in a word? The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, learned that
in the Middle East, a word can explode like a bomb.
and the ideas that it is possible to continue holding [people] under
occupation -- one may not like the word,'' he said on May
26, showing that he was aware of the furor his use of it would create,
''but what is happening here, is occupation. To hold three
and a half million Palestinians under occupation in my
mind is bad for Israel, also for the Palestinians, also for Israel's
Sharon, builder and defender of settlements for more than a generation,
the word stunned his longtime fellow hard-liners. The burly former
general had for years pointedly referred to land claimed by Palestinian
Arabs as Judea and Samaria, in the hope that the reminder of the
biblical heritage of the ancient Jews would lend historical authority
to Israel's right to the land west of the west bank of the Jordan
to call those 1.45 million acres (slightly smaller than Delaware)
''the West Bank,'' as most of the Western media did, because it
seemed to suggest that the land was not part of the state of Israel.
He was among the many hard-liners who resented what they considered
an even more pro-Palestinian usage, ''the occupied West
Bank.'' Although the kingdom of Jordan claimed that territory from
1948 to 1967, its claim was not recognized by most of the world's
nations; after Israel defeated an Arab attempt to destroy the Israeli
state in 1967, Israel moved into the land to ensure what it called
In light of
United Nations resolutions calling for a withdrawal from ''territories''
-- but specifically not all territories -- seized in Israel's
defensive war, Israelis tried out the phrase administered territories.
Those sympathetic to the cause of an independent Palestinian state
preferred occupied West Bank, which imputed impermanence
to the arrangement.
As the usage
war tilted toward the Palestinians, Israelis recalled that the legal
status of Judea/Samaria or the West Bank had, since the Yom Kippur
war, been ''areas in dispute.'' A neutral term was floated out to
provide occupied with competition: disputed territories.
''There is a world of difference,'' wrote the Sharon adviser Dore
Gold last year, ''between a situation in which Israel approaches
the international community as a 'foreign occupier' with no territorial
right and one in which Israel has a strong historical right to the
land.'' Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld endeared himself to
embattled Israelis by showing his understanding of the nuances as
he referred to ''the so-called occupied territories.''
deliberately used the word occupation repeatedly. Israel's
nonpartisan attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein, promptly rebuked
the prime minister, reminding him that the proper legal term was
disputed territories. Sharon accepted that, asserting:
''We are not occupiers. In the diplomatic dictionary these
are disputed lands.'' He told supporters in Haifa that
he was referring to the inhabitants, not to the territory: ''We
don't want to rule three and a half million Palestinians. That's
what I meant when I used the word occupation.''
But the cat
-- in this case, the word occupied -- was out of the bag.
The Hebrew word Sharon used was kibush, often translated
as ''conquest.'' The root of occupied is the Latin occupare,
''to seize by force,'' as the United States and its allies did in
Iraq, where we are now officially ''the occupying force,''
acting as sovereign and responsible for order. Neither is a word
that most Israelis want to use in negotiation, which is why hard-liners
were stunned and Palestinians were pleased.
KICK THE CAN
asked Secretary of State Colin Powell, returning from a trip to
the Middle East, about the ''road map'' agreement: ''Isn't it just
kicking the can farther down the road, putting off the
most difficult issues, particularly settlements?''
we have a can in the road,'' replied Powell, reared in the South
Bronx and familiar with the children's game. ''The can is in the
road now, and we will start moving it down the road, perhaps with
little kicks as opposed to a 54-yarder.''
is in play more than the game. In his final months in office, President
Clinton said he wanted to resolve Middle East problems sooner rather
than later, but for ''some foreign policy problems, the answer is
to kick the can down the road and wait for them to get
better and hope time takes care of them.''
put the title of his 1988 novel in the opening sentence: ''I was
too old to play kick the can anymore.''
not use ring-a-levio, hopscotch, ring around the rosie, prisoner's
base, Jackie shine a light or stoopball to describe global strategies.
It's always kick the can, it always means ''postpone action''
and it calls for etymological examination.
can Tommy or kick the tinnie in Britain, the American
version can be played by kicking a tin can down the street (or road,
in rural areas), challenging the can-guarder to chase the can and
bring it back to base while everyone hides. The can-guarder (a kid
named ''It'') then has to find a player in hiding without anyone
else's kicking the can. The Dictionary of American Regional English
(DARE) tells us that this version of hide-and-seek also goes by
the names kick the wicket and lurky nurky.
Not the game
you remember? Another version, for urban rowdies, is setting a can
on a sewer cover and seeing who can kick it so hard and so far that
it breaks a window and everybody scatters before the cops get there.
If you have
no playmates, and nobody loves you, there's the solitaire version:
just walkin' along, kickin' the can ahead, watchin' it roll, kickin'
it again, until you get to your destination or just get bored, at
which point you let the next guy who comes along kick it farther
down the road. This is the diplomatic meaning of the extended metaphor,
and if you can kick it 54 yards from a standing start, you're a
better man than I am, Colin Powell.