Sticks and stones and pepper spray

Words! – A Poem

By Samah Sabawi, 15:29 03/30/2012

I’ve been down this road before: Someone tries to teach me how to use words that can ‘open doors’. Offering me tips in communication. “Instead of saying ‘Apartheid’ try a ‘system of segregation’”. “Downplay the ‘Nakba’ and focus on the occupation”. And “if you write a statement, make sure you start every paragraph with clear support for the two state solution and don’t forget to end it with a Hamas condemnation.


I stand
No congress behind me
No statesmen surround me
No lobby to breathe hellfire
No media eager to appease
No three-ring circus
Of intellectual jesters
Academic clowns
And legal experts
Who truly do not see
the big elephant in the tent
No legal acrobats
Dance for me
On a thin robe of decency
No politicians
Juggle oppression
And human rights
On my behalf
No trips to boost carriers
For MPs and their wives
No propaganda movies
No radio broadcsts
No myths
No lies
No hasbaranites
No army,
No country
Not even
One leader to believe in
All I have are my words
To tell my story
My voice
To demand justice
But you tell me
My language is too strong

You my friend
My perfect the skill of delusion
The talent of denial
You may express
Regret and lament
And cry tears of indignation
And insist
You’re on my side
But without naming the crime they commit
Without naming
‘Ehnic Cleansing’ and ‘apartheid’
Your words ring hallow

So I will hold on to my words
I use them sparingly
I utter one word
And a house is resurrected
From memory
On a hill in Palestine
I utter another
… and I am in a courtyard
under a sycamore tree
And another
And the scent of Jasmine fills the air
Words lift me up from despair
And take me home
Words disarm tyrants
Bring down empires
And reveal
All the oppressors wish to conceal

I stand dispossessed
Of everything
But my words
They are words of truth
Of fire and steel
I use them deliberately
Not to incite hatred
Not to frighten
But to light up this darkness
That tore me into 11 million pieces
And scattered me
Across the earth
Words tell my story
Forced exile
Ethnic cleansing
Carefully chosen
Purposely uttered
These are the words
That lay the foundation
Of the language of liberation

Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian writer from Gaza living in Australia. She contributed this poem to or

Photograph of Israeli police pepper spraying an injured Palestinian during Land Day clashes in East Jerusalem, by Ammar Awad (Reuters), March 30, 2012. or

The Mocking of Christ; Mathias Grünewald; 1503; oil on pine panel; Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

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