the ba’ath party staged its first military coup in syria in 1963. in 1966, hafez al-assad participated in the second military coup, which brought salah jadid to power. from 1950-1970, hafez al-assad was a lieutenant in the syrian air force, the head commander of the syrian air force, and the minister of defense. then in 1970, hafez al-assad led the third military coup to topple salah jadid, finally forcing himself into power. hafez al-assad actively used sectarianism as a method of consolidating and maintaining his power – he greatly increased alawite dominance in the regime’s security and intelligence branches, though his elite class was of all sects. the core of the assad regime, however, consisted (and still consists) of assad family members/relatives who control everything from the army to the economy (ex. rami makhlouf, bashar al-assad’s cousin, controls 60% of syria’s economy). an introduction to syria – its history and its present revolutionary struggles
Gideon Levy finds it impossible not to wonder: How did one journalist – and not the country’s most widely read or most widely distributed – become an object of such rage and hatred?
By Gideon Levy | Aug. 27, 2014 | 7:25 PM | 40
By Gideon Levy | Aug. 27, 2014 | 11:32 AM | 1
It was four years ago. The British newspaper The Independent published an interview under the title: “Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?” The question was groundless – I wasn’t the most hated, and certainly not the most heroic. In the summer of 2014 the answer would be more succinct – I’m the most hated, second only to Khaled Meshal. Unpleasant, but not too terrible, at this point. The narrator must not become the story; a journalist is always the means, not the end.
And yet, it’s impossible to ignore the troubling question: How did one journalist – and not the most widely read or the most widely distributed – become an object of such rage and hatred? How is one small cracked mirror, a tiny pocket flashlight, capable of evoking so much fury? How is it that one voice made so many Israelis, from left and right, north and south, blow their top?
It can only be that even the last of the inciters are conscientious people. They too feel, apparently, that something is burning under their feet, under the rugs of justifications and defenses they laid for themselves. Otherwise, why are they seething with such rage? And why are they no longer sure they’re in the right?
The truth is, I’m very proud of what I wrote in this wretched war and I’m ashamed of the responses – which said more about Israeli society than they did about anything I wrote. It’s a society that is denying itself to death, fleeing from the news and lying to itself in its propaganda and its hatred.
No other war had turned my stomach, every day and every hour, like this one did. The horrific pictures of Gaza haunted me. They were almost not shown in the Israeli media, the greatest voluntary collaborator of this war. I thought it was impossible to not be appalled by the crimes in Gaza, that it was okay to express compassion for its residents, that 2,200 killed people are an outrageous matter – regardless whether they’re Palestinians or Israelis. I thought it was okay to be ashamed, that it was necessary to remind ourselves that some people bear responsibility for the brutality, and these people aren’t only Hamas, but first and foremost the Israelis, their leaders, commanders and even their pilots.
For the average Israeli, who has become accustomed to blame the Arabs and the whole world for all his country’s wrongs, it was too much, certainly at a time of war. I thought it was my duty to express my sentiments in real time, in the time of truth. I knew it wouldn’t make much difference, but I felt the things had to be said. The absolute majority of Israelis thought otherwise. They thought that comparing between the blood of Israelis and Palestinians is a sin. That feeling dismay is treason, compassion is heresy and that placing responsibility is an inexpiable crime.
Well, dear friends, history has proved long ago that the brainwashed majority isn’t always right, certainly not when it falls on the negligible minority with such ferocious aggression.
I’ve been covering the Israeli occupation for some 30 years. I’ve seen possibly more occupation than any other Israeli (excluding Amira Hass). That’s my original sin. That is also what forged my awareness more than anything else. I’ve heard all the lies, seen the ongoing injustices from point-blank range. Now they’ve reached another of their ignoble nadirs in this damned war. That’s what I’ve written about and that’s what Haaretz reported, thus becoming another target of hatred. It wasn’t only our right; it was our professional obligation.
The spiteful looks in the street, the curses and attacks have made no difference. Nor will they. The thuggish right wing, the complacent, indifferent, doubt-free center, even the always smug so-called left, which claimed that I was “ruining the left,” all joined in one shrill choir, proving that the differences between them are smaller than they had appeared.
There were enough people who wrote and spoke, ad nauseam, about Israel’s right of way, which is always absolute and about the Jewish victim, which is the only victim in the world. I wanted to say something else as well – and the majority opinion almost went berserk. So let them get angry, let them hate me, let them attack and ostracize me – I’ll go on doing my thing.
