Guest contribution by Deema Alsaafin
As is typical with the narratives of many indigenous oppressed peoples, the Palestinian narrative is largely orally transmitted. Throughout history, the terminology used by Palestinians in describing the downfalls that were inflicted upon them is reflective of a lack of a full grasping of the actual happenings that were inflicted. Conversely, the expressions used to describe minor victories of the Palestinian resistance, such as a prisoner swap, are usually overly-praised in the context of liberation. The utilization of undermining or glorifying words to record events is an indication that the Palestinian narrative is reported under false pretenses of reality.
I believe the most important example to tackle is the use of the word Nakba to describe the horrific events that befell Palestine in 1948. Nakba is an Arabic word that means ‘catastrophe’, mainly one that is out of human control. The Sumatra earthquake and tsunami would aptly be considered a nakba. However, considering that we decided to name the ethnic cleansing, bloodbaths, exile, and all around disorientation that befell us in 1948 a “disaster that was out of human control” suggests that we as Palestinians look for a means to assure us that this calamity was committed not necessarily by ruthless Zionist gangs, but moreso by a supernatural force. This indicates a desire for endurance as well as a general failure to accept our defeats in the name of an ideological power struggle.
The same analysis can be applied to the usage of the term Naksa in describing the downfall that befell Palestine in 1967. A Naksa means ‘setback’, usually used when describing sports players’ injuries. Three Arab armies failing to triumph over the Israeli military resulting in Israel expanding its colonization of territory from Palestine, Egypt, and Syria by a threefold and the seizure of Jerusalem was a much more brutal event to be described merely as a “setback”. The language usage in reporting these disasters inherently undermines these events.
Minor achievements by Palestinian resistance groups are also prone to exploit language to bring about a delusion of victory. This is done by verbally over-exaggerating and glorifying their achievements, a tool typical of political factions to gain the support and recognition of the masses instead of being the means to achieve liberation for the masses. If one were to listen to the propaganda spread by Palestinian political factions expressing their successes, one would be confused as to why Palestine is not yet liberated. This type of exaggeration is dangerous as it wrongly gives the impression that the political situation in Palestine is fine and that all committed fronts are actively working to dissolve the Israeli regime once and for all. The opposite is true. With the expansion of Jewish-only colonies across the West Bank, the continued besiegement of the Gaza Strip, the Judaization of Jerusalem, the mistreatment of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and the farcical attempt at neoliberal state-building institutions and negotiations being the only response to all this instead of continuous armed resistance, it could safely be said that the situation in Palestine is very far from being fine.
Moreover, the use of the word harb, or war, to describe a retaliation of rockets from the resistance’s side reveals the impression of a two-sided aggression, with both sides equally equipped in combat. Yet the positions of colonizer and colonialist can never be placed on an equivalent spectrum. The language usage tends to glorify combat to make up for all the past defeats, but, as with anything, amplifying such factors has a tendency to reach the point of becoming almost deceitful.
The misuse of terminology in the Palestinian narrative is a collective coping mechanism to withstand the oppressor’s hostility, but it is futile except in perpetuating a delusion of normality. What is needed is to learn to step outside the realm of coping and acknowledge issues head on if we are to strategize an effective way to reach liberation once and for all.