“Have you ever protested against the massacres in Syria?”, asked Israeli police officer Yossi Peretz as he was detaining me along with other activists on our way to an anti-occupation demonstration in Bil’in. “Bashar al-Assad murders tens of Syrians every day and you are silent.”
It was an atrocious day: The security apparatus of the “only democracy in the Middle East” showcased its full force and flexed its muscles to prevent a bus carrying non-violent protesters from reaching an unarmed demonstration; we were detained for three hours in the Givaat Ze’ev police station on a dreary, freezing morning; we couldn’t march alongside the courageous villagers in Bil’in as they commemorated the seventh anniversary of popular resistance against the apartheid wall. What exasperated me the most was the cynical attempt of a man charged with enforcing brutal occupation and military despotism to exploit the blood of Syrian martyrs and feign concern for the victims of Assad’s deplorable atrocities. Ironically, a few days earlier during an anti-Assad protest in occupied Jerusalem, a Palestinian man scolded us for “not participating in a single demonstration against the massacres in Gaza.”
As the Syrian intifada for dignity, freedom and justice enters its second year without showing any sign of succumbing to the regime’s callous, pernicious crackdown, myths continue to dominate the discourse over Syria and Palestine. One such myth is that supporting the Palestinian struggle and the Syrian intifada are mutually exclusive. It is as though Palestinians and Syrians are competing over who can claim the greater measure of victimhood and unfair media coverage. For instance, when I tweet about the flagrant human rights violations and daily crimes that Israel perpetrates against Palestinians, I get similar reactions to that voiced by the Israeli police officer: “And what about Syria?” (Justifying and covering up Israeli crimes by switching discussion to Arab tyrannies is a well-known manipulative trick used by Zionist propagandists that has unfortunately been adopted by *some* Arabs.)
Many, on the other hand, complain about the “excessive” focus of mainstream Arab and Western media on Syria and ignoring atrocities in Palestine and Bahrain. Granted, mainstream media has an agenda and a set of politically and financially-motivated priorities, and shedding light on the repression in Bahrain or Palestine doesn’t meet their agenda… or the corporate goals of mass-media conglomerates. Similarly, pro-Assad media outlets in Syria, Lebanon, Iran, etc., blather for hours about the crimes of Israel while turning a blind eye to the massacres carried out by Assad next door. Hypocrisy and double-standards in the media happen both ways. Spending all of one’s time blasting the media and Western governments for their despicable and shameful hypocrisy, selective indignation, and warped “humanitarianism”, while barely uttering a syllable of solidarity with the Syrian people is the epitome of the very hypocrisy and skewed “humanitarianism” one is trying to protest in the first place. As painful as the analogy is, reading circular debates about media coverage of Syria vis-à-vis Palestine reminds me of a football match where the supporters of both teams slam a terribly inept referee for his bias and explain his awful decisions by trotting out worn and tired conspiracy theories.
The truth is that the Syrian people are getting a taste of what Palestinians have been enduring for the best part of a century: futile Arab League summits; empty, toothless rhetoric by kings and sheikhs; lip service from the “international community”; crocodile tears; and a horribly feckless and reactionary political leadership that lags light years behind the rebellious youth. Moreover, both Palestinians and Syrians have been blessed with the all-important contribution of Kofi Annan, the undisputed master of equating between victims and executioners, an expert at calling for sham “peace” between the oppressor and oppressed amidst carnage and bloody repression.
It’s worth noting, however, that I’m perfectly aware of the significant differences between the Syrian and Palestinian situations. Palestinians have been struggling for over six decades against an expansionist settler-colonial military occupation erected upon physical and psychological walls, separation fences, and military checkpoints, maintained by the lethal combination of the military-industrial complex and deeply-entrenched institutional racism that penetrates the whole of society. Syrians are fighting a fascist, totalitarian ruling elite that has turned Syria into a private property of the Assad clan and their beneficiaries. That elite class, under Assad’s dominating influence, has acted exactly like an occupation force with a similar lack of legitimacy.
