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Thoughts following the Syrian massacre

Toppling the regime in Damascus should be the top priority these days | Those who once praised the Assads as anti-colonial heroes should learn their lesson | and condemnations of the Chinese-Russian Security Council veto would have sounded better if it wasn’t for the Americans’ history of using its own veto power

This blog deals mainly with political news and events from Israel/Palestine, but I do write about human rights issues, so it seems absurd not to say anything about the shocking events that take place so close to where I live. And while I might not have something new to add to the conversation, there are moments when obvious things should nevertheless be said out loud.

At least 200 people were killed by Bashar Assad’s forces in the last 24 hours. Estimates put the total number of casualties since the protests began at around 7,000, possibly more. This is not a civil war – it’s mass murder. It is our duty to demand from world leaders to do more – much more – to end the Assad regime, regardless of any possible outcome of his downfall. It is not enough to simply wait for it – and it seems that regime change is indeed on the way – but there is an urgent need to take action that can make it come sooner rather than later. Delays have already cost too many lives.

A couple of more thoughts following today’s news:

1. For years, Syria was considered by some people on the left a legitimate member, and even a leader, of the anti-colonial camp. As Yossi Gurvitz revealed here a few months ago, there was considerable double-talk by some members of Hadash on this issue. While most of the party leadership, including its Knesset members, condemned Assad immediately, the Palestinian Secretary General of the CPI (Israeli Communist Party, which is part of Hadash) and some others blamed Assad’s opponents for being “agents of American imperialism.”

I have supported Hadash publicly in two elections, mainly due to the fact that this is the only Palestinian-Jewish political party, and I believe that genuine cooperation between Jews and Palestinian citizens is the call of the hour. But I don’t think we can or should accept anything but a clear condemnation of the Assad regime from anyone, in any circumstances. Most of the left has long abandoned the habit of supporting tyrants just because sometimes they criticize or confront things we don’t like in the West; Syria should be the wake-up call for those who are yet to learn this rule.

2. There is justified outrage because of the veto Russia and China placed over the fable Security Council resolution on Syria. American ambassador to the UN, Susan E. Rice, was right in saying that her country was “disgusted” by the Russian and Chinese votes. Yet one cannot but remember Ambassador Rice vetoing – alone – a Security Council condemnation of Israel’s ongoing settlement construction, which was phrased in exact words the American administration uses when referring to this issue in public.

At the time, the United States explained that the United Nations wasn’t the right place for this particular diplomatic issue, and that the parties should solve the problem through direct negotiations. In fact, America was simply providing diplomatic cover for a systematic violation of human and civil rights by its regional ally. So there is something hollow about condemning Russia and China for doing the same, and even claiming that the two parties in this case – the Syrian regime and the opposition – should be encouraged to reach a deal on their own.

In video: street fighting in Homs; the opposition apparently captured armed vehicle and is using it against the army.

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    1. Herbert Baierl

      I agree with most of the article, but I also think that if for example an armed aggressive opposition would exist in Germany (or any other western democracy) it would be crushed with all possible means. How many civilians would die? Proportionally more or less than in Syria? That’s for the reader to estimate.

      Reply to Comment
    2. @herbert – the key word in your (odd) comment is “democracy”.

      Reply to Comment
    3. DTA

      Thank you for this post Noam!

      I wish it was you, not Yair Lapid, leading a “fresh” voice in your country’s politics.

      Reply to Comment
    4. sh

      “Toppling the regime in Damascus should be the top priority these days”
      1) For whom should this be a top priority?
      2) How is it to be done?

      Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      Aside from the geopolitical issue, which is dominating events at the moment, there is also the example of Lybia. The entire world was appalled at the violence Qadaffi turned on his own people and wanted to DO SOMETHING. The something turned into a bloody civil war, and the scale of the violence has doubtless given some people misgivings.

      The impulse to DO SOMETHING is wellmeaning, but the consequences can sometimes be worse than the original problem. The bloodshed now can be measured, but the level of bloodshed that would result from an invasion of Syria to topple Assad might be immeasurably more.

      Reply to Comment
    6. AVIVA

      There was an article in Al Jazeera the other day (see below) that suggested that Israel is in part responsible for the atrocities being committed in Syria, saying that Israel has worked to enflame sectarian violence and foment instability (and that this had also been done in Iraq).

      I was wondering whether anyone knows if this is a credible assertion or not. I feel like this charge completely deprives the Syrian people of agency, and is an inappropriate and false accusation, and I wanted to slam it as bullshit, but I thought I’d check in with you guys here at 972 first and ask whether I’m completely off base or not…


      Reply to Comment
    7. aristeides

      aviva – what do you find questionable about the article?

      Reply to Comment
    8. AVIVA

      I just didn’t know if it was factually accurate or not. It seemed a bit much, but then I’m still in process of accepting and acknowledging Israel’s role in various despicable actions. I grew up in a liberal Zionist kind of household (whatever that means) and never really got the picture until more recently. And although Israel does plenty of rotten crap, there are plenty of lies out there as well. I usually tend to accept Al Jazeera’s version of reality, but it somehow hit my “I don’t know about this one” button. Maybe the aggressive bashing tone? Or maybe I’m just overly sensitive to such things. Again, the lack of agency given to Syrian’s was also problematic for me to accept, and I have no idea if Israel was actually involved in this (there didn’t seems to be evidence for the claims at any rate). I tried to look the general narrative up, and the only similar articles I found were what I consider to be conspiratorial drivel, saying that Israel and Jews are responsible for everything that is messed up in this world, etc., but I tend to trust AJ so I didn’t know. I certainly don’t want to believe the article, and maybe that’s why I’m reluctant to trust it. Anyway–I thought maybe someone here was better informed than I am, and could comment on the accusations.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Matan Lurey

      @Aviva: This is an AJ Op-Ed, not a news article.

