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Syria, my love

The Syria that was once an icon of enlightenment and education has been erased, crushed under barrel bombs and proxy power struggles, as the world watches and waits to see how it will all end. What, after all, have we learned from history?  

Illustrative photo of a bombed out building in Homs, Syria (FreedomHouse/CC)

Illustrative photo of a bombed out building in Homs, Syria (FreedomHouse/CC)

Run, run away all you strong and invulnerable Israelis, and all you Palestinian freedom fighters pursuing liberation from the occupation, Jewish and Arab human rights activists, seekers of peace and fellowship between peoples. Let’s all run away from Aleppo, Idlib, Palmyra, Raqqa, Homs and all the Syrian cities that have been destroyed.

Who needs to see more horrors, bloodshed, mass executions and shelling of pale, thin people wrapped in winter blankets while fleeing for their lives? Let’s wait for the pictures of bodies dragged by bulldozers into mass graves; let’s wait for the pictures of piles of shoes — this time in color, and high-quality — and whisper quietly to one another about what they remind us of.

Arab leaders who are anxious over their rule, Arab nations who are the champions of silence and prayer; thousands pray and yearn for a malignant disease and horrible death to take Bashar al-Assad away from this world and free the Syrian people from a merciless dictator. In other mosques, people pray for members of the Islamic State to be wiped out and thank their new god, Putin, for the victory of Assad the “lion.”

Let’s wait for a drone with a camera and satellite photos, and share pictures of immense destruction in emotional Facebook posts. Let’s count ‘likes’ and silly yellow faces while our fellow human beings, a few hours away from us, are counting bodies and children whose lives have been lost. Let’s keep warm in our heated homes and curse Russia, Turkey, Iran and the U.S., Israel and the UN, and let’s hone the curses that will supposedly defeat the military powers. Facebook statuses will down their jets and stop Russia’s bombs, which have been falling on Aleppo continually for the last few weeks.

Half a million people have been killed, millions have become refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Europe and Canada, while here in Israel, the Jews are celebrating the arrival of the F35 fighter jet and Israel’s ever longer arm. Where is this arm meant to reach? Iran? Iraq? Where exactly? Perhaps into the pocket of every citizen here. And we, Arabs and Jews who are members of the human race, ache over our short arm, which will not reach a single hungry refugee from Syria. Our impotence is appalling; we have not even managed to cry out in protest.

A family of refugees seen after coming in through the border from the Syrian city of Kobane, Turkish-Syrian border, October 2014. Photo: Faiz Abu-Rmeleh/Activestills.org

A family of refugees seen after coming in through the border from the Syrian city of Kobane, Turkish-Syrian border, October 2014. Photo: Faiz Abu-Rmeleh/Activestills.org

What we didn’t learn from the Holocaust

When I learned about the Holocaust, I remember constantly asking how it happened, how people could keep silent and how it was that the war wasn’t stopped. With the Nakba, I asked how it could be that Arab countries didn’t lift a finger and why they were so indifferent. My teachers and parents always gave me the same response: that there was no media back then, the world didn’t really know what was happening in real time. They didn’t hear the news, and it took months before the truth was known. “The Arabs were all simple folk back then. We didn’t understand the bigger picture and the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing,” my grandma explained.

I thought that was it, and that today, in the age of accessible media and online news, when even small villages are connected to the internet, the truth could not be concealed. We know what is happening everywhere, while it’s happening. So why aren’t we doing anything?

Israel sent aid following the earthquake in Nepal and the tsunami in Thailand. It bounces all over the world, and during the recent wave of fires in Israel, countries around the globe rushed to help. So why is nothing done about a brutal war, like the one in Syria? Why aren’t forces from 28 countries being marshaled to go and fight a single dictator, like in the Gulf War? Does Syria not have enough oil?

