Why Words Matter

I’m often asked of the importance of words. Humming in my head is the Bee Gees song, “It’s only words and words are all I have to take your heart away”. As a species we only have words to communicate, understand, appeal and to reason. Weapons aren’t going to do that. They are silent until leaders command combatants to forgo their words and pick up arms. No more conversation. Words are redundant because heads of state have run out of words. They become like children screaming in a wordless tantrum.

Words are thrown around with careless abandon by those in authority. They are used to downplay the victim whilst praising the perpetrator. The glaring black ink of headlines are all that most people bother reading. Hamas: Terrorist/Muslim/Arab/Fanatic. Imagine if headlines read, Israel: Terrorist/Jew/Fanatic. The world would be aghast at reading such accusations. Yet those words directed at Arabs and Palestinians seem comfortable with much of the West, whilst words of objection or injustice are blown from Palestinian’s mouths with the grey dust that descends and settles on the lives of the bombed victims. It’s quite a dichotomy that the world in general has moved away from reading, and yet words are thrown around more than ever. But what words? Inflammatory, sensational, accusatory? All of which are hard to rebut when the initial headlines are supplanted in the subconscious and stubbornly remain.

Killed – Died

The Palestinian activist Yara Eid was interviewed on Sky News. From the start she was not going to let the interviewer get away with words that deliberately obscured the reality. Yara was asked about the “killing” of 1,400 Israelis, but the “death” of 4,000 Palestinians. Most listeners would not pick up on this other than to hear that Hamas killed Israelis, but Palestinians somehow died. Yara calls out journalists to have the “moral responsibility to report [correctly]”.

Hamas – Israel

Framing Hamas and Israel as two equal sides of the current horror is a deflection from the truth. Hamas is a group of freedom fighters, albeit with a most abhorrent and violent outbreak on October 7th. They have been subjectively labelled terrorists even though Israel is a settler-colonial Occupier which has imprisoned millions of people for 75 years in an open-air prison. They are not the same. Israel is fighting for less Palestinians and more territory whilst Hamas is fighting for their people to be free. Putting them together deliberately obfuscates and insinuates Hamas bad, Israel good. It implies a law-abiding democratic state which has been mysteriously attacked for no good reason.

Evacuation – Escape

Evacuation is a word that Israel has thrown to the Western world to deflect from their attempted genocide. Netanyahu alerted the Gazans to evacuate as if there was an impending natural disaster. A flood perhaps, or a cyclone. The word was used to imply a paternal care for whomever would be in the way of this ‘natural disaster’. “Move south” he warned. But to where? They have nowhere to go. It is repellent to hear him speak as if we are all idiots and cannot decipher his twisting of words. Escape is not an option for people barricaded in on all sides. Those who did try to move south were bombed anyway, so why attempt an escape into the arms of death?

Soft – Outrage

Biden, like all other heads of U.S. administrations, uses soft words to ask Netanyahu if he wouldn’t mind, and could he kindly please cease and desist dropping bombs on the heads of innocent civilians? Biden won’t use harsh words to remind Netanyahu that collective punishment is an outrage and illegal under international law. He won’t want to upset Netanyahu and tell him that he threatens not only millions of people’s lives but world stability. Gosh no. Words of outrage will not be used to upset the Israeli leader. He must be kept happy with soft words that do not bother him as he rampages across the region to make sure everyone understands that might is right. ‘Significant damage’, ‘Biden’s Embrace of Israel’ and ‘gentle warning’ are all softly, softly words used by U.S. media to lighten the shared responsibility for an impending ethnic cleansing which the government is orchestrating in the name of the American people. Meanwhile the MIC gleefully line their pockets from other people’s misery. Perhaps the U.S. wants the same thing as Israel and that is for the Palestinians to disappear into the ether so that Israel and the U.S. can continue their revolting joint colonisation, armaments and intelligence schemes without the pesky problem of the indigenous folk hampering their wealth and power.

History is not a quaint hobby in the Middle East. Palestinians and Israelis live it every day. The history of Israel taking land from the Palestinians, the history of the Holocaust, the history of settler-colonialism; these are all day-to-day realties with the West ruminating and castigating on either side. Those who report on the horrors (mostly) sit quietly in safe workspaces hunched over history with wordy lamentations pouring onto the page. Yet words can mean life or death. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. What a lie! The United Nations requires of its interpreters years and years of study in order to avoid one word, just one, that may cause a war, genocide or injustice. There’s a responsibility to use words that are truthful and helpful – and above all, humane. If words strip the humanity from the victim, then we are all doomed. The Palestinians being described as “animals” by Israelis is a case in point. It gives them less than human form and therefore easy to get rid of. A flurry of heightened words are used to describe what amounts to base words – war crimes.

Words have been dangled like a wilted carrot whilst a cracking whip is used on the prisoners in Gaza and the Occupied Territories. Words like ‘two-state solution’, ‘Oslo Accords’, ‘autonomy’ and ‘peace deal’. All these words could have been used for good but have been used for over seven decades to string along the Palestinians to make them believe that perhaps a state of their own was within reach. But the relentless, disproportionate collective punishment and Occupation by Israel, as they charge in with tanks, bulldozers and heavy artillery, makes all dangling words rot into despair.

Most people in this world just want a good nights sleep, awaken to calm, have breakfast and get on with their day. Friends and family are most important. But crusty old angry men at the top want to spoil everyone’s peace and tranquillity with their greed, power and outright rage at the world. Netanyahu, do you really think that this is going to end well for you, your family or your State? The seven decades long Israeli Occupation will be studied in history lessons alongside all other great injustices in this world. And this injustice in Palestine could encourage a cycle of anti-Semitism that the world has fought so hard (on Jews and Israelis behalf) to conquer.

I walked past a building site today and heard the song Jerusalema calling out to humanity. It touched me that a song was used in melodic protest at the injustice half a world away. A beautiful song for an ugly fight over a city riddled with religion. Get your speakers out and blast music into your neighbourhoods. John Farnham’s The Voice or Jerusalema would be most appropriate and appreciated for the victims of this current horror. If you can, get dancing and use the bond of music to save humanity. Words can fix. Weapons will not do that. Violence will not do that. Bloodshed will not do that. The words we use are important because they are the only arrows in our quiver.

“It’s only words and words are all I have to take your heart away”.

Reb Halabi is a PhD candidate focusing on the intersection of religion and geopolitics.