By Haaretz | Aug. 18, 2014 | 7:06 PM
I felt a sense of sorrow seeing the Syrian regime soldiers being herded into the desert by ISIS. They were stripped of their uniforms and weapons. In the video they looked naked and weak. It wasn’t without a sense of irony that I recalled similar videos of Syrian civilians being herded off a bus, naked, hands tied and blindfolded as they were rushed off to whatever horrors lay in store for them. But I can’t bring myself to mock. I can’t look at a human being getting degraded in that way and not feeling something. Isn’t that why this whole affair kicked off? Wasn’t our outrage and horror at the way protesters were being treated the reason why we all broke the fear barrier and spoke out?
I can feel empathy for the regime soldiers, though perhaps less for the hardcore of the regime itself, and I’m free to do so. There is nobody compelling me to, and I feel no worry about holding my opinion, which is something that a pro-regime Syrian could never do. They can feel outrage only for certain victims, certain injustices, and certain types of suffering. And now that this ISIS has reared its head, what? Do we abandon everything as a hopeless dilemma? As a choice between two barbarisms? Between bearded and non-bearded butchers and torturers? No, I choose instead to believe in our decency and kind heartedness. Since the start of the Syrian revolution I’ve felt a resurgent humanism in my thinking and understanding and it tugs away at my feelings constantly. I know I’m not alone. It’s there if you look for it within every Syrian person who took the difficult and frightening first steps to stand up for what they believe in and say no to injustice. We had to overcome obstacles at every level to do that and anybody who hasn’t gone through that wouldn’t understand. Instead they would hide behind lofty talk of geo-politics and “great games”. But the dusty narratives about colonialism, post-colonialism, occupation and liberation are no longer relevant, if they ever were. There is something stronger, more powerful than all of that, and it’s something I choose to believe in.
WRITTEN BY MARY RIZZO
The question invariably arises when one loses faith in the narratives of the news media: If the mainstream media sets forth aspects of an issue in order to put forth a particular agenda of the dominant or powerful sector of society, and even the so-called alternative media presents its own narrative to push ahead its own ideologies or values and effect the situation with its own “solutions”, where is one to turn to if one seeks to know the truth?
The answer is simple and complicated at the same time. One has to find the truth oneself. The truth is indeed “out there”. The problem though is that it is an enormously cumbersome and time-consuming task to get to it, so difficult and depressing, in fact, that too many give up on it and fall back on whatever the media narrative is, even when we know and have the proof that it is full of lies, full of holes or full of propaganda. The truth can be found not in the various narratives of the news media, but in the vast and bottomless well of the body of evidence. To get to the truth, one has to do one’s own digging, sorting, one has to do one’s own thinking. One can only get to the truth on one’s own and only with great determination and persistency.
It is absolutely frustrating to look at the news on TV or read it in the paper and see things that not only “don’t look right” but “don’t feel right”. We claim (well, most of us who are interested in civil justice and world peace) that we are supporters of human rights. But do we realise that often what we feel as a violation of our own rights on our own soil we shrug off as just “the way they do things” when it is on a vast scale in another country. Mass arbitrary arrests, bombing of civilian areas, torture, policies of terror and starvation to subjugate a population are wrong in our own lands as they are wrong in other lands. However, for a very long time, the extent of these policies has been kept hidden from us, that is, our media only reported on institutionalised (policy-based) violations of human rights when at some level our own interests were involved or there has been what is perceived as a connection between “us” and “them”. Somehow, the bigger the atrocity is, the more distant we feel from it and the easier it is to keep us away from this reality. We accept as well the media narrative, which sometimes is just the echo of the regime or dominant narrative because the truth, the reality is far, far worse than what even our wildest ideas of it could be.
There is a reason why reality is not presented fully to us and why so many populations have been presented as “other”. The people are depicted as deserving of the oppression because they are primitive, not ready for rights and still needed to be controlled by a powerful figure that would take care of their interests, though at times he might be a little rough, he’s probably some kind of oriental despot that we have to learn to live with out of some perverted idea of “relativism”.
We extend our disgust in various ways towards the population and their ignorance. If they voted, they never did it “right”. If they didn’t vote, that was because they didn’t view democracy as a value and therefore if internal movements towards democracy arose, they would be depicted as being driven from reactionary forces abroad who would then throw the rulers out of power and establish their own protectorate. In essence, the individuals and the geographical/ethnic/linguistic/religious groups they belonged to did not have their own agency to affect their own change, and if they are not “willing” to help themselves, it’s very easy to promote the idea that they are impermeable to change or that it has to be imposed from outside if there is going to be any. Otherwise, they get what they deserve.
