In a fiery speech marking forty days since the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah declared that “The Zionist entity can be wiped out of existence!” Of course, by evoking the image of “wiping,” Nasrallah is adopting the rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who famously called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” at the 2005 “World Without Zionism” conference in Tehran.
Or did he? Just as Ahmadinejad’s “wipe” statement was drawing widespread international condemnation, Juan Cole insisted that Ahmadinejad had been mistranslated. According to Cole, Ahmadinejad’s quotation had come from a Khomeini speech, which stated that, “the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.” Cole viewed this distinction as significant, writing that the media’s translation gave the false “impression that [Ahmadinejad] wants to play Hitler to Israel’s Poland, mobilizing an armored corps to move in and kill people.” Cole repeated his revisionist claim in a recent Washington Post article, saying that Ahmadinejad was not calling for the “Nazi-style extermination of a people,” but rather expressing his wish that the Israeli government would disappear.
Nasrallah’s speech demonstrates the complete irrelevance of Cole’s argument. Indeed, the Arabic phrase that Nasrallah employs is unambiguous in supporting the utter destruction of Israel, both as a state and a people. Nasrallah begins this section of his speech by declaring that the 2006 Lebanon war exposed Israelis’ weakness: whereas the Lebanese and Palestinians have endured 60 years of displacement, “the Israelis could not endure displacement or living in shelters for 33 days.” Israel’s “loss,” Nasrallah continues, has created “the possibility of a new answer” to the question “can Israel be wiped from existence?” Na’am, wa’alf na’am yumkin an tazul Isra’il min al-wujud (“Yes, and one thousand yeses, it is possible to wipe Israel from existence!”) says Nasrallah.
If Cole objects to my translation of “tazul . . min al-wujud” as “wipe . . . from existence”–“tazul” generally means “cease”–he will first have to correct Hezbollah’s al-Manar English website. The satellite news channel similarly embraced the terminology of “wiping” in its own translation of Nasrallah’s speech.
When Cole first disputed the translation of Ahmadinejad’s speech back in 2005, he accused “powerful political forces in Washington” of cooking up the “wipe” quotation as a pretext for war on Iran. Nasrallah’s speech should force him to rethink this conspiracy theory. After all, whether or not Ahmadinejad’s speech can be translated as having called for “wiping” Israel off the map, Hezbollah–which has already called for an “open war” on Israel and serves as Iran’s Lebanese appendage–has taken liberties to interpret it as such.