The means by which Israel attacks and suppresses the Palestinian population may be different from those used by Assad. Israel’s violence, especially in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and within the Green line, is not as visible as the Assad regime’s – although Gaza gets more than its fair share of air strikes and missiles – but it’s equally as destructive. The silent ethnic cleansing of an indigenous population in the form of rapidly increasing home demolitions, settlement construction, strict control on the freedom of movement of Palestinians and systematic denial of basic infrastructure such as water and electricity gradually squeezes the lifeblood out of quarantined, defenceless communities. In addition, Palestinians have had to deal with the ongoing theft of their land, identity, and collective memory since the creation of the state of Israel. The discriminatory legal system and racist bureaucracy that controls the tiniest minutiae of Palestinians’ daily lives re an evil force that is not as flashy and dramatic as bombs and rockets; therefore, it will never make the headlines of the New York Times and the BBC. Conversely, the brutality of the Assad regime since the start of the uprising has been much more perceptible, graphic, and less sophisticated. However, despite these aforementioned differences, the wound of Syrians and Palestinians is one; our demands are the same – dignity, freedom and justice – and we both have to fight our battle on our own as the world stands by meekly. The Palestinian cause transcends ethnicity, religion and nationality, which explains why it has become a symbol of the oppressed throughout the region. This is precisely why we Palestinians should be the first to support the Syrian people’s intifada – not as an act of solidarity, but as recognition of our shared demands and destiny. This unconditional support for the Syrian revolution does not, however, mean approving of the Syrian National Council or any human rights abuses committed by the Free Syrian Army or any other armed opposition group in Syria. On the contrary, it is in the revolution’s best interest to condemn human rights violations, sectarianism, and corruption regardless of the culpable party. Yet, it’s also crucial not to equate between the oppressed and oppressor and to keep in mind that the Syrian regime bears full responsibility for driving the country into violence and for fomenting sectarian tensions.
The Syrian regime has done nothing to liberate the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, let alone Palestine, but even if it were the only entity in the world capable of liberating our land, we must stand against it. You can never achieve your liberation on the blood of your brethren and with the aid of the very regime that denies your fellow men and women their most basic rights.
This is what makes the support of some corrupt Palestinian leaders, couch leftists, and Arab nationalists for the Assad regime so repellent and disgraceful. By brazenly exploiting the cause of one oppressed people to justify the oppression of another, Palestinian cheerleaders of Assad inflict irreparable damage on the Palestinian cause. Khaled Jabbareen, a veteran Palestinian activist I met during the demonstration we held in Haifa to mark the first anniversary of the Syrian uprising, told me: “I quit political activism for 15 years. What spurred me to be active again was watching an obsolete Palestinian ‘leader’ sing Assad’s praises on Syrian State TV. We have been repeatedly scapegoated because of contemptuous stances taken by self-appointed Palestinian leaders and we paid the price dearly. We cannot allow the same to happen with the Syrian intifada. We cannot sit idly as Syrians are being killed and repressed in our name.”
Jabbareen added that the Syrian intifada has unmasked the traditional Arab “Left” and exposed its moral bankruptcy. For decades, Arab leftists and modernists have been urging the masses to rise up. When the masses did rise to break the walls of fear in Syria, most of those self-proclaimed leftists and revolutionists cowered and either supported the regime in the guise of “anti-imperialism” and “Arabism” or sat on the fence, perhaps because the intifada was not attractive enough to satisfy their self-perceived intellectual superiority or because they were never revolutionary in the first place. Although those intellectuals and “leaders” are unashamedly loud in their support of Assad, and although one cannot deny that minhibbakjiyeh exist in Palestine as well, they do not represent the Palestinian people – as much as they shame me – and they do not represent the Palestinian cause. They do not represent the values and principles Palestinians are fighting for.
