The language of sociopolitical constructs is rarely a mere collection of words arranged to reflect reality. More often, it is the very infrastructure of thought, laid out in a way to facilitate, or preclude, specific ideas.

In the case of a settler colonial enterprise, the selection of words is highly deliberate and meant to construct a moral syntax to contextualise ethnic cleansing and settlement.

The Israeli colonisation of Palestine has followed time-tested colonial narratives, which first describe conquered lands as uninhabited frontiers for hardworking underdogs, replete with the romantic language of, for example, "making the desert bloom".

The creation of Israel by recent foreign immigrants in Palestine gained an exceptionally sentimental dimension in the West, given that it was born on the heels (and as a result) of Europe's genocide of its own Jewish citizenry.

The story of "a land without a people for a people without a land" was the perfect outcome of a terrible chapter in Europe's history. It was their happy ending - one that helped assuage their guilt.

It was the only story the West wanted, or was willing to hear.

But it was a lie.

'We are not terrorists. We're a native society fighting those who have been terrorising us since they arrived on our shores' [Getty Images]

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Palestine already had an ancient history that had produced an extensive society, whose character formed organically over thousands of years of documented habitation, conquests, pilgrimages, births of religions, religious conversions, settlements, wars, crusades and natural migrations.

Zionists went about an extraordinary linguistic restructuring that included renaming nearly every Palestinian village and land formation.

It was a population of peasants and professionals, scholars and technicians, readers and illiterates, city dwellers and farmers.

It was a pluralistic society, where people of different religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds lived together in relative harmony.

Over many centuries, Palestine had been the object of wars and conquerors who came and went, but not before mixing with the local inhabitants and leaving their mark in the genetic, cultural and even linguistic makeup of the Palestinian people.

The only way an exclusive and exclusionist Jewish state could be created was by the forced physical removal of this society, which began in earnest in 1947 by highly trained and well-funded armed groups of European Jews.

When fledgling Arab nations intervened on behalf of their Palestinian brethren, their disorganised, smaller and weaker forces with their outdated weaponry were no match for the nascent Jewish state.

In the axiom that history is written by the victors, this moment became known as Israel's war of "independence". It is perhaps the only time in history when a group of foreigners have invaded and conquered a land, taken its cities and gardens, then claimed "independence" from the native population of that land.

Thus began the perversion of language that continues to subsidise and propagate power.

Over many centuries, Palestine had been the object of wars and conquerors who came and went [Getty Images]

Renaming place and people

Following expulsion, as Professor Julie Peteet explains in Naming in The Palestine Israel Conflict, the settler-colonial narrative trajectory typically denies the existence of an indigenous population.

For Israelis, there was a vehemence in this denial that they continued to push even after a native Palestinian narrative had begun to emerge in Western consciousness. Most famously, it was there in Golda Meir's declaration that, "There were no such thing as Palestinians. They did not exist."

Ironically, Meir was Russian-born and those words were spoken in an interview with the Sunday Times in 1969 inside Villa Harun al-Rashid, a stolen Palestinian home belonging to the family of George Bisharat.

The extensive destruction or theft of Palestinian heritage was carried out both randomly and systematically.

As Suad Amiry reveals in Golda Slept Here, Meir made sure to sandblast the Damascene Arabic script, Villa Harun al-Rashid, engraved on the second-floor frieze to conceal the fact that she was living in an Arab home when UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold came to visit her.

Zionists went about an extraordinary linguistic restructuring that included renaming nearly every Palestinian village and land formation.

Then there was the renaming of individuals as a way to nativise foreigners.

The Russian Golda Mabovitch, Ariel Scheinerman and Moshe Smolansky became Golda Meir, Ariel Sharon and Moshe Ya'alon. The Polish David Gruen became David Ben-Gurion. The Belarussian Nathan Mileikowsky became Nathan Netanyahu, the grandfather of Benjamin Netanyahu.

This frantic renaming of places and people in order to contrive a narrative of belonging and legitimacy was so elaborate that Zionists established the Names Committee to oversee an epic rewriting of history in such a way that conflated religion with racial and ethnic identity.

The grammar of deceit

What Western media refer to as a conflict is, in fact, the destruction of an entire people; the erasure of their history; the removal of a distinct and named geographic and sociocultural space that has existed since early antiquity.

Thus, Jews with thousands of years of rooted European history, European intellect and artistic accomplishment, European culture and European heritage forged a story of biblical proportions in order to colonise a land already inhabited by another nation.