Only those who have forgotten (or who haven’t realised) that personal freedom is a right for every human on the planet and that there is a series of rights that belong to every human being in order to truly be considered as being a free individual, regardless of the geopolitical situation in which he or she was born or currently is living will be interested in finding the truth and rejecting the “story”, “spin” or “narrative” that any news providers is giving. News providers don’t appear out of nothing, they obtain their information and disseminate their information according to their own interests. If they support a particular ideology, they will have a bias towards only giving information that supports the tenets of their ideology. If they claim to be media providers that are free of ideological bias and hidden agendas, however, they are going to have to have an ethical code of some sort, they are going to have to follow some kind of criteria for the selection of the material they present.
This is the reason that the only way towards knowing and obtaining the truth is to sort through the body of evidence. We can’t pretend to know everything about everything or even something about everything, but if we are interested in international affairs, if we are interested in civil and human rights, we can’t afford the luxury of laziness. We can’t accept everything that is handed to us as “news” and what IS handed to us under that guise has to be scrutinised very carefully. We have been presented with a multitude of “instant pundits” and experts under various titles who assure us that they have a very consistent response to all the issues they speak about and yet, the only thing they are consistently doing is neglecting the bulk of material that comprises the body of evidence. Their arrangement and analysis of information is sometimes even based on no evidence at all, but mere speculation and repetition of what anyone could recognise as propaganda if they actually look at their sources of information or the repetition of specific images over the course of time.
A body of evidence, on the other hand is not sorted, is not usually accompanied by “analysis” of experts and it has a scientific criteria that we can apply, it has a rationale that we can use to judge and verify its strength. First of all, we have to have access to information that is as close as possible to those affected by events. We unfortunately know that witnesses to events, particularly in the worst and most inhuman situations, are too busy trying to survive or escape than they are in trying to inform the outside world about what is happening to them. Outsiders who make it in often themselves become victims of the same situation, so the number of outsiders must be dramatically reduced in order to prevent complications. But, in situations such as war in Syria, the body of evidence is overwhelming in its immensity. There are literally millions of photographs and videos available to anyone at any time. There are millions of witnesses who are able to tell what is happening instead of just posing for a photograph in their miserable setting of an overcrowded and disease-infested refugee camp. There is actually SO MUCH information that we are numbed by the overwhelming quantity of it… but mostly, it is surprising to find that despite the fact that the consistency and veracity of it (given strength by its size, range, content, precision, directness) is overwhelmingly constant: and almost always pointing in the same direction and the news media still seems to ignore it in favour of its own bias which is that of ignoring the voice and evidence of the oppressed in favour of a different narrative with its own appeal and history.
Since the onset of the uprising, protesters were determined to document the events in every way possible and to disseminate what they gathered outside of Syria. They did not own media providers, they were not part of an information “system”, they simply were providing evidence, most of it videos documenting the events and photographs of places during a protest or march or immediately following a sniper attack, a bombing, and later, a massacre. What has developed in Syria is a multitude of independent media aggregators, the Sham News Network, the Aleppo Media Centre, the phenomenon of the Young Lens photographers, the Kafranbel Media Centre and hundreds of others in every province and town, no matter how small. They collect, subtitle, disseminate and identify the evidence of the hundreds of thousands of witnesses to the war in Syria. They open YouTube channels, Facebook pages and blogs where anyone and everyone, INCLUDING mainstream and alternative media providers can tap into their evidence, and luckily, some outside news aggregators have picked up on their evidence and helped spread it far and wide. The problem is, the media providers that have a long history and prestige or are financed by advertising or political interest groups don’t tell a “sexy” story if it’s just about the (now four-year-long) struggle for survival of a besieged and oppressed people who have the misfortune of neither being of interest to the “imperialists” or the “anti-imperialists”, which are by the way, simply code words to express two variations of reactionary ideological thinking, where individuals don’t have rights, collective rights are also selective and all people can be fit into the prism of the narrative or spin of their administrations, regimes or leaders.
There is no shortage of evidence, the evidence provided meets all the criteria to be accepted as valid, even if it contradicts the story of the mass media, which often just serves as an amplifier of those who have the most power, preserving their interests. There is a clear causal chain that is evident to anyone who decides to access the body of evidence. The causal chain’s importance is heightened by the sheer magnitude of the evidence available. Literally, there are thousands of photographs and videos available that document the enormous quantity of atrocities committed against the people. It is not difficult to corroborate the evidence of the perpetrators of a massacre, and while the “pundits” will take the word of one “anonymous insider” whose words seem to mimic the regime narrative regarding who is responsible for the nerve gas attacks against the populations of the “free” towns that were resisting Assad and often victim to the regime’s violent attacks with more “orthodox” means, they refuse to study the evidence of experts who state that the only possible perpetrator is the regime and produce convincing argument that stands up to scrutiny, likewise corroborated by third party investigators who see more than the films, but have access to the sites or can scientifically test the tissue of survivors.
