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March 30, 2001
A Special CNN dictionary for the Middle East

A letter from Mazin Qumsiyeh


Dear CNN:

I found a deterioration in your coverage of the Middle East to the point of absurdity. Let me please explain with an example and then follow it with what I see are the rules you operate by in your coverage (seemingly to value one set of lives over another).

My comments on one of your stories are in brackets below.

BEGIN QUOTE March 29, 2001 Web posted at: 4:18 a.m. EST (0918 GMT)

NETZARIM, Israel (CNN)--[Netzarim is not in Israel but a settlement in occupied Gaza Strip, illegal under international law] Two Palestinians are dead following overnight violence in several locations in Israel [West Bank and Gaza are not "in Israel"; notice passive voice and use of "dead" as if it is an act of God].

The killings came after Israel [note use of Israel not Israeli government while use of Palestinian Authority instead of Palestine or Palestinians] warned of further military action against Palestinian targets [!!] in retaliation [sic] for suicide bombings that killed two Israelis [as if Israel only kills in retaliation while Palestinians kill for other reasons,

CNN gave a separate detail report on the two Israelis killed by the suicide bomber, "Targets" included homes and business in a busy center of town]. Israeli helicopter gun ships and tanks attacked targets [again this ambiguous term not used for attacks at Israelis!!] associated with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank city of Ramallah and Gaza Wednesday [no details], killing a member of Yasser Arafat' elite body guard. [No mention of homes destroyed and one woman civilian killed in the shelling, no mention of dozens of injured civilians].

Fighting between Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinians on the Gaza strip lead to the shooting death of one 13-year-old Palestinian boy, Palestinian Red Crescent officials said Thursday. [This boggles my mind- how is "fighting" lead to the shooting death of a tean-ager, who shot him and why is not explained and what was his name. These were shooting at unarmed demonstrators according to independent observors]. Another Palestinian was injured in the same incident. [How, where, by whom, name etc.].

Earlier Thursday, IDF soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man dressed in a "Force 17" uniform who, Israeli Army officials say, was attempting to attack the Jewish settlement of Netzarim overnight. [what do the Palestinians say or independent eyewitnesses and why this detail about his uniform but not his personal life. Do we know what the Israelis were dressed in when they are killed and what does CNN say about them. Al-Ayyam stated that this man was picked by a sniper as extrajudicial killings seem to have resumed under Sharon.]..... [and on and on] [No mention of what the International community, Amnesty etc say about these kinds of "retaliation" for individual acts by collective punishment. No mention of the curfews, the sieges, the illegality of settlements, the occupation etc.]


After reading many of your reports, I thought you may have a handy dictionary/rules book for anyone writing on the Middle East that goes something like this:

Caught in the Crossfire: When Palestinian civilians are killed
Retaliation: When Israeli army or settlers kill Palestinians Escalation (synonym/can be used interchangeably with Provocation): Any act of violence or resistance by the Palestinians
Murdered: When Israeli Civilians are killed
Brutal/cowardly/ghastly: adjectives describing attacks on Israelis
Self defense: Any act of violence by Israelis
Terrorism: Any act of violence by the Palestinians
Civilians: Armed settlers are civilians when killed. Try to avoid using this term for Palestinians.
Neighborhoods: Areas inhabited by Israeli settlers especially if targeted by shooting (light guns)
Positions: Palestinian towns and villages especially when bombed by gunships or raked with large caliber machine guns
Tragedy: Any Israeli death
Deserved: Any Palestinian death
Squatters: Palestinian natives
Democratic ally: synonym for Israel
Disputed Areas: Any Palestinian or Arab land occupied by Israel in defiance of International law.
Anti-Semite: Person condemns Israeli violations of Palestinian civil and human rights.
Victims: Any Jewish Israeli
Attacker: Any Palestinian engaging in any form of resistance (violent or not). Also see terrorist.
Targets: Palestinian buildings, homes, offices - What the Israeli military designates as military targets
Attack/bombing/murder: Acts the Palestinians commit when directed at Israelis
Clashes: This is a difficult term to understand but is generally used when Palestinians die
Measures (e.g. Economic measures, security measures): Any acts the Israelis commit (blockades, collective punishment, shelling neighborhoods, starving a population etc)
Security: Anything the Israeli government chooses to do. This can include land confiscation, extra-judicial killings, home demolitions, destruction of groves, uprooting trees, blockades etc. The term security is reserved for use only with the word Israel or Israeli and must never be applied to Palestinians.
Lashing out: A term reserved for Palestinians and acts they commit against Israelis
Under siege: Again a term for use by the Israelis as in Palestinians have put Israelis under siege. Exact meaning depends on the circumstances. Never use for Palestinian towns or villages.


When to use Passive voice: if the violent action is committed by Israelis (e.g. 2 Palestinians were killed, one of them a 9 year old). When to use active voice: if the action is committed by Palestinians (e.g. Palestinians killed a Jewish child, Palestinians kills teenager).

While reporting about Israelis use the affirmative tone: "2 Israelis were injured", while reporting about Palestinian use the verbs claimed, say etc. "Palestinians say woman dies of tear gas inhalation in West Bank" (e.g. Ha'aretz)

Names must be included for any Jewish victims, always avoid names for Muslim or Christian victims but use numbers instead (remember in the passive voice, e.g. 2 Palestinians died in clashes).

When an Israeli is killed, it is important to note his or her profession, where he/she is from and was going, whether or not he/she is religious, and whether or not he/she is an immigrant from the U.S. or Russia. If the dead person is survived by a spouse and children, this should be noted. If the victim is a youngster, the school they attended should be mentioned, and their friends' feelings should be noted. in general, people who knew the dead person should testify to their humanity.

When a Palestinian is killed, they should not be personalized in any way. When an Israeli is killed, it is useful to include graphic descriptions of the death scene - the covered body, the fragments of flesh, the path of flowing blood, etc.

Perhaps if your reporters and writers lived in the occupied areas instead of in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, they will have more balanced coverage.



Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
Chair, Media Committee