Palestinians chanted “Yallah Irhal Ya Bashar” in Nazareth, Haifa, Jaffa, Baqa, Jerusalem, Bil’in and Nabi Saleh. Many of us will continue to do so since it’s our duty to stand on the side of those who sing for freedom, dance, and even make jokes through the horror visited by bullets and mortar shells. A victory for the brave Syrian people over Assad’s tyranny will be a triumph for every oppressed community in the world. Such a triumph could change the discourse of resistance and turn it from a pretext to crush revolt into a leaderless, grassroots movement. Resistance is not a tyrant’s speech, and the Palestininian cause lives not in the ivory towers of intellectuals or in the dungeons of dictators. It lives in the voice of Ibrahim Qashoush, the innocent soul of Hamza al-Khatib, the heroic “Sumoud” of Homs and in the unbreakable spirit of the Syrian and Palestinian people.
Budour Hassan, originally from Nazareth, is a Palestinian anarchist and feminist activist and a fourth-year Law student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Posted by OFF THE WALL
First, I would like to start this post by wishing all a serene Passover and Easter. May we all celebrate next year in a Syria liberated from tyrants.
OK, so it seems that we have two different points of views on 7ee6an, both expressed eloquently and with passion and both defended and criticized strongly. At risk of extreme over simplification, the first idea may be summarized as arguing that armed resistance only aggravates the regime and provides it with excuses to inflict more violence and horror, not to mention being a failure in comparison with the “more effective” national scale civil disobedience, which should be pursued at all costs towards bringing down the regime. The second argument, and again risking oversimplification, stresses the right of people for self defense, and highlights that the regime’s use of force is independent of the level of violence exerted by any armed faction in the revolution, which in turn if sufficiently armed, will exact punitive blows at the regime’s barbarity, especially in enhancing the odds for further defection from the ranks of forces under its control.
To me, such discussion justifies all the efforts that went into launching and maintaining 7ee6an and the hard work we all have done so far to ensure a quality of discussion that distinguishes the contributions to this blog from hysterical rants of absurdity. This discussion reflects the ongoing mental anguish many among those supporting the revolution are going through. I myself continue to have hard time making my mind regarding which option to support. But given both tracks of thinking it would seem that the advocacy for a full scale “non violent” civil disobedience, by its nature and intellectual grounding and legacy does exclude an armed resistance track of the revolution, especially if it calls for halting any plans to arm the FSA. On the other hand, the presence of armed factions, especially one borne, as the argument goes, to protect peaceful protest, does not exclude the preparation for and the carrying out of “non-violent” actions and strategies with increasing organization all the way to the desired nationwide civil disobedience. It does however complicate that strategy and makes pursuing it much harder.
Supporters’ slogan “Assad or we scorch the country” written by Regime thugs after the looting and intimidation campaign in the upper scale neighborhood of Inshaat in Homs.
The Assad regime has pursued the “violent” option with vengeance and brutality from day one. It may now tolerate a few non-violent demonstrations here and there primarily as a matter of setting priorities in terms of sequencing its wanton destruction of the country and scheduling its next bombardment target. Those arguing for full exclusion of armed opposition, and for starving the FSA should be mindful of the slogan “الأسد أو نحرق البلد ” (Assad or we scorch the country) painted by the regime thugs and soldiers in every place they scorched and advertized on the walls of their headquarters and even public busses. In this slogan, the regime loyalists, which are part and parcel of the regime, declare their adherence to the Assad’s cult. The adherent of this semi religious cult are now drunk with blood and smoke after a year of relentless efforts to remove all traces of scruples that may inhibit further brutality and barbarity on their side. They need no excuses to exact their violence, which has been proven time and again as an inherent part of their cult and of the fabric that binds the regime. The shelling continues throughout the country despite of the absence of any armed resistance in most areas being shelled. Snipers, who according to loyalists on other blogs are to be excluded from Annan plan since they don’t use heavy weapons, continue to terrorize innocent civilians in many Syrian streets and the list of their victims continues to increase. Terror in regime torture dungeons never stopped and will never stop, even with the presence of international monitors, and demonstrations in Aleppo and elsewhere continue to be suppressed with increasing brutality and use of live ammunition contrary to the earlier “appease Aleppo” approach. The number of victims of regime brutality has not gone down with many murders occurring in areas where FSA is either none present or has not been very active.
