It’s Not What You Say, it’s How You Say it

My mother used this line on me all the time when I was growing up. When I felt I had been done a grave injustice by my unfair parents –” which was obviously every other day as a teenager –” I would argue my point in rants and raves, flaying my arms and blaring in the highest decibel humanly possible. When the dust would finally settle, my mother would calmly advise me to choose my words carefully, lower my voice and get my point across –” which she sometimes conceded was legitimate –” in a way that would be well received on the other end. "It’s not necessarily what you are saying," she would tell me. "It’s how you say it."

I am reminded of that maxim frequently as I listen to Palestine’s leaders defend our cause. In my opinion, there is no cause more just than that of Palestine’s. International law is behind us, most of the world has rallied for the creation of a Palestinian state and many good minded, well-intentioned people have pledged their support and solidarity with us. Nonetheless, despite all of these positive factors, we are still stateless, misunderstood and accused of being intransigent, violent and uncooperative. In part, this is due to the unwavering support Israel gets from the United States, even when the former does not move in the exact direction the Americans would like them to. Given that the US is the only superpower left in the world, its word holds a mighty amount of weight and other countries follow suit if only for association.

Still, we cannot blame our plight completely on the Americans. What we can and should do, is look inward at what we are doing to hinder our standing in the world’s pecking order. It’s not that we don’t have enough fuel for the fire, so to say. It’s that we don’t know how to use it.

For example, the Palestinians who consider themselves officials and take the liberty of talking about the cause on international news and radio stations do not need to raise their voices or flay their hands when talking about the evils of the Israeli occupation. Neither should they go on an aggressive defensive at a wayward question from the interviewer or even at a clear provocation. We Palestinians need to learn to stay calm, to point out the facts as concisely and as clearly as possible without drama and without embellishments. The Israelis do it all the time, even when they are caught red-handed in clear crimes against the Palestinians or against those who support us. Most recently, Jerusalem’s head of police calmly explained before cameras that the settler security guard in Silwan who had shot dead a Palestinian had acted in self-defense. He claimed the guard was being assaulted with rocks and that the streets were barricaded closed in a way that would not allow him to escape quickly in his jeep. The man did not miss a beat even though a video taken at the scene showed that the security guard (and police) falsified the testimony. To the world, the Israelis keep a united front, for better or for worse.

In theory, we have it way better. We do not have to lie or dramatize or cover up when we tell the world about what it is like living under a military occupation for 43 years. We simply have to tell it how it is. This does not seem like such a hard task when the evidence is so clearly to our advantage. Settlements are illegal under international law. This is a fact. Palestinian Jerusalemites are not citizens of the state of Israel, they are permanent residents and must thus continuously prove their center of life is in Jerusalem to maintain that precarious existence. Palestinians are not allowed to build or expand in Area C of the West Bank (60 percent) and are constantly being threatened with land confiscation and home demolitions. This is another fact. The list, of course, can go on. But these facts are surprisingly unfamiliar to audiences around the world, the United States in particular. And this is where we have gone wrong.

There are those, of course, who shine where others have failed. In an interview with Canada’s CBC news, Palestinian attorney Diana Buttu was asked whether [Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza] was a concession on its part or not. "Absolutely not," she answered calmly. "This has never been Israel’s territory in the first place. No country around the world –” not even Canada –” has recognized the legitimacy of Israel’s claims over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. So, it’s not a concession for Israel to be withdrawing. It’s actually a legal obligation."

Most Canadians (and other Westerners for that matter) have probably never heard this before. More importantly, even if they heard something of the sort it may not have been packaged in such concise and clear information, delivered in a calm and steady voice and backed by hard facts. Buttu’s interviewer gave no counter argument. "All right, fair enough," she conceded.

These are the types of answers and arguments we need to be making and it pains me to have to listen to officials who repeat themselves incessantly, fall into the trap of trashing Hamas [or Fateh] instead of showing a united front against the occupation, or actually offering erroneous information. We are not, for example, the last occupied people on earth.

I say these things because I think the Palestinians can do a lot better in the world of public relations. The cause of the Palestinians is as just as causes come and Israel’s oppression of the people needs no embellishment. Mom was right. It’s not only what we say that counts –” it’s really how we say it.