least 86 civilians at Maghasi refugee camp:

“The type of munition did not match the nature of the attack, causing extensive collateral damage that could have been avoided. It regretted the harm to non combattants”

No doubt these words will be of great comfort to the friends and relatives of the dead – or rather those suffering collateral damage and harm.

We need to challenge the false narrative every day in our workplaces, communities, schools and colleges. Let us build the biggest possible national demonstration to support Palestine on the 13 January 2024.

Day of Action poster 6 January 2023
National march for Palestine graphic Saturday 13 January 2023

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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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