Yet, how could anyone in their right mind continue to even question or doubt such an obvious massacre as that of Ghouta? How could the proof of the culpability of the regime be in doubt for even one minute when their sponsors and patrons in the UN Security Council vetoed decisions made in Human Rights Commission following a detailed war crimes report to support the effort to bring the matter to the International Criminal Court which would judge the body of evidence in a legal seat and then exercise Justice, which then the world powers would have a leg to stand on when they took positions for or against Assad? By closing their eyes to the evidence, despite how great, consistent, direct, precise and applicable (i.e., bearing all the qualities that give what is known as “strength” to a body of evidence) they are able to hide the truth, but not to stop it being true.
Not only the massacre of approximately 1500 men, women and children by suffocation from exposure to nerve gas, but hidden or distorted are the numerous and well-documented “white weapons massacres” by knives and bayonets that are the signature of the Shabbiha thugs who operate for Assad, terrorising villages and leaving hundreds murdered despite their age, condition or innocence. The massacres of Houla, Banyas, Deir Ezzor and countless others have left in their wake hundreds and hundreds of photographs, videos and eyewitness testimony. If one looks at most of the news media though, you are going to find very little reference made to these events and they are simply not providing information on them, often with the ill-disguised goal of exclusion of the videos or pictures due to “the excessive cruelty of the images”, where they fall into the vacuum of oblivion, where our consciences can’t be reached and therefore our outrage can’t be aroused.
Instead they promote “massacres that weren’t” or at least that have no consistent body of evidence such as the “Adra Massacre” or the “Kessab massacre”. The “Hatla Massacre”, depicted as a sectarian attack against Shi’a Muslims by the agencies of the regime, bears a great deal of evidence that it was an armed conflict between anti-regime and pro-regime fighters with civilians caught in the crossfire and not a premeditated massacre to terrorise the population, though as a result, for a time the civilian population fled, as is the case in the entirety of Syria given the amount of urban warfare involved.
What are the images that people remember from the news? They see a “rebel” (not even a member of the Free Syrian Army) eating a heart, they see a “Christian” crucified by Islamists, and to them, the vision of these two images, out of context and factually incorrect (at least in the case of the crucifixion, the victims were Free Syrian Army soldiers, who by their identification are Sunni Muslims) become “the icons” and the real atrocities that matter. The tens of thousands of photographs of the torture of starved prisoners in regime jails was just a blip on the radar. The atrocities committed against Syrians who are tortured to death for crimes they did not commit are too vast to even contemplate. So, see the pictures, then forget them, that is how it works. It is much easier to bear one image and give it any meaning you want or you have been told. It’s not worth it to differentiate between types of atrocities and their intensity of occurrence.
But the opposition to Assad, the suffering population has its own iconic images. Millions of them, some of them so familiar to those who have been seeking truth and evidence from Syria for these four years that it comes as a painful shock to see them “recycled” as being Palestinian victims of Israel’s brutal attacks in Gaza. To see the photos cropped to cut out watermarks, Syrian flags or anything that identifies the identity of the victim and the circumstances of his or her death has been a genuine shock and additional accumulation of suffering when one considers that these photos and videos have been shared for years, in the vain effort to inform the world of the situation and the extent of this crime against humanity that is the genocide of the Syrian people, first by Assad’s regime and its infiltrate forces and since the past two years also by the rogue “Islamist” forces that are conducting their proxy wars for the domination of either Iran or Saudi Arabia in the name of their stated objective of the creation of a Caliphate in the Levant.
ISIS, as well as Hezbollah, makes the claim that their enemy is the West, but they are only good at slaughtering and oppressing other Arabs, including Muslims or those who have come to witness and share the information of the besieged and oppressed people, including journalists and human rights workers and volunteers. To the distracted observer, the war is a sectarian war that is now in the face-off stages of secularism vs obscurantism and there is no interest in investigating the facts, but to act “better late than never” against the enemy that is perceived as dangerous to the West, forgetting in essence the actions and objectives of the tyrant whose policies were at the genesis of the entire uprising and who has only consolidated his power in farcical elections that would never be accepted by anyone if they were to happen in their own countries under such condition and lack of democracy or legitimacy. His “election” has given him the perceived license to kill as much and as brutally as possible, and it is a license that he has taken full advantage of.