All of this should put to rest the notion that the presence of FSA as an impetuous for regime violence. Violence is the hallmark of this regime with or without FSA. Such violence has been extended beyond destruction into deliberate theft and looting of areas invaded by regime forces, as happened to many areas in homs including those with large presence of certain minorities. The regime propagandists and shrill shills persistently claims that these thefts and destructions are the work of FSA or “islamist”, “saudi” funded “mercenaries. But I have strong evidence that would put the hysterical defenders of the regime to shame, if they know any, which is unlikely based on their continuing mental and ethical degeneration. Fear for the safety of friends whose homes and businesses in Homs have been ransacked and looted by regime forces is the only reason I am not sharing these evidence, which I hope to be used in a court of law in the near future.
Supporters of the argument against arming FSA and/or other rebel forces also have their own strong case in Idlib’s country side to add to Baba Amr story book. Idlib’s country side has been turned into a wasteland by the regime’s “scorched country” policy presenting a serious refugee crisis internally as a slightly lesser one externally (yesterday more than 2500 refugees from Idlib’s country side crossed the border to Turkey). The presence of refugees, especially children from Homs and other areas is exacting its toll on the people, and at the same time is (also not addressed in Anan’s plan) will compound the situation
Regime slogans painted on a public bus in Syria. The white slogan reads “when lions come, dogs flee”, the black slogan reads “Assad or we scorch the country”.
The slogan “Assad or we scorch the country” should not be taken lightly. It is a well known slogan of Assad forces from days of the dynasty founder. It has been demonstrated repeatedly and the fact that it continues to be ignored by regime propagandists (even those pretending to be intellectual peace loving) removes any pretense to ethical grounding on their side and shows clearly that they do concur with it despite of their claims that “they are not pro regime” and that they “have some criticism of the regime”. But more important is that it tells of the mentality of the hard core loyalists. While to the ignorant shabeeh or loyalist it may simply be the result of decades of brainwashing and propaganda aiming to replace the national identity with Assad cult, it is an existential reality to the real power centers behind the regime. Many of the wealthy elites of Syria owe their wealth and privileges to the Assad clan (which includes non family members across all sects). As a class, they may have members with conscious who now side with the revolution, yet as a class, their loyalty and interests will continue to be vested in the system of corruption and coercive terror that is founded on disregard and contempt for the masses (as argued by Yassin Haj Salih in the article linked by Zenobia). There is no point in pursuing their support for the revolution, for they are part of the problem and of the regime’s power structure. Members of this elite now hide sometimes behind secularism and others behind law and order in their opposition to the revolution in both its armed resistance and non-violent form, but they know that if the regime is gone, they are to follow even if national reconciliation is to commence. Their participation as partners in the economic crimes of the regime make many of them complicit in the civil right violations and graft and intimidation against honest members of the business community in Syria and such crimes are bound to be investigated and/or exposed during reconciliation. I am eager to hear the opinion of most esteemed Son of Damascus on this point and would love to be corrected if such is possible.
Getting back to topic, given that violence was the regime’s option and strategy, it could be argued that the question is not whether FSA has caused damage to the revolution in the sense of justifying the regime’s brutality and mayhem, but that whether the current starving of FSA can have adverse effects on the revolution, and whether a regime so attached to violence can be realistically overthrown by non-violent means such as civil disobedience.
