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First-year guard Aaryn Battle (1) dribbles the ball during Thursday evening’s game against Wake Forest in the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt women’s basketball falls back into their old habits, fall to Wake Forest 65-50
By Sara Meyer, Staff Writer • 9:10 am

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First-year guard Aaryn Battle (1) dribbles the ball during Thursday evening’s game against Wake Forest in the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt women’s basketball falls back into their old habits, fall to Wake Forest 65-50
By Sara Meyer, Staff Writer • 9:10 am

Opinion | Pay attention to the language of war

People+hold+signs+and+flags+at+a+rally+in+support+of+Palestine+in+Oakland+on+Oct.+10.+%0A
Pamela Smith | Contributing Editor
People hold signs and flags at a rally in support of Palestine in Oakland on Oct. 10.

A second Nakba is happening in Palestine — the numbers of the displaced are higher than they were in 1948. Nearly 70% of Israel’s victims are women and children. I have seen and heard these two phrases repeatedly in the last weeks, in articles, at protests and in poems. I have seen how easily Zionists brush these arguments — these facts — away, as if these statements were somehow objectionable; as if it is a fair thing that when one has the military and financial support of the U.S., nothing else matters. Not facts, not international law, not humanitarian aid, not safety, not honesty, not the sanctity of life or even death. 

To remain silent now, to remain uncritical and willfully ignorant of the plight of the Palestinians, is a kind of violence. It is an extension of the brutality of the racist settler colonial project set up by the US and the UK in 1948 and of its many generations since then. Colonizers have always relied on the notions that the colonized are not recognizable as human to the rest of the world and that their pain and suffering are invisible. But this silence and this ignorance are also deepening a self-inflicted wound on so many — if you continue on this path, then you are cultivating an incurable hatred in yourself.  When you ignore the pain of others, and most of all when you justify it, you cut yourself off from what makes us human beings. 

To use rhetorical arguments and clever wording to defend genocide, to do so in the same languages that for thousands of years have written speeches, love poems and songs, novels and plays, letters, the languages that have been used for obituaries and prayers and first and last words — that is violent, too. 

Language and its employment are not free from responsibility. Context must be applied, relentlessly. We need to question definitions and designations, what they reveal about who is setting them, and what it means to grant authority to those in that position. No one can deny that the state of Israel has an army — the Israeli Defense Force. But there is more to this statement, more to this title, to the words that comprise it, even. Israeli “Defense” Force. What does this really mean? What does it really signify, to allow this military, which has been accused since 1948 of violating nearly every human right imaginable, to call itself “the most moral army in the world”? The “D” in IDF provides a blanketing justification for every atrocity Israel commits — after all, they were all in “self-defense,” and every state has a right to that, doesn’t it? 

And if you are denied statehood? Because of the Israeli occupation, Palestinian land rights have nearly vanished, they make up one of the largest refugee populations, and they live without many of the rights and freedoms that Israelis have. Palestine has no army. Palestinians — who are attacked every day, who are arrested and held for years without charge, who are tortured in detention, who are shot point blank in the streets — even before Oct. 7, during times of “peace” — have no “Defense Force.”

One cannot deny the conditions Palestinians live under, not when there are so many photos, so many videos. This is where we must stop resisting further analysis.

If Israel, a settler colony, is permitted by the international community to have a brutal, highly funded military with mandatory conscription for its citizens, all in the name of “self-defense,” then what does it mean when Palestinians, who are the ones that have experienced a 75-year occupation, are not allowed to have a military? It means Palestinians do not have a right to self-defense — it means that those currently under an actual attack that has lasted decades are not allowed self-defense. If you have a state, your armed citizens are called soldiers. If you are denied a state, your armed — and often unarmedcitizens are called “terrorists.” 

What defines a terrorist? Is it the scale of their violence? If we’re using violence as a scale, where does that put the US military and the IDF, both of which have killed far more civilians, bombed more indiscriminately and struck more schools and hospitals than any of the groups they claim to fight?

So, it must not be the scale of violence or the depravity of it. What was the word used by Pitt’s Chancellor? “Barbaric?” I agree — violence against civilians is barbaric. It is appalling. So, the IDF members who fire indiscriminately into crowds, who shot a nine-year-old boy in the West Bank during the “humanitarian pause” last week — their violence is barbaric too, right? 

In that case, the US soldiers and prison guards in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib who sexually assaulted and tortured their prisoners are terrorists too, right? 

For so many of you, it seems that your fealty to the concept of statehood invented by imperial powers has rotted your brains beyond comprehension. Your commitment to this ideal based on nothing but exploitation and carnage is such that you find state violence perfectly logical, and acceptable, even if it shocks you, even if you’re against the reasons for it, whether they are the invasion of Iraq based on the falsehood of “weapons of mass destruction”, or the illegal settlements in the West Bank. 

I cannot even remember how many fully-grown adults I have heard try to criticize the ethnonationalism, the racism and the apartheid inflicted by Israel and at the same time insist that it has a right to defend itself. What is that right? How does that work, and why is it not extended to the Palestinians, who have lived under occupation for the better part of a century? Why does Israel, a state that is younger than your addled president, have a right to inflict violence at this scale? Because it is a state? Why does anyone who even in the slightest resists that violence deserve incarceration, torture or death? 

I’ve heard the argument that “the people of Gaza elected Hamas” several times in the last month, as well as the statements that “the US has designated Hamas as a terrorist organization,” and that “this is not a genocide — they’re not all dead.” While I fully do not support Hamas, and would not have personally voted for them, these three arguments for me signify the level of ignorance that clogs the air right now. Approximately half of Gaza’s population is made up of children — did they cast those votes?

To those that say that because Gazans “elected Hamas” they deserve to be exterminated — say it to yourself, slowly. Do you, a citizen of the United States — a country that has pillaged and bombed over half the world in search of oil and profit, a country which has killed millions, children amongst them, that starves and kills its marginalized people — do you honestly want to advocate that the citizens of an “immoral government” face violence and death? 

Do you not realize that to much of the world, the US military can be seen as a terrorist organization, the one whose uniforms and tanks and shells are synonymous with unimaginable suffering? Do you ever think about who your country designates as “terrorists” while it’s busy drone striking civilians, sex-trafficking children, and pillaging native land? America had Nelson Mandela on a “terrorist watchlist” until 2008. How dare you think that you have any right to define terror when your country is the most universal definition of it? 

As for genocide — there is a reason that scholars of genocides, the Holocaust included, have come out in droves to condemn Israel. The UN defines genocide as any attacks with the intention to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group — a definition which includes “killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and/or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Must all of Gaza be gone for some to admit what this is? 

The reality in Palestine is undeniable. To continue to stay silent, to continue to manipulate narratives and pledge fealty to the senseless authority of a state, to continue to differentiate between “children killed” and “children who have died” is to resign and to dehumanize yourself. Any voice at all is worth raising if only to not feel shame every other time you speak about something else. 

Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger writes about politics and international and domestic social movements. Write to her at [email protected]

About the Contributor
Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger, Senior Staff Columnist
Sofia Uriagereka is a senior majoring in Anthropology. She writes primarily about politics, both domestic and international.