      And yes, it blames Israel for the Syrian uprising, not the fact that, y’know, Assad oppresses his people: “The Mossad is also brilliant at infiltrating Arab movements, as Palestinians will bitterly attest, and has been sending agents across the Syrian border to gather intelligence and stoke “tribal” divisions for decades”

      Reply to Comment
    10. AVIVA

      Oops. Sorry for the spelling/grammar errors. I need to proofread BEFORE I ‘submit comment’.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Aaron

      As expected, I agree with Aristeides here. Nobody knows what the post-Assad regime will be like. We can be reasonably sure that it won’t be a human rights paradise either. We’re all appalled by these reports of repression, but well-meaning intervention can make things even worse. Also, I know this is considered a dirty word in some quarters, but shouldn’t national interest play at least some role in foreign policy? I’m addressing that to patriotic (leftist) Israelis here. Anyway, there’s very little that Israel can do about this one way or the other.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Richard Witty

      Thanks for writing about Syria, a large elephant in the left room (silence).

      What does one feel?

      1. Incoherence, at not having anywhere near a clear picture of what is going on.
      2. Outrage, that a regime that seeks credibility from anywhere would instigate policies and practices that lead to mass murder.
      3. Grief for the people and families of the people killed.
      4. Despair, at the prospect of no good answer.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Jazzy

      Ridiculous to draw moral equivalence between settlements and the individual hacking to death of children. It doesn’t seem you’ve quite learned the lesson about not supporting tyrants, despite your claims to the contrary – casting the US in the same light as Russia and China at this point in time does not say much about your sympathy for the people of Syria.

      Reply to Comment
    14. aristeides

      I remember 10-12 years ago, when the Taliban was reaching a peak of extremism in Afghanistan, with the stonings, shutting schools, the burqas, the Buddhas blown up. I couldn’t help wanting to DO SOMETHING to stop them.

      Now we see the consequences of doing something – corruption, civil conflict, rising civilian deaths, and a resurgent Taliban. I can’t say it was worthwhile. I can’t say that the situation now is any better than what it used to be.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Yonatan

      How many Syrians are you prepared to have killed in order to establish a solution acceptable yo you?

      Reply to Comment
    16. AYLA

      Noam–as always, thank you.
      @Aviva–the true heroes are the everyday people–Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish Diaspora, Palestinian diaspora– stepping out of their own narratives/teachings to see more clearly. Sometimes, we may find ourselves bending too far, and it’s good to ask questions and to keep this in check and never to be too sure of anything, but it’s always better to err by bending too far for justice and self-reflection, rather than bending too far to avoid upsetting truths. So: thank you. If everyone were doing the brave work you’re doing, we’d live in a very different world, and each person makes a big difference.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Hey,
      does anyone remember how before the killings started, many Syrian civilians attempted to cross the border into the Golan Heights?

      how some of them did? And one even made it Tel-Aviv to be received with open arms by like-minded people?

      how it was the IDF that was shooting Syrians for those two weeks?

      how then Bibi and his cabinet spoke to Assad over the pages of our own daily papers – and told him to keep control of his fuckin’ borders – or else Israel will?

      how that trickle of people stopped completely – and no more Syrians tried to cross the border into the Golan Heights?

      how only then did we start hearing of Assad using his army to shoot his own citizens to keep them inside their cities?

      Assad should get a medal for keeping our borders safe. From Bibi hisself.

      How’s that for a big white elephant in the room?
      – Maybe we should talk about Syria too?
      – But it’s got so little to do with us…
      – Well, we write about China and Russia as obstacles to justice.
      – Oh, yeah. That way we can avoid discussing the merits of the claims of “American Imperialism”. That’s shown itself to be completely false in the case of oil-pumping Libya where America intervened, or our-ally-Mubarak’s Egypt where it didn’t, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or…elephant? what elephant?

      Reply to Comment
    18. Steve

      Syria’s government = lunatics who slaughter their own people.

      Lebanon’s government = includes Hezbollah.

      Palestinians government = they voted for Hamas.

      And that is why Israel hasn’t been able to make peace with the neighbors. People need to stop putting so much blame on Israel for being unable to make peace with nutjobs.

      Everyone can and should criticize Israel for valid stuff, but come on, look at the neighboring leaderships!

      Reply to Comment
    19. M Hatherstone

      The old “we’re bad but they’re worse!” line from scumbag steve.

      Reply to Comment
    20. anonymouscomments

      the reporting here seems amazingly deferential to the claims of armed rebel groups and that of the washington post. please note that even the washington post article mentioned its inability to confirm the specifics, and even cited countering testimony from the “other side”. i want assad gone, but think a popular unarmed Evolution would be best. this has gotten *much* more violent now that we have militant groups, unrepresentative of the civilian population, that are targeting both syrian forces AND civilians. YES you read that correctly…. not only has assad hit civilians, but so has terrorist groups and some militants. this is a western/saudi/turkish/israeli backed violent revolution, and will not end well…. no matter how it evolves (or should i say, devolves?). grow up, and look at the ENTIRE history of regimes changes in the REGION. we would would be dumb to not play a role, but our role is not good. we want OUR guys in there, and the new regime will be same as the old, but armed and financed and backed by the “western” powers, and the usual suspects in the gulf. http://wikileaks.cabledrum.net/cable/2006/12/06DAMASCUS5399.html

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