To answer this question one has to recognize that even Sharp himself warns that civil means do not guarantee success. This is perhaps most clear in Syria, where for months, the revolution maintained a non violent character, and where such character remains to date the most obvious of the revolution that is being put down with a combination of physical brute force and hysterical media campaign by the regime and its unholy band of partners and supporters (internally and externally). Then, one must also consider that unlike other countries, the size of the “government” remains huge in Syria, which complicates civil disobedience efforts as the regime has used the “state” to its advantage and has mobilized its human resources into its campaign of terror against Syrians. It is well known that many workers in regime factories have been mobilized into the regime’s gang squads “populist phalanges” either because of the bonus and high salaries received by shabeeha or because of the utter reliance on state salaries by these workers and through coercion. The presence of the baath party and security informants in every juncture of the Syrian state will continue to greatly frustrate efforts towards wide-scale civil action in government structure unless the power of these security agencies is first weekend significantly and unless the baath party members and security informants involved in the suppression are made to fear for their own safety if they continue the practice. In all cases, their coercive capacity should not be underestimated and their ability to maintain the critical functions of the regime running will continue to be a problem as long as the regime has the financial means of supporting them. To that effect, we must also consider the rumors that the regime is negotiating billions of dollars worth of bonds with the Chinese and Russian governments and with the Iranian regime. It should be made loud and clear to all that all dept incurred by the regime as of March 2011 will be uncollectable in hopes that such continuing financial infusion will be stopped by rational policy makers who will eventually recognize that this regime has no viable horizon to lead a healthy Syrian recovery capable of paying such wasteful dept.
An added complexity is the tragic level of unemployment in the country, which when coupled with the deliberate destruction of ethos over forty years, will sustain the regime with a supply of willing militia, again as long as the regime is capable of providing financial means. Needless to say, the added bonus of looting and unrestrained power given to regime forces will probably reduce the regime’s financial by allowing the thugs to obtain directly from the people what they have not been receiving lately from their employer. Looting, ransom, and graft are now the primary compensation mechanism for shabeeha in areas where the regime continues to exercise some control. This is not only consistent with “Assad or we burn the country”, it is part and parcel of that policy.
In summary, the Assad regime, knowing well that national scale civil disobedience is a serious threat to its survival has opted from day one to convert the struggle into an armed warfare that could be dressed in sectarian language. It has made its fall a considerable security risk by forcing the people to take arms to defend themselves and thus create a fear of undisciplined armed insurgents trough a combination of false flag operations and media hysteria along with excessive brutality to further entice more young people into carrying arms. The results of this strategy include a preview of “Assad or we scorch the country” ideological underpinning of the regime and its supporters and the conversion of swaths of the country into ungovernable areas wastelands.
How does this play out with respect to civil disobedience? The following concept was presented in a recent off-line discussion with a journalist friend who is heavily engaged in non-violent movement in Syria: Let us consider those disaster zones where the regime has shelled the area forcing most if its people out, or where the regime has confronted both civil action and/or the presence of FSA with its standard barbaric brutality. In the end, these have become no-regime zones in the sense presented by Azmi Bishara who argued that the regime’s need to push its tanks into the streets of Syria is by no means a victory but a defeat. Areas with tanks, soldiers and regime thugs are areas where the regime is not functioning as the money and graft generating scheme it is designed to be and where the regime’s claims to equating itself with the state are shown as farcical joke. They have been turned, by regime’s action, into rebellious areas where normal life is no longer possible due to murderous snipers and raids by regime thugs. As a result, swaths of several cities have in fact turned into a situation resembling the effects of “civil disobedience” in terms of halting of productive life and making these areas increasingly ungovernable by the regime’s representatives. In essence, these areas are under control but ungovernable, which is similar to the practical result of civil disobedience, but with more distinguishing characteristic of resistance against a foreign occupation than those associated with combating a dictatorship or a repressive regime. After all, only foreign occupiers have used “scorched earth” policy on such a large scale.
