Language is important. It’s one of the things, particularly written language, that sets us, as a species, apart from the animals. Having done a little wordsmithing in my time, of course I’m going to think that. But the science backs me up.
When I Google ‘the importance of language’ there are 3.6 billion results. When I narrow my search to ‘the importance of language in propaganda’ I get 61 million results.
The way propaganda uses language is both insidious and dangerous. It can even be used to form opinions in the audience. Sometimes it is overt (‘Get Brexit Done!’), sometimes covert – covert requires far more critical thinking to pick apart.
Now, I am not the first person to notice how disgusting it is that the BBC has been caught using language in this way in their coverage of the atrocities happening in the Middle East. It is simply not OK to say that Israelis have been ‘killed’ while Palestinians ‘died’. One word, ‘killed’, implies murder, or at least some sort of external cause. The other, died, is often used to describe natural causes and timely death. This is a particularly nasty piece of covert opinion manipulation.
Before I go any further, let me make one thing clear. What happened on 7 October 2023 was barbaric, and should never have happened. Civilians are never, ever, ‘valid’ military targets (if such a thing exists), and to knowingly target civilians is a war crime, and breach of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. This applies to Israeli and Palestinian civilians equally.
At the time of writing, the Palestinian death toll since 7 October was around 15,000 and climbing rapidly.* The Israeli death toll from 7 October stands at 1,200, their greatest loss of life in a single day since the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. This huge imbalance in numbers is pretty standard for this war.** When one side in a conflict has significantly more technology and resources than the other, it’s to be expected.
Another part of that Geneva Convention talks about civilian hospitals. To say that the IDF (Israeli defence forces) have shat all over this international law of war from a great height is woefully understating the situation. The news coming out of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City has been especially harrowing.
On 19 November, the World Health Organisation led an assessment team into al-Shifa. Reuters reported that the team described the hospital as a ‘death zone’ and said the situation was ‘desperate’, with the hospital basically not functioning as a medical facility due to scarcity of clean water, fuel, medicine and other essentials.
As I write (20 November), the hospital’s special care baby unit has just been evacuated, with 28 premature babies taken over the border into Egypt. This has come after agonising reports of preventable infant deaths because of a lack of power and/or damage (reports vary) to the life-saving equipment they needed to survive.
As well as the direct attacks on al-Shifa hospital, there have been attacks on the Indonesian Hospital, on al-Rantisi Hospital and on the Nasser Hospital, among others. The IDF claims Hamas are using al-Shifa, among other civilian targets, as a base. Al-Shifa staff strongly deny that there is, or has ever been, any Hamas presence inside the hospital.
And so we circle back to propaganda. In recent days, the IDF has released photographs and footage they claim confirm that Hamas is using al-Shifa as a base. They are… unconvincing.
Footage the IDF claims shows hostages being taken into al-Shifa on 7 October does indeed show people being taken into the hospital, but no one has any visible weapons. The footage looks more like concerned friends and family taking injured folx to hospital to me.
The entrance to what is claimed to be a tunnel base under the hospital could just as easily be a sewer entrance. I will not claim specific expertise in image dissection, but I do have a lot of questions and no answers.
Claims of Hamas activity inside civilian targets appear to me to be a type of propaganda called ‘manufacturing consent’. It’s essentially a case of making it look like the ends justify the means.
Nothing can ever justify what happened in al-Shifa’s special care baby unit.