The Importance of Describing the World: Maan News Agency and the Jerusalem Post

Compare the following reports coming out today, regarding settlement construction in Israel/Palestine. The first is from the Maan News Agency, a Palestinian news source; the second is from the Jerusalem Post, an Israeli news source. You don’t need to understand the intricacies of the current conflict to see how descriptions construct reality. Language is not neutral. (In the following citations, the emphasis is mine):

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved Friday more settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, the PLO’s top negotiator said Israel had all but declared an end to negotiations.

via Maan News Agency: Netanyahu `chose settlements over peace`.

Compare the above, with this from the Jerusalem Post:

Palestinians reacted negatively to the Housing Ministry’s announcement to build 240 housing units in Jerusalem neighborhoods Pisgat Ze’ev and Ramot and accused Israel of attempting “to kill” any chance to reignite peace negotiations, AFP reported on Friday.

By JPOST.COM STAFF
10/15/2010 12:51

The Palestinian news outlet calls a particular piece of land “occupied East Jerusalem;” the Israeli news outlet calls the very same particular piece of land a “Jerusalem neighborhood.” The descriptions are different not because one description sees something factually, physically, materially, different than the other. The descriptions are different because one ascribes different meaning to that piece of land than the other. And that makes all the difference.

Several points could be made here; I will simply say this: the religious (broadly defined) calling of our day, is to pay attention to how meanings are ascribed; to expose meanings that are ultimately destructive, life-negating, empty, or exploitative; and to proclaim a word that has the power to shape a new world grounded in a hope that all can participate in. That’s the calling of the peacemaker in the Middle East; that’s the calling of leadership in an imperial America that has lost its way.