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Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh with President Mahmoud Abbas Photo: AFP
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh with President Mahmoud Abbas Photo: AFP
 
 
Ray Hanania  

 

Palestinian failure to communicate

By packing their goals with emotion and rhetoric from the very first sentence, the prisoners' document fails to convey any message at all

Published: 06.07.06, 15:37 / Israel Opinion

In mid-May, representatives of the four major Palestinian factions who are all political prisoners held by Israel released a document calling on Palestinians to unite.

 

I knew there was a problem the moment I read the first sentence. It was, according to a translation in English provided by DAIR (The PLO's Department of Arab and International Relations), exactly 134 words in length:

 

"Out of a great feeling of national and historic responsibility, due to the risks that threaten our people, in order to strengthen the

internal Palestinian front and to protect national unity and the unity of our people at home and in exile and to confront the Israeli project whose aim is to impose an Israeli solution and destroy the dream of our people and its right to establish an independent Palestinian state enjoying full sovereignty, a project and a design that the Israeli government intends to implement during the coming period based on the construction and completion of the racist wall, the Judaization of Jerusalem, the expansion of settlements, the seizure of the Jordan Valley, the annexation of large parts of the West Bank and preventing our people from exercising its right of return."

 

Now, the length of that sentence may seem trivial to some, but to me, a veteran journalist, I know that no average human being can comprehend a sentence that is 134 words long.

 

Cutting down

 

The first thing you are taught in communications is to be concise, but Palestinians can never be brief, concise or to the point. This is the main stumbling block that prevents them from effectively communicating their problems.

 

Journalists are taught most people who read newspapers fall into deep REM sleep reading sentences 80 words long; doze off reading sentences 60 words long; lose concentration reading sentences 50 words long; pick their noses at 42 words; maybe continue reading at the 35 word mark. This PARAGRAPH is 51 words. Take out the offending sentence and this entire article is only 205 words up to here.

 

Every paragraph after the lede sentence has the same problem, long and filled with too much emotion.

 

The perfect length for a lede sentence is considered 26 words. But Palestinians can't say what they want to say in 26 words. There are too many adjectives, too much emotion, and too much frustration to be brief.

 

Incomprehensible

 

I gave the prisoners' document - which is very important - to several friends. Not one could tell me what it meant.

 

I knew what it means. But, I'm Palestinian and I already sympathize with them. Palestinians are born with a sixth sense for suffering, frustration and hopelessness. We have a knack for comprehending the incomprehensible.

 

I was at a conference in Detroit recently that addressed the issue of Arab bashing, hosted by a very progressive organization called "Arab Detroit." My role was to talk about the power of humor, but a large part of what I said focused on three fundamentals of communications:

 

  1. It's not the message but how you deliver the message that is important.
  2. The goal of a debate is not to win the argument, but to win the audience.
  3. In the West, perception is reality.

 

Basically what this means is that despite all the facts and issues one struggles to define, it is all meaningless if no one reads or understands it.

 

No agreement

 

I can only imagine the challenge of reaching a consensus in a room with one representative of the Jabha, Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad. I've been in meetings like that. They go nowhere productive and always either end in ineffective statements or break up in heated argument.

 

Palestinians never agree on what they need to do because they are masters at emotion. They assert their opinions without compromising or, worse, really listening to the other. So when they write a statement, it has to include everything that everyone wants, hence a 134-word lede, followed by several paragraphs cluttered with all the usual rhetoric and emotion.

 

Narrow focus

 

It's the problem of the Palestinian, the pebble and the big road. Instead of looking forward on a road to see where it might lead, Palestinians focus on the insignificant pebble that is at their feet. They live and die arguing over that pebble, but they never get to see the bigger picture. And when they are not battling over the pebble, they spend most of their time looking back on the road they've been traveled. They never define a vision for the road ahead and hence, they always seem to be standing still, or worse, moving backwards.

 

That is why the important Palestinian Prisoner's Document begins with a confusing, muddled introductory sentence.

 

Palestinian Moses

 

Marwan Barghouti, the secretary general of the Fatah organization, is a brilliant leader who I compare to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian dissident imprisoned in the Soviet Gulag for challenging injustice and oppression.

 

Read his stuff. The clarity and vision hits you in the face from sentence one. Barghouti is a political prisoner who has been in the "Israeli Gulag" for several years. One day, he will come out and may become the Palestinian Moses.

 

But he and other Palestinians need to learn to get past their emotions and stop spending all their time "talking to themselves." Palestinian speeches, writings and statements are always focused on the "choir," or, the Palestinians. Rarely do they ever address the people who need to understand, who are not Palestinian at all.

 

Preaching to the choir

 

The Prisoners' Document begins by doing what Palestinians always do. Palestinians always seem burdened by the need to justify themselves first, before discussing the point. It is symptomatic of a lack of confidence.

 

They are really talking to themselves, sharing in their suffering together. They are not trying to educate someone outside of their community by explaining a problem in a simple way. But Palestinians already understand the problem, and this document won't do anything to help non-Palestinians do the same.

 

Each subsequent paragraph in the document has the same problem. It is a discouraging collection of emotional phrases that prevent an objective reader from seeing the point. The document "buries the lede," as we say in the communications business. No one can understand the point because most non-Palestinians will never finish reading the document.

 

Re-stated

 

If I had to rewrite it, I could do it in two paragraphs.

 

"Palestinians have a right to sovereign statehood. Palestinians have made major compromises, including recognizing Israel's right to exist in the pre-1967 borders. Israel has refused to recognize Palestine's right to exist in the pre-1967 borders. Israel engages in social and political provocations that are intended to prevent genuine peace. Israel uses the conflict to annex land, expel Palestinians, and achieve their real goals without negotiating.

 

"Palestinians must choose new leaders who can define a pro-active strategy to change this situation. These leaders must be able to not only define a strategy for success, but they must also share this vision with the world. Current government wants a one-sided peace. Palestinians want a genuine peace based on fairness and justice that Israelis should accept, too."

 

I know people can understand all that.

 

Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American author and journalist. He can be reached at www.hanania.com

 

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