Word of the Month: Intifada

The word of the month is: Intifada, n.; uprising, revolt, specifically the Palestinian uprisings in the West Bank and Gaza from 1987-93 and again from 2001-present; from the Arabic meaning jumping up, to be shaken, to shake off (1985).

The original intifada began on 9 December 1987 and lasted until late 1993. The proximate cause of the revolt was an 8 December incident where an Israeli Army truck ran into a group of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, killing four and injuring seven. Many Palestinians believed that it was deliberate, done in retaliation for the death of a Jewish salesman in Gaza two days earlier. The revolt ended with the signing of the Oslo accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1993.

The second, or al-Aqsa, intifada began in September 2000 when Ariel Sharon, the new Israeli prime minister, visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, also the location of the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

The current crisis and its predecessors have introduced or popularized several terms into and in English. Among these are:

al-Aqsa, prop. n. and adj.; from the Arabic Masjid Al-Aqsa, literally the farthest mosque; the current “al-Aqsa intifada” began with Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in September 2000; also the name of an armed Palestinian group loosely affiliated with Yasser Arafat’s al-Fatah organization.

Commando, n.; orig. a raiding party, a member of such a party, and later a soldier specifically trained to engage in raids behind enemy lines; from the Portuguese (1791); used in South Africa to refer to parties of Portuguese and Boer settlers who engaged in raids against the natives; in the Boer War (1899-1902) a Boer militia unit; adopted by the British in 1940 to refer to highly trained soldiers used to raid German positions on the continent.

Envoy, n.; a diplomat sent on a special or temporary mission, also a narrower sense of diplomat ranking below an ambassador but above a chargés d’affaires (1660s).

al-Fatah, prop. n.; dominant faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization, headed by Yasser Arafat, founded 1957; reverse acronym for harakat tahrīr Filasīn or movement for the liberation of Palestine; the reversed acronym is vocalized as fath, or the Arabic word for victory, as opposed to the straight acronym which is vocalized as the Arabic word for death.

Fatwa, n.; religious edict; from the Arabic; English use dates to 1947, but popularized in 1989 when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the death of writer Salman Rushdie.

Gunship, n.; originally referred to a naval vessel (1841); the name was applied in 1964 to the US Air Force and Army programs to develop, respectively, the AC-47 “Spooky” fixed-wing attack aircraft and the AH-1 HueyCobra armed helicopter; subsequently used to refer to armed, attack helicopters.

Hamas, prop. n.; name of a Palestinian resistance group; from Arabic acronym Harakat al-Muqāwama al-Islāmiyya or Islamic Resistance Network and from hamās meaning valor, zealotry; founded 1987, appearance in English texts from 1988.

Hezbollah, prop. n.; name of various revolutionary groups operating in the Muslim world since 1960, especially a Shiite Muslim political/military group, founded in Lebanon in 1982 to resist the Israeli invasion of that country; from the Persian hezbollāh and Arabic hizbullāh meaning party of God.

Islam, n.; religion founded by Muhammad in the 7th century; from Arabic meaning resignation, surrender; English use as a noun meaning an adherent to that religion from the 17th century; English use as the proper name of the religion from 1818.

Israel, n.; the Jewish people; also the State of Israel founded in 1948; English usage is from the Latin and Greek and ultimately from the Hebrew yisrāēl, meaning he that strives with God, the name given to Jacob; found in English back to c. 1000.

Jihad, n.; struggle, specifically a religious war for the propagation of Islam, figuratively a crusade or struggle to the death; from the Arabic jihād.

Middle East, n.; a vaguely defined term in use since 1902; it usually refers the region from Egypt to Iran, inclusive. Compare to Near East and Far East.

Palestine, n.; territory on the eastern Mediterranean coast; from the Latin Palaestina, the Roman name for the province; the name was officially revived in 1920 as the name of the British mandated territory that eventually became the State of Israel and the West Bank. Cognate with Philistine.

al-Qaeda, prop. n.; name of Osama bin-Laden’s terrorist network; from Arabic for the base.

Shuttle Diplomacy, n.; diplomatic activity involving a mediator traveling between various locations; originally referring to Henry Kissinger’s attempts to resolve the Middle East crisis in 1973-74.

Suicide Bomber, n.; the term dates to the 1983 bombings of the US Embassy (April) and Marine barracks (October) in Beirut Lebanon; coined by Associated Press correspondent Terry Anderson on 23 October 1983.

Tank, n.; an armored, tracked military vehicle with a gun mount; name coined in December 1915 as a secrecy measure to disguise what was being manufactured.

Terrorism, n.; the use of force to achieve political intimidation; from the French terrorisme referring to the 1793-94 “Reign of Terror;” English use dates to 1795 in reference to revolutionary France, from 1798 generally. The form terrorist also dates to 1795 in reference to the Jacobins, but only from 1866 generally.

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