It is indeed frustrating to realise that the body of evidence proving the total destruction of Syria, its people and its infrastructure, including those who are living in the Palestinian refugee camps who have been subjected to siege, torture, arrest and death no less than their brothers and sisters in Gaza and in the rest of Syria, has been ignored for years, only to be carted out and presented as a different war, a different enemy, a different sponsor. Sometimes the Syrian independence flags that are used by every faction against Assad with the exception of the “black flag Jihadis” are not even cropped out or the subtitles changed. It is with a sickening Orientalism that these victims are passed off as someone more worthy of support, and at least for them, some support has been forthcoming. It is as if Arabs are interchangeable and a defiant Aleppo survivor who painted his ultimate resistance on the ruins of his bombed out roof has become a Gazan. The situation is not identical, though similar, but only one defiant resistant soul is honoured at the expense of another, whose suffering again is buried under rubble and debris. Nothing to see here, move along!
There are shameless people who spread pictures and videos that depict persons in a state of shock after their loved ones are carried off dead in blankets among the buildings that were made to explode and collapse on top of them after air raids in civilian areas. The viewer should use a bit of healthy scepticism to realise that in July winter coats are not worn in Gaza and this event is someplace else, the victims are someone else. The perpetrator of such heinous crimes is not Netanyahu but instead it is Assad.
All of this evidence, the weight of which presents a picture that again and again shows the reality of the situation, the true story of what is happening, stripped from agendas and narratives, all of it is there for us to view. It is a deliberate choice we can make to ignore it and take the easy way out of accepting the stories told by the media that are deliberately hiding or altering this information in such a way so that the struggle to know the truth is stifled, and it is out of our hands to effect change in a positive way to those who are suffering (those whose side we have to be on, no matter what other considerations might influence us such as proximity or religious/ethnic affiliation).
If those who survived a massacre decided to document it, and took all the risks linked to that, they did this so that the truth would not be hidden. They did it in the hopes that those who had the power, influence or ability could help and protect them. They did it not because they want to shock us or draw us into a world that has nothing to do with us, but because this is our world already, it is only a short flight away from many of us or even has touched our shores with its outpouring of survivors of unspeakable atrocities. If we refuse to be lazy, we can look for the truth and we can find it. We are no longer bound to being complicit in genocides and then claiming in the same breath, “we didn’t know” and “never again”. It will be never again ONLY if we make it so NOW. Our task is to be an amplifier of the voices of the people, not a substitute or interpreter of them. We have the enormous possibility of affecting change simply by not keeping information buried or tearing it out of context. If we choose to, we can save lives and make a better world. It’s up to us. Can we be up to the task? Isn’t it a noble goal to seek the truth and serve the truth?
Obama has ignored Syria for too long: it’s the rise of Isis, stupid – now help
It’s time for him to do the right thing by arming moderate rebels, imposing a no-fly zone and expanding military action beyond Iraq
Barack Obama is embarking on a global course correction, if not an outright reversal: the policy of “don’t do stupid stuff” – the non-interventionism so praised by the Farid Zakarias and Tom Friedmans of the world – is getting forced out, albeit in the typical Obama fashion of admitting nothing and never going fast or far enough.
And to hear the Chuck Hagels and John Kerrys of the administration tell the story for him, it’s all the fault of the Islamic State (Isis), which is “beyond just a terrorist group”, “an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated” – a feat which, realistically, will require some intervention not just in Iraq … but in Syria.
It’s difficult to do the right thing when you’ve already fucked up so badly. When the Obama administration refused to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria in 2011, the indifference gave rise to despair and forced people to abandon their nonviolent ways to defend themselves, effectively transforming the nonviolent protest movement into an armed resistance. Obama’s refusal to then support the rebels following the advice of his then-secretary of state, among other officials, created a vacuum that was gradually filled by extremist elements emerging out of the woodwork and jihadists pouring across the borders, a combination that paved the way for the emergence of the newly troubling and feared Isis.
Now, Isis has a vision being carried out – effectively, if with pure evil – by technocratic leaders with succession plans, flexible but enduing structures, and major funding, with major operations based out of its hub in Syria. Soon, some of its acolytes might make like Hezbollah and run legitimate businesses across multiple countries that secretly fund terror; some already appear to be attracted to the radicalized appeal of Isis leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declaring a new Caliphate.