It was an unfathomable fairy tale of an exiled people, untouched by place, time, history, or local life for more than 3,000 years, who were at last "returning" to a distant land to which they had no identifiable familial, cultural, genetic or legal connection.

And that somehow, this claim trumped that of the native society of Palestine, which had dwelt, cultivated and built Palestine over centuries.

The only thing that could embed such a counterfeit, fluctuating, and inconsistent narrative in an otherwise well-documented historic timeline was the meticulous, cold-blooded grammar of deceit that only language can accomplish.

No amount of weaponry could have facilitated the usurping of an entire country, complete with books, homes, villas, languages, religious traditions, native foods, dance, and customs. It is quite breathtaking to contemplate the undertaking.

In her excellent scholarly research on the renaming of Palestine, Professor Julie Peteet remarks: "The Zionist project of forging a link between the contemporary Jewish community and the land of Palestine was a project of extraordinary remaking: of language, of place and relation to it, and of selves and identities."


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Of conflict and lies

Scholars have long outlined a pattern of colonial rhetoric which presents the natives as backward, primitive, savage, or irrationally and inexplicably violent once the initial narrative of virgin lands falls apart before the native response, which is eventually violent towards settler theft of land and resources.

It was precisely because Palestinians finally took up arms against their tormentors that the language of denial was no longer possible. 

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Thus came the shift to the verbiage of terrorists.

This narrative persisted for some time, until the first Intifada, which was largely nonviolent. Pervasive images of small boys confronting tanks with rocks undermined Israel's claims of an existential threat from terrorists.

Thus was born the language of negotiations. Perhaps the most insidious, dangerous and misleading term of this new discourse is the word "conflict".

Conflict conjures a sense of parity, of two equal parties who disagree.

A conflict occurred between Germany and Russia in the early 1940s. Likewise, the United States and Russia were in a cold conflict for most of the 1980s. The gross imbalance of power between Israel and the native Palestinian population should preclude an intelligent use of this word.

Israel is a highly militarised society with the most advanced weaponry ever known. They hold tremendous political and economic clout in the US and, thus, internationally.

Palestinians have no military, no air force, no army, no navy. They are impoverished, robbed of their natural resources and livelihoods.

They have no political power, no clout. They are a besieged, controlled, oppressed, exiled and imprisoned people with no real defences against a racist state that has been explicit in its outrage and contempt for Palestinian existence.

Therefore, to speak of Zionism as a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is akin to saying that apartheid was a conflict between white and black South Africans; or that Nazism was a conflict between Jewish and Aryan Germans; or that segregation and Jim Crow were a conflict between white and black Americans.

Using the word "conflict" in common discourse on Zionism (and this author has been guilty of it, too) has been an insidious deception from which all manner of duplicitous words have emerged: "Neighbourhoods" to describe illegal colonies; "clashes" to describe foreign Israeli military attacks on unarmed Palestinians in their own villages; "self-defence" to describe wholesale bombing of life and the infrastructure of life; "security fence" to describe a separation and land-grabbing wall; "civilians" to describe paramilitary illegal settlers.

What Western media refer to as a conflict is, in fact, the destruction of an entire people; the erasure of their history; the removal of a distinct and named geographic and sociocultural space that has existed since early antiquity.

Zionism is racism is Apartheid is Jim Crow, and it is the foundational underpinning of Israel.

No more should we tolerate the use of the word "conflict".

The original European immigrants did not wage a war of independence.

Those are not neighbourhoods. They are segregated, exclusively Jewish, and illegal colonies built on stolen Palestinian lands.

We are not terrorists. We're a native society fighting those who have been terrorising us since they arrived on our shores; people facing our extinction and fighting for our lives against foreigners who continue to pour into our lands, believing that God endowed them with an inherent right to have an extra country.

Dislodging colonial verbiage, its fairy tales and myths, no matter how absurd or illogical, is no easy task. In the words of Steven Salaita: "The normative liar, remember, is always given more authority in colonial societies than the recalcitrant subject."

But continuing to allow or echo the language of power that disdains social justice struggles cannot be an option. Examination of embedded colonial terms and the conscientious use of a native people's language of struggle must accompany everything we do.

Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian author. Her latest novel, The Blue Between Sky And Water (Bloomsbury 2015), has sold in 21 languages so far.

She is also the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera