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Palestinians and the Syrian Revolution: Lessons from the fight against fascism

One writer asserts that even if it were in the Palestinian’s interest for Assad to remain in control, they should not ask that of Syrians in the midst of a civil war.

By Talal Alyan

A building burning in Homs, Syria (photo: Bo yaser / CC BY_2.5)

The lapse of support for the Syrian revolution amongst some segments of the Arab left will in retrospect be regarded as another failure to stray from party vanguards. Palestinians have once again found themselves being used as props for political causes they neither endorse nor hold any sympathy for. The latest instance being the Pro-Assad camp that has worked tirelessly to link the Palestinian issue with the Assad regime.

It is worth examining the story of Najati Sidqi, the prominent Palestinian Communist, who was very much mentored in the Soviet tradition. At the age of 22, Sidqi traveled to the Soviet Union for purposes of training and education. He then returned to Palestine to become one of the leaders of the Palestinian Communist Party. A brief glance at the efforts of Arab Communist movements against fascism shows a halt after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed. Of course, fascism hadn’t suddenly become less grim; it only took the signal from Party headquarters in Moscow to mute huge portions of Arab Communists on the subject. Najati Sidqi had traveled through Germany in 1936, and when it become clear that party loyalty required staying away from the subject of fascism, he would have no part of it. Sidqi broke away from other Arab Communists at the time and continued to vehemently criticize fascism and the Soviet-German pact. His unwillingness to follow a prescribed party agenda illustrates the Palestinian legacy of putting morality before loyalty to political parties, one we would do well to maintain.

That isn’t to say the majority of Palestinians have sided with Bashar Assad – the contrary is true. Just as important as standing by the Syrian people is the need to loudly proclaim the the pro-Assad voices which try to merge the Palestinian cause with that of a tyrant do not speak for us, and that the misrepresentation they cause is as much of an affront to our people as anything Israel is doing. It is worth noting how offensive it is when the Assad camp uses the suffering of one people, Palestinians in this instance, to justify the oppression of another – something Assad-Loyalists seem to unwittingly share with Israel.

How we think of the Syrian opposition

Moreover, the claim that the Syrian opposition has been imported from abroad stands in direct contrast with facts on the ground. The argument against it has been constructed both from those who have recently been to Syria, and those who have done any serious examination of the subject. But let us presuppose that there are significant elements within the Syrian armed resistance that have been funded by foreign powers. Would that detail dictate that we abandon the popular uprising altogether? The Palestinian Authority is partially funded by the West and their security forces trained by the West. Thus, the rebuttal goes, the Palestinian Authority is not representative of all Palestinian resistance and aspiration. And that is exactly the point. Even if segments of Syrian opposition are armed or funded by foreign powers, it by no means indicates that these hypothetical segments represent the entire Syrian uprising. And even if they did, who are we to tell the Syrians what means they can use to fight a despot and his foreign funded army?

The point that seems to be lost is that even if we assume that the argument that it is in Palestinian’s interest for Assad to maintain power were true, we would not ask that of our Syrian brothers and sisters. In retrospect, it is undeniable that Najati Sidqi’s position was brave and morally sound. He was kicked out of the Communist Party in the early 1940s for his decision to stand against fascism, isolated for insisting that the suffering of people cannot be secondary. The Syrian revolution will be remembered similarly, and those who opted to put their perceived ideological commitments before the will of a people will once again have to ready their erasers when they sit down to remember their positions during this era of revolt.

The Syrian people are our allies – it is they who have welcomed us and resisted with us. They have adopted our struggle as their own. It is true that Syria is an essential part in the fight for Palestine, that much Assad-apologists have gotten right. But it is not the Assad dynasty, which has done very little vis-a-vis the occupied Golan Heights in recent years, that we need to stand with us. It is the Syrian people. I fear if we continue observing their struggle with ambivalence, they will not forgive us. And rightly so.

Talal Alyan is a Palestinian freelance writer currently living in Syracuse, New York.

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    1. The problem with “us” is that it can chain. I was against the US Iraq invasion from inception; while I understand one aggregating source estimates 140,000 Iraqis thereby died, silence over here.

      I think, if you want to survive your own national independence, you will have to priorly evolve an active stand on human rights. What Assad has done is horribly wrong, and I actually suspect he is rather more a puppet than not. I do not think the Palestinian People can condemn or embrace Assad; but people can. There’s a Civil War; where is the People now?

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        To tie this in with the the “meaning of the Shoah” thread, you just proved my point regarding the pointlessness of saying “never again” to mass killings of civilians. I am sure you recall Saddam Husseins gassing of large number of Kurds in the 1980’s and his massacre of Shi’ites after the first Gulf War, yet you, as I said there, say “we couldn’t get involved” and you opposed ousting Saddam Hussein.
        I am not saying that you were necessarily wrong, but you have proven how we Jews CAN NOT RELY ON ‘GOOD-WILL’ from the rest of the world if , G-d forbid, someone else were to go after us as happened so often in the 20th century and they use exactly the same arguments why we can not be helped that you used in justifying not intervening in Iraq.

        Reply to Comment
        • Going into Iraq was based on false intelligence on WMD. I recall Defense Secretary Rumsfeld saying on CNN “we know exactly where they are.” Rather, the no fly zone and inspections and occasional missle had worked quite well. I fail to see a connection with that and failing to support Israel under attack.

          “Never again” is indeed impossible globally. Yet there are cases of intervention which worked. Leaving Russia aside, there are good reason to think intervention in Syria would not have worked.

          I don’t think it is healthy to tie everything to protecting Israel, although as a religious Jewish Israel I can see it your first focus. In the present instance, as I see no single “people” in Syria, nor do I see a single “people” among Israeli citizens–and not just on the Arab/Jew divide. Jurisprudence must go beyond talk of “the people.” Otherwise, you shall find the people crushing–people.

          Reply to Comment
    2. I know I said I’d never come back, but really, this is insultingly obvious. All you achieve with stories like this is tell us who is Mossad.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ali Baroughti

        Thanks Rowan, tell us more about how every Arab writer that disagrees with you is Mossad.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Charles-Jerusalem

      To the author of the article,
      Which allies are you talking about? the crasy Bashar El Assad who actually would kill all the Palestinians if these ones would not embrace his cause or the salafists rebels who want to create an other islamist state in Syria?
      I suggest that you watch them very carefully in order to learn about this malediction that hits the arab world and makes it fall apart.
      How do you want to make peace with us if you guys cannot make peace with youselves?

      Reply to Comment
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