No wonder Obama is finding it so difficult to justify a policy of minimal engagement anymore – perhaps even to himself. Blanket, cold-hearted realism doesn’t work when networked, cold-hearted terrorism does. The line between realism and cynicism has always been too thin, and has long been crossed by the Administration. While realism is laudable, cynicism ends up producing the very outcomes that realism intends to avoid. Letting a region take care of itself is impossible to allow when your spies are telling you about the rise of a terror group across the world, including the West – of terrorists that are effectively becoming a global movement of disaffected Muslims everywhere.
Some “realists” are advocating cooperation with Bashar al-Assad. But that wouldn’t just being doing “stupid stuff” – it would be downright delusional, since cooperating with dictators who abuse their own people is exactly what gives rise to extremist anti-Western movements.
The only way for Obama to stop doing stupid stuff with his foreign policy is to arm moderate rebels in Syria, to bomb Isis bases in both Syria and Iraq and to finally impose a no-fly zone on the Assad regime. This combination of tactics could allow the Syrian opposition – which has thus far been unable to govern the liberated areas due to Assad’s use of aerial strikes, including barrel bombs, scud missiles, and, on occasion, chemical weapons and poison gas – to move in and work with the local councils to begin returning the basic services to the local communities, bringing a measure of relief to the local civilian population. Imposing a no-fly zone also avoids having to supply advanced weapons to rebels, including TOW missiles and MANPADs, thus minimizing the risk of having them end up in the wrong hands. Still, the opposition will have its work cut out for it in terms of ensuring effective governance of the areas under their control, especially when it comes to reaching agreements between Islamist and secularist currents. But by controlling the flow of humanitarian aid and the funds required for the reconstruction processes, the administration and other members of international community could exercise leverage to allow for compromises to be reached.
Obama already plans to take a leading role at next month’s UN General Assembly, where strategies for holding back Isis will be a top priority. But Western and Middle Eastern leaders need to begin preparing for a peace conference following such strikes, because a real transition plan for a post-conflict and post-Assad Syria needs to be developed. Talks will not be easy (and could drag out for months if not longer), but if the regime’s ability to wreak havoc on rebel communities is curbed by strikes and the economic blockade against it is strengthened, time will not be on its side – rendering hopes for an eventual breakthrough more realistic.
It’s about time for the Obama administration to do the right thing. It’s about time, after doing so much stupid stuff and aiding in the rise of Isis, to begin resolving a conflict that has killed close to 200,000 people in less than four years, and produced millions of refugees, becoming the worst humanitarian disaster since the Cold War.
Yes, American strikes may make disaffected Muslims more eager to join Isis. Yes, we may be witnessing the birth of a new Islamic sect. But Barack Obama needs to stop fighting the symptoms while embracing the disease – to become a true realist and not a cynical one. Sectarian violence was not inevitable in Syria, as some analysts argued at the beginning of the revolution, but indifference and cynicism made it so. Obama needs to engage in the region with a positive mindset, knowing that he can actually make a positive difference.
We are about to reach Trafalgar Square. The day started off cloudy but by the time we arrived to the protest the sun was beating down on us through a patch of blue sky that had been emptied of clouds. Dozens of green, white and black flags – the flags of the Syrian revolution – waved and rippled in the breeze. When we got there we saw a man in a werewolf mask posing with some people and their camera. He had a placard and it said something about Assad the killer who used chemical weapons on his own people. He had ketchup smeared on his hands – that was supposed to be blood. A small group of people stood dejectedly, listening to people making statements through loudspeakers. There was a woman who regularly appears at the London protests with two crutches, I don’t know who she is, and she had placards with pictures of dead Syrian babies hanging from her neck on her front and back. She looked like a walking billboard that hobbled from place to place. Her whole manner reminded me of the beggar women in front of the Friday mosque, after prayers, waiting for the more charitable worshippers to drop some alms and save their eternal souls. The group formed a semi-circle around the speakers, and placards and Syrian flags were being held up, not facing outwards, but inwards. It seemed to sum up the whole mentality of the protest. Every now and then one of these Syrian dinosaurs would take a picture with their smart phone, the whole thing seemed an exercise in vanity. Garish, cringeworthy photographs of dead Syrian children were festooned everywhere.
A man held the microphone and started addressing the small gathering while bewildered tourists looked on at us. He said things about chemical weapons, about butchers and about savagery, all with the most appalling English. He pantomimed some story about a child that had lost his parents, again in the most awful English, perhaps expecting that he was tugging on the heart-strings of the listeners and passersby. Instead it was off-putting and would have bordered on the comical were the subject matter not so serious. It was a silly performance and the people standing there were starting to get tired. Thinking to energise the crowd he started to chant some of the tired and stale slogans that have been copied wholesale from pro-Palestine demonstrations, “Free, Free Syria!”, “From the river to the sea, Syria, Syria will be free!”, and the utterly uninspiring and unimaginative, “Syria, Syria don’t you cry, we will never let you die!”. These were empty and hollow chants that most of us were too tired or disinterested to repeat. Then a young Syrian dressed like Tony Montana with a white shirt, wide collar, and a velvet black blazer, all with slicked back hair to complete the Mediterranean-villager-in-the-big-city-for-the-first-time look, started to do a version of the Syrian “Arada” but in English, and it was cringeworthy. More tired chanting, more terrible English. Walking around the small space we had cleared was the man who had been pantomiming earlier, egging people on as if he was managing a rock concert. The whole exercise was uninspiring and left us feeling deflated and underwhelmed.
There is a generation or type of Syrian that might be living in England, but has never left Syria, and has never grasped that their way of viewing things, and what they take for granted, might not be shared by the people they now live amongst. That talking about paradise, angels, virgins in heaven, and children floating up to God, does not really make an impact with a largely secular society that views most religion – and especially Islam – with a mixture of distrust and distaste. The peculiar way this older generation portrayed the suffering of the Syrian people was a cringeworthy and pitiful affair, undignified and cheap, as if the world had to be begged to do something about the carnage in Syria as an act of charity than the international, legal, and moral obligation that it really is.
We were then told that we would be marching to 10 Downing Street to observe a minute’s silence for the victims of the chemical attack. The man picked up the microphone and began yelling angry chants through the amplifier at an uncomfortable volume. The crowds avoided us while we cringed with each yell. We walked past the horse guards and even the horses were getting panicky. Somebody eventually lowered the volume, thankfully. We passed a group of people who were protesting the war on Gaza. Cheers of “Free, Free Palestine” drew a response from the walkers on the other side, and several people there decided to join us, many looked at us indifferently. A naive air of camaraderie sprouted for a brief moment between the two lost causes, and then we moved on. We stood in front of 10 Downing Street and the man stood on a small wall and spent ten minutes shouting at people through the microphone to prepare for the minute’s silence. Eventually we managed it. When it was done we put down the placards and everybody hurried off, eager to be done with this business. Next year I expect we will find fewer people commemorating this awful anniversary, if at all.
It is human that the killing of an Israeli boy, a child of ours, would arouse greater identification than the death of some other child. What is incomprehensible is the Israeli response to the killing of their children.
By Gideon Levy | Aug. 24, 2014 | 4:16 A
After the first child, nobody batted an eye; after the 50th not even a slight tremor was felt in a plane’s wing; after the 100th, they stopped counting; after the 200th, they blamed Hamas. After the 300th child they blamed the parents. After the 400th child, they invented excuses; after (the first) 478 children nobody cares.
Then came our first child and Israel went into shock. And indeed, the heart weeps at the picture of 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman, killed Friday evening in his home in Sha’ar Hanegev. A beautiful child, who once had his picture taken in an Argentinean soccer team shirt, blue and white, number 10. And whose heart would not be broken at the sight of this photo, and who would not weep at how he was criminally killed. “Hey Leo Messi, look at that boy,” a Facebook post read, “you were his hero.”
Suddenly death has a face and dreamy blue eyes and light hair. A tiny body that will never grow. Suddenly the death of a little boy has meaning, suddenly it is shocking. It is human, understandable and moving. It is also human that the killing of an Israeli boy, a child of ours, would arouse greater identification than the death of some other child. What is incomprehensible is the Israeli response to the killing of their children.
In a world where there is some good, children would be left out of the cruel game called war. In a world where there is some good, it would be impossible to understand the total, almost monstrous unfeelingness in the face of the killing of hundreds of children – not ours, but by us. Imagine them standing in a row: 478 children, in a graduating class of death. Imagine them wearing Messi shirts – some of those children wore them once too, before they died; they also admired him, just like our Daniel from a kibbutz. But nobody looks at them; their faces are not seen, no one is shocked at their deaths. No one writes about them: “Hey Messi, look at that boy.” Hey, Israel, look at their children.
An iron wall of denial and inhumanness protects the Israelis from the shameful work of their hands in Gaza. And indeed, these numbers are hard to digest. Of the hundreds of men killed one could say that they were “involved”; of the hundreds of women that they were “human shields.” As for a small number of children, one could claim that the most moral army in the world did not intend it. But what shall we say about almost 500 children killed? That the Israel Defense Forces did not intend it, 478 times? That Hamas hid behind all of them? That this legitimized killing them?