Theory of relativity

In my opinion, the Syrian people’s revolt against a brutal regime that ruled for 40 years has been exploited by every country with its own interests. They waited either to fight one another or to strengthen their ties, and have found an outlet on Syrian land: Turkey against the Kurds, Russia against the U.S., Shi’ite Iran against the Sunni rebels, the Iraqi army against IS in Mosul, IS against humanity. The waste from these power struggles has leached into the playground of total war in Syria. And the world stands and watches, to see how all this will end.

Five years ago, this savage regime which abused its citizens supplied the world with brutal images whose goal was to uproot the revolution, images that aroused worldwide sympathy, as well as hope among Arab youth that perhaps, finally, a new era was beginning in the free Arab world. We thought that struggle and protest, as tough as it would be, would see justice done. No one imagined the loss of control that would put the people of Syria through the meat grinder.

Bombed out buildings in Aleppo, Syria. December 26, 2012 (Freedom House/CC)

Bombed out buildings in Aleppo, Syria. December 26, 2012 (Freedom House/CC)

By turning its back on the rebels who started this process, the world pushed them aside and allowed evil forces in through the back door, small and extreme armies united around one thing: a law which says that everything is permissible, that in the name of God, anything is possible. No rules, no mercy, and no God who will deny your actions. Killing, raping, shooting, kidnapping, intimidation, a war of the mind and a conquering of global consciousness: it all overcame us, silencing us even before the real fighting began. Photos of executions were shared among the youth of Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq and even here; ideologically lost, they went to fight with IS and their like, in search of limitless power and in the name of God. These groups — Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra, IS — all fought one another, uniting and then splintering, with the victor supposedly going on to fight the Assad regime.       

Ladies and gentlemen, the theory of relativity. It’s the military technique of the century. You want to fight, train, or invade another country? No problem, we’ll invent and supply some terrorists and armed gangs, and then the official army will get permission to wage war on the unofficial army. The more brutal combatants are towards civilians, the easier it is to define them as terrorists, which in turn legitimizes the army fighting against them, using almost the same methods but with global backing. Thus Assad’s barrel bombs, which have been dropped on refugee camps and killed hundreds of innocents, initially caused horror and outrage before becoming valid weapons, because there is a “cell” or group of fighters of some sort in the camp.

Yarmouk collapsed, as did Daraa; Palmyra fell into the hands of IS and we wept over the wondrous history that had been erased. Assad’s government retook it with Russian and Iranian forces, before IS captured it once more. Photos of refugees in the middle of the ocean, a human river flowing to the heart of Europe, gave the world an opportunity to help from afar, without entering the inferno. But the millions who escaped the fire became a burden to the world, despite this chapter of human history having only just begun.

Palestinian refugees seen in Yarmouk refugee camp, Damascus, Syria. (photo: Walla Masoud/UNRWA)

Palestinian refugees seen in Yarmouk refugee camp, Damascus, Syria. (photo: Walla Masoud/UNRWA)

Syria my love

Dear Syria, once an icon of an enlightened Arab country; beautiful and educated; etched into my mind as a country of resistance which did not give in to Israel; an Arab country which taught the Gulf states that money doesn’t advance culture, art or history; a country which didn’t give up on the dream of Palestine.

Today, this Syria is burned and destroyed. And its people, which for 70 years embraced Palestinian refugees, has itself become human fuel for the war machine.

Childhood poems from Syria are echoing in my mind today, and suddenly the words are so painful and true:

Syria my love
You returned to me my dignity
You returned to me my identity
In war and in battle the torch of wounds
Lit up for me the path to revolution
Heralding to the world the returning dawn
My love, my love.

This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here. Translated by Natasha Roth.

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    1. Mark

      “Syria that was once an icon of enlightenment and education” – Are we talking about the Rashidun Caliphate or the Graeco-Roman period?

      This is probably the most light-weight, hand-wringing non-analysis of the Syrian disaster I have read in over five years. If you don’t know the answers to your own questions by now you never will.

      Have you been following the horror or just hoping if you closed your eyes it would go away?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Subway1EightyNine

      When was Syria an icon for enlightenment and education? Under the French?

