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As Israel Kills Thousands of Palestinian Civilians, We Need to Pay Attention to the Language of 'War'

Building up narratives that contribute to the killing of children, women and the elderly is murder with malice.
Gaza. Photo:X/@MofaPPD

It is useful to pay attention to the lexicon in relation to the ongoing bloodbath in Palestine. Words which describe the murder of innocent civilians tells us a lot about how the Western world perceives the brutal and bloody colonisation of a nation and its people. 

Terms like war, conflict and killings could just as easily and accurately be replaced by genocide, annihilation and murder. But unfortunately, language and narrative are always decided by the coloniser. 

Social media and other tools of narrative building have made it even easier for the powerful to ‘establish’ truth and facts. To lie till it sounds like a resounding truth is what many political leaders have successfully learned to do across the globe. They use it as a means to gain power through the ballot box and worse, to murder.

The language and narrative built around the ongoing bombing of the 25 mile long strip of land which the children of Gaza believe is their home and homeland, is a classic example of this. This is how war, despite its ugliness and needlessness, becomes justified. Language thus becomes violence. Dead bodies served up as casualties of ‘war’ are always more acceptable than corpses dug out from mass graves of genocide. 

Also read: Gaza’s Health System Had Already Been Weakened − the Siege Pushed it into Crisis

The coverage of the Gaza genocide by the Western and Indian media reeks of this violence of language.  The brutal attack by Hamas on October 7 in which hundreds of Israeli civilians were killed has become the pretext for whataboutery. The proponents of this whataboutery believe that all those being killed in Gaza at the moment are responsible for the killing of Israeli civilians and thus are liable for collective and cumulative punishment. In this way, the ordinary people of Gaza are being made to own a sin they did not commit. Just read what the president of Israel said: “there are no innocent civilians in Gaza”.

This justification is the language of violence. The western world very well recognises the impact of language and the sheer violence it can unleash. To call the current bombing and brutality in Gaza a ‘war’ between Palestine and Israel is to trivialise the injustices of the Israeli regime. It dilutes the indisputable fact that Israel is illegally and violently in occupation of Palestinian territory. 

Destruction in the Gaza Strip. Photo: UNICEF/Hassan Islyeh

The Nazi minister for propaganda and public enlightenment, Joseph Goebbels once said, “Propaganda is absolutely necessary, even if it is only a means to an end. Otherwise, the idea could never take over the state. I must be able to get what I think is important across many people.” In other words, no narrative is useful till it is accepted by a section of the population. It does not astonish me anymore that a big chunk of the Indian  media and social media universe continues to participate whole heartedly in the buildup and sustenance of the Israeli narrative surrounding this crisis. There are the same people who support the Hindu nationalist regime in India. They see India’s stand in favour of Palestine in the past as an attempt by previous regimes to ‘appease’ Indian Muslims. 

Pernicious hatred for Muslims is the glue which binds them with the Israeli narrative. They fail to realise that the Palestine-Israel problem is not an exclusively Muslim-Jew issue. India’s historic support to Palestine was based on our commitment and continuum of the anti-colonial legacy of the freedom struggle. It was no more an attempt at ‘appeasement’ of Indian Muslims than was India’s stand against apartheid in South Africa or its support for the national liberation struggles of other colonised people in Africa and Asia. 

The official Israeli narrative is costing human lives in thousands. The Israeli state is out there avenging the Hamas attack with a brutality and force unknown even to its tormented victims. They believe they are bringing the culprits to ‘justice’ without realising that the line between justice and revenge is precariously thin. It is so thin that it becomes non-existent in the hands of the careless. Revenge is the tool of the weak and the angry. Justice is never delivered in anger. It weighs evidence and situations in context of the crime. The evidence has always been against Israel, right from its wrongful inception in 1948. 

The loss of a moral compass can plunge societies into a free fall of madness and brutality. Building up narratives that contribute to the killing of children, women and the elderly is murder with malice. Frantz Fanon once said, “..because quite simply it was, in more than one way, becoming impossible for them [the colonised] to breathe”. Palestinians need to breathe. 

Shah Alam Khan is a professor at the Department of Orthopaedics, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

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