Semantics that matter

August 21, 2009

The BBC posted an article a couple of days ago about the Hilltop Youth, a group of teenagers who “flout both Israeli and international law and build shacks they hope will eventually become established settlements in the West Bank.”

There is a lot to be unpacked here.  It’s a strange article with bizarrely portrayed characters that legitimizes voices I’d rather not have legitimized.  But for now, I’ll zero in on this:

While the article mentions that these makeshift structures are illegal, the author also calls the activities of the Hilltop Youth activism, not crimes.

Rather than arguing that a Palestinian teenager acting similarly would be characterized as a criminal, I’ll just assert it.  (Stick disagreements in the comments and I’ll respond.)  But the Palestinian comparison aside, I’m left wondering why some illegal, non-violent acts are portrayed as activism and others as crimes.

From most of Greenpeace’s actions to spontaneous protests to political graffiti to makeshift structures, I’m struggling to articulate criteria that could clearly separate crime and activism (again,  I’m only talking about non-violent actions here) other than the decider’s ideology.  Thoughts?



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