The centrality of the Assad figure to the regime has caused many in the opposition to receive the Annan proposal with lukewarm suspicion if not outright rejection initially. The absence of a clause stipulating the departure of Bashar al Assad or the delegation of authority to a vice president have been the primary reason for such initial rejection. However, cooler heads are prevailing, especially after the strong language from the former Secretary General regarding the continuing violence and his ability to extract a time-table from Assad. Mohamad Al-Abdallah wrote on his FB page an outstanding short article in support of the Annan’s plan. His basic premise is that Annan is no Dabi, and the UN is not the AL. If the plan is to be implemented, then the regime will risk major demonstrations throughout the country. If the regime falters as everyone expect the pathological liar Assad to do, then the regime would have squandered the last opportunity for political solution to the crisis, a solution that was supported by both China and Russia. The regime’s failure will put the two countries in a very awkward situation in the Security Council when it will have to decide on further action against Assad and his gangs. Pessimist argue that the regime will resort to playing the “negotiation game” and will initiate, as expected, false flag operations and explosions, particularly in areas with sectarian tension in order to justify its continuing military operations. This may have already started with an unknown group threatening a large number of explosions in Aleppo. It is also expected that the careless and callous regime will redress its army and security forces in civilian clothes giving an impression of a “loyalist” demonstrations and continuing to conduct arrest and intimidation campaign at lower intensity.
It is incumbent on all armed-resistance groups to agree to the plan and to declare a halt to all operations as of April 10. However, it is also no wonder that shrill shills on SC are now propagating hairsplitting interpretation of what “heavy weapons mean” and whether the April 10 deadline is deadline for full withdrawal or for starting the withdrawal with open ended process. This in itself is a sign of things to come and it shows that the regime and its supporters continue to think that they can outsmart the world with their pathetic sophistry aiming to drag thing long enough for them to reestablish a pre March 2011 conditions.
The Annan plan also requires a huge effort on the civilian side of the liberation campaign. Names of all detainees and missing persons must be collected meticulously and the regime’s security apparatus must be exhausted with constant demands for their prompt release and for information on those missing. Furthermore, the anticipated negotiation must be viewed not as negotiation to end the liberation campaign, but as negotiation for the departure of the regime and its symbols and for transfer of power to a legitimate authority. Such would require mass mobilization of demonstrations, especially in Damascus. The negotiators must be very careful not to view the negotiation as a trial of the regime but primarily as a hostage negotiation with a well armed brute who has taken the entire country hostage and the primary objective is to separate the brute from his victims while at the same time maintaining bereaved parents of those who were executed by the brute thug under control so that they do not complicate the situation further. It is also important that no media frenzy against international observers be conducted by the opposition. They should be approached by the liberation movement with respect, honesty, and truth, and not with contempt and derision.
Of course, the above assumes that the regime will allow the plan implementation to reach that stage. According to the plan, negotiation is not the first step. The regime has to withdraw fully, release all political detainees and allow for demonstrations to take place unmolested. With these conditions, it is well understood why Mohammad Al-Abdallah wrote: “this is a very good plan, and the worst thing about it is that it will not be implemented”. How can it be when “Assad or we scorch the country” is the operative slogan of the regime and its supporters. In the end, if they try to keep this more fundamental and the only promise they seem intent on fulfilling, one would hope that the world, including the regime’s friends will take other actions.
Yassin Haj Salih, in a recent article wrote about the “Assad or we scorch the country“: “in reality presents two choices of destruction of Syria. The first is the destruction of the country through living under Assad with no dignity, freedom, and opportunity, and the latter is the physical destruction of the country. In both cases, they are choices of destruction. Regime shills should take note of what they are defending before they shout that the revolution is destroying the country. This is a revolution and a liberation movement to build a country and to take it back from those who shamelessly proclaim their intent to burn it.
See Amy Goodman’s interview with this remarkable person here