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Arab or Palestinian?

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Many readers – and some fellow reporters – are questioning JTA’s use of the more general term “Arab” rather than “Palestinian” to describe the terrorist who perpetrated Wednesday’s deadly attack in Jerusalem.

A note of explanation: In the aftermath of the attack, it was not immediately clear exactly who the perpetrator was. His name was spelled a variety of different ways in the Israeli and international press, his age was given alternately as 30 or 31, and he was described as a resident of eastern Jerusalem.

Now, here’s where things get tricky. Eastern Jerusalem is code for the part of Jerusalem that was controlled by Jordan until the 1967 Six-Day War – i.e. Arab. But now Jerusalem is a united city, since Israel annexed East Jerusalem in the war’s aftermath (though almost no one in the international community officially recognizes that action). When East Jerusalem became part of Israeli Jerusalem (and we began calling it “eastern Jerusalem” – note the lowercase), the Arabs who lived there were offered Israeli citizenship. Some accepted it, but most did not. Virtually all, however, were granted Israeli ID cards.

JTA’s style is to refer to Arabs who are citizens of Israel as Arab Israelis (occasionally we slip up and call them Israeli Arabs), but these people mostly call themselves as Palestinians, or Palestinian Israelis. We refer to other Arabs in the neighborhood as Palestinians.

So, is someone from a village on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem – which was not even considered part of Jerusalem when the Jordanians controlled the territory – who has an Israeli ID card an Israeli?

It wasn’t clear to us whether or not the terrorist had Israeli citizenship; hence, our preference for the more general term. The only thing we could say with certainty is that he was Arab.

(Some news outlets, like the New York Sun, never use the term Palestinian, instead using Palestinian Arab).

In this part of the world, language, identity and conflict are all interconnected.

Finally, if you’re wondering why I used the word “tractor” above and not “bulldozer,” take a look at the video from the attack. Looks like a tractor to me.

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