Ghassan Hage: A Massacre is Not a Massacre

Ghassan Hage’s response to some of the outrageously unbelievable Israeli propaganda that spewed forth from the mouths of Israeli political leaders and their spokespersons in the days following Israel’s massacre of civilians in international waters:

I don’t write poems but, in any case, poems are not poems.

Long ago, I was made to understand that Palestine was not Palestine;

I was also informed that Palestinians were not Palestinians;

They also explained to me that ethnic cleansing was not ethnic cleansing.

And when naive old me saw freedom fighters they patiently showed me that they were not freedom fighters, and that resistance was not resistance.

And when, stupidly, I noticed arrogance, oppression and humiliation they benevolently enlightened me so I can see that arrogance was not arrogance, oppression was not oppression, and humiliation was not humiliation.

I saw misery, racism, inhumanity and a concentration camp.

But they told me that they were experts in misery, racism, inhumanity and concentration camps and I have to take their word for it: this was not misery, racism, inhumanity and a concentration camp.

Over the years they’ve taught me so many things: invasion was not invasion, occupation was not occupation, colonialism was not colonialism and apartheid was not apartheid.

They opened my simple mind to even more complex truths that my poor brain could not on its own compute like: “having nuclear weapons” was not “having nuclear weapons,” “not having weapons of mass destruction” was “having weapons of mass destruction.”

And, democracy (in the Gaza Strip) was not democracy.

Having second class citizens (in Israel) was democracy.

So you’ll excuse me if I am not surprised to learn today that there were more things that I thought were evident that are not: peace activists are not peace activists, piracy is not piracy, the massacre of unarmed people is not the massacre of unarmed people.

I have such a limited brain and my ignorance is unlimited.

And they’re so fucking intelligent. Really.

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Ghassan Hage is professor of anthropology and social theory at the University of Melbourne.

This poem (or not a poem) was reproduced from Electronic Intifada, published there on 03 June 2010.

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4 thoughts on “Ghassan Hage: A Massacre is Not a Massacre

  1. occupation of the land starts from occupation of the mind and
    occupation of the mind starts from occupation of the language

    So, we have to fight first their occupation of our language, when invasion and occupation mean “liberation” , freedom fighters mean “terrorists”, when pillage of our resources mean “free trade”, when installing US-backed puppet governments mean “democracy”, when destruction mean “reconstruction”, when spies are called “linguists and social scientists”, etc.

  2. Many thanks. These semantic distortions seem to be more stretched, more far fetched, and more unbelievable than normal. This isn’t an accident, and more than the just the usual semantic games of political elites, I would say. Political rulers are trying to do more and more that is inexcusable and indefensible, in the name of reason and justice, in the face of a crowd that is less willing to take them at their word. Orwell’s vision of how language would come to be manipulated, narrowed and employed to justify any sort of atrocity, did not come to fruition under “totalitarian” regimes like those of Hitler and Stalin–those were, by comparison with today, clumsy first attempts, the only contemporary ones available to Orwell. Instead it’s in the so-called “Western democracy” that we see the greatest perversion in the process of meaning making and authorized truths. Here in Canada, the new orthodoxy propelled by the ruling party and most of the parliamentary opposition is that those who are against Israeli colonialism–and there cannot be any other name for it–are thus against “Israel’s existence”, and therefore racists. Anti-colonialism, now racist: the British really should have held out longer, they would now have the perfect justification for maintaining their colonies–“decolonization movements are an expression of bigoted anti-Anglo-Saxonism” they could have said.

    In actuality though, if Israel’s much vaunted, unilateral, imposed “right to exist” comes at the expense of the lives of people on the lands Israelis have stolen, if that right comes at the expense of the rights of others, then it loses all moral force and political legitimacy. This is Israel’s fault, and no one else’s. When you have neighbours, and you move into someone else’s home whose presence predates your arrival, then your “right” has to be negotiated in relation to the rights of others, or you beg to have your right extinguished. Fearing just that, Israel defends right with might, which is no defense at all.

  3. Amazing. Such a strong message in simple words… Truly amazing.
    May god bless you my brother…

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