An open letter to the BBC on their use of the word 'militant'
I am writing to complain about you coverage of the ongoing violence in Israel/Palestine. I am sure that you get many such complaints. Much of this, I suspect, focuses on the balance of your reporting. I am not going to do that. Whilst my impression is that you seem much more likely to cover injury of Israelis than of Palestinians, it would require some time and a comprehensive study for me to establish if my impression was an accurate one.
Instead, I would like to focus on your use of one word: militant. It is a word which you seem to use often in your coverage. It is a word which implies aggression, combined with a radical political stance.
A typical use of the word is found here:
“Palestinian militants have continued to fire rockets at Israeli cities: by Thursday night, Hamas said it had fired more than 350 rockets from Gaza, of which Israel said 130 had been intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defence system.”
So, in this case, it is clear that when you refer to ‘militants’, you mean Hamas.
Hamas is the government of the Gaza strip. They are the government because they were elected on a strong security platform, promising to protect their people against an invading power – even if that meant deploying arms to do so. So when you call these people “militants”, you are making an active choice to refer to them as such, rather than by their official title “the government”.
The Israeli government is led by Likud – as it has been for the majority of the time since the late 1970s. They too were elected by their people on a strong security platform – more than happy to deploy arms against Palestinian people. Over the years, the Israeli government has breached 33 UN Security council resolutions.
Yet whilst one hawkish, over-violent government is referred to consistently as ‘the administration’, or ‘the government’, the other is referred to as ‘militants’. Perhaps you could point me to the piece of BBC policy which defines when an elected government is ‘militant’ and when it is ‘a government’? Clearly it isn’t when they use violence. Clearly it isn’t when they breach international law.
Now, were I a citizen of either country, I like to think I would have voted for parties who were less hawkish than either. Were Britain under siege – as Gaza is – were our country surrounded by a foreign power who had already taken most of our land, I like to think that I would remain relatively pacifist. But I am certain that it is not those who took up arms who would be seen as radicals, as militants. I am certain that it is me who would be so labelled. I know this because it is what history tells us.
There is only one analogy we can draw on in our recent national history in order to answer the question “how would the people of Britain behave if we faced the threat of having our land taken from us?”. It is a somewhat hackney comparison, and it’s summed up in this speech, with which I suspect you are familiar:
I assume that when we gave this man an official state funeral, the BBC described him as a prominent militant?