Hamas might have hidden behind some of those children but now Israel is hiding behind Daniel Tragerman. His fate is already being used to cover all of the sins of the IDF in Gaza.
The radio yesterday already talked about “murder.” The prime minister already called the killing “terror,” while hundreds of Gaza’s children in their new graves are not victims of murder or terror. Israel had to kill them. And after all, who are Fadi and Ali and Islaam and Razek, Mahmoud, Ahmed and Hamoudi – in the face of our one and only Daniel.
We must admit the truth: Palestinian children in Israel are considered like insects. This is a horrific statement, but there is no other way to describe the mood in Israel in the summer of 2014. When for six weeks hundreds of children are destroyed; their bodies buried in rubble, piling up on morgues, sometimes even in vegetable refrigeration rooms for lack of other space; when their horrified parents carry the bodies of their toddlers as a matter of course; their funerals coming and going, 478 times – even the most unfeeling of Israelis would not allow themselves to be so uncaring.
Something here has to rise up and scream: Enough. All the excuses and all the explanations will not help – there is no such thing as a child that is allowed to be killed and a child that is not. There are only children killed for nothing, hundreds of children whose fate touches no one in Israel, and one child, just one, around whose death the people unite in mourning.
Even the White House concedes that Assad may not have turned over all of his chemical weapons
Updated Aug. 20, 2014 8:29 p.m. ET
It wasn’t long ago that President Obama boasted of getting Syria to surrender its chemical weapons without firing a shot. “It turned out that we are actually getting all the chemical weapons,” Mr. Obama told the New Yorker last November. “And nobody reports that anymore.”
But it turned out there was a good reason to hold the applause. On Monday the White House released a statement in the President’s name celebrating the destruction of Bashar Assad’s declared stocks of chemical weapons aboard the MV Cape Ray, a U.S. ship fitted with specialized hydrolysis systems that neutralize sarin and other deadly agents.
Then came the caveat. “We will watch closely to see that Syria fulfills its commitment to destroy its remaining declared chemical weapons production facilities,” the statement read. “In addition, serious questions remain with respect to the omissions and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration to the OPCW and about continued allegations of use.”
The OPCW is the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Hague -based outfit that has overseen the removal of 1,300 tons of chemical agents from Syria. The organization complained for months that Damascus was slow-rolling the disarmament process as it continued to starve and bomb its enemies into submission. In April the Assad regime began dropping chlorine bombs against civilian targets. Chlorine violates the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined last year as part of the deal that Mr. Obama used to celebrate.
Then there are those “omissions and discrepancies” cited by the President. We are not privy to the intelligence, but every source we talk to says the Syrians have surely not declared everything in their possession. It’s also hard to believe the Administration would underline the defects in its own purported achievement if there weren’t serious doubts among U.S. spooks about the completeness of the Syrian declaration.
Syria maintains close ties to North Korea, which is believed to have a robust chemical weapons program capable of producing several thousand tons of deadly agents a year. In July 2007 reports surfaced of a chemical-weapons accident near Aleppo involving Syrian and North Korean technicians. That squares with Pyongyang’s known cooperation at the time in building a nuclear reactor for Assad that was destroyed that September by Israeli jets. If North Korea was prepared to supply Assad with deadly weapons then, why not again tomorrow?
Then there is China. In April videos surfaced of partially unexploded chlorine canisters marked with the name of Chinese arms-maker Norinco. The Assad regime also likely retains the network of scientists and engineers needed to reconstitute a weapons program once it feels secure enough to do so.
That day may not be far off, thanks in part to the chemical deal that spared Assad from U.S. bombing as he unleashed a new offensive against moderate rebel forces. Assad’s troops have now encircled the city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest, and leaders of the Free Syrian Army trapped in the city are stockpiling food in preparation of a regime effort to starve them into submission. The moderate rebels are also losing ground to the Sunni radicals of ISIS.
“We’re about to lose Aleppo and no one cares,” an FSA spokesman told the Journal last week. “We won’t be able to recover the revolution if this happens. And we’ll lose the moderates of Syria.”
In other words, no matter what happens to Syria’s chemical weapons, the country’s real weapons of mass destruction—the Assad regime and ISIS—have gained in their destructive power. Such has been the result of Mr. Obama’s abdication of global leadership, now cloaked as a triumph for disarmament.