      To me it sounds like what you appreciate most about Syria is that it was an enemy of Israel. That it was anti-American, anti-Imperialist, anti-Western, and all the antis popular on the loony left. As such you should be celebrating that the “resistance axis” is winning in Aleppo. But then I realize that the ‘revolution’ that was embraced by the Arab Spring crowd was supposed to be even more anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Imperialist and anti-Israel. Except younger, prettier, more English-speaking, populist and on Facebook live.

      To me it sort of sounds like you would have preferred some sort of Western/American imperialist intervention. But then I realize that this can not be, because that would be a stain on your dignity and impede the revolution, or whatever. This is your world. These are your people. These are your allies. This is your dignity, unstained by Western intervention. This is your resistance. Stew in it.

      But not to worry. I am sure sooner or later Assad and his Iranian backers will make some noises against Israel. Then you can wholeheartedly embrace these butchers for standing up to Israel and put this bloody and dirty episode behind you.

      Now that I got that out of my system. What is happening there is pretty horrible. I think Obama should have intervened early and forced Assad out. Unfortunately he listened to people that assured him at every moment that there is either nothing he can do or anything that he can do would make it worse. I find it ironic that this site, which would have certainly been against any Western intervention in Syria, now posts laments for how no one did anything. You can’t have it both ways and expect to be taken seriously. It is too late for the US to intervene now. Best that can be hoped for now is generous financial assistance to the refugees in the surrounding countries.

      Reply to Comment
      • Best that can be hoped for is that someone foots the bill for rebuilding Syria.

        Can’t see where it will be coming from though. Russia? Iran? Hezbollah?

        Reply to Comment
        • Subway1EightyNine

          Most of the civilians in Syria living in areas controlled by the regime are doing mostly ok. They are not thriving, but they are not starving and have basic civilian infrastructure that takes care of them. As the Syrian government and the Iranian proxies exercise control over other parts of Syria presumably they will bring back the crucial civilian infrastructure that was destroyed. The Iranians and Russians own Syria now. They will have to cough up the money for the reconstruction.

          The refugees on the other hand are stuck in limbo in the surrounding countries and can only rely on donations. They also can’t go back for a while because the country is incapable of resettling them. So, that is where the critical need is. Over time resettlement back in Syria will become possible.

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        ” I think Obama should have intervened early and forced Assad out. Unfortunately he listened to people that assured him at every moment that there is either nothing he can do or anything that he can do would make it worse.”

        Everybody’s a terrific Monday morning quarterback, everybody wants to say they’d have done it better, without sitting in that chair in the Oval Office and facing the truly vast set of conflicting considerations regarding American interests, American lives, America getting sucked into another sink hole with no exit plan and thousands more American boys dying (“oh, gee, as an Israeli I hadn’t thought too much about that, but hey every single Israeli soldier lost on the other hand is a gargantuan unspeakable tragedy worthy of every ruthless civilian-decimating maneuver and Hannibal procedure”), after the carnage of American lives his idiot predecessor unleashed; without empathy for the American exhaustion after Bush’s idiotic draining adventures; without any knowledge of both the real intelligence Obama was dealing with and the lack of knowledge and lack of X-ray vision into the future he was dealing with. Without any probability that the fix would not be worse than the thing he was fixing. And dealing with those knowledge conditions without resorting to Rumsfeld’s idiotic pontificating about known and unknown unknowns. It is condescending, sanctimonious and arrogant in the extreme. Obama has more brains in his little toe than George W. Bush had in his whole cranium and had to dig America out from that avalanche of stupidity by a Yale University “legacy.” Over and over I see Israelis, “our staunch ally,” peeved that they couldn’t manipulate Obama like they could Bushie. Over and over I see Israelis saying “let the Americans do it!” But would not equally risk their own troops.

        “I find it ironic that this site, which would have certainly been against any Western intervention in Syria”

        Nonsense. You have no basis other than prejudice to say that.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Why don’t you anti Asad terrorists just ask Obama and Europeans to appoint you a president. It will save a lot of time and will cut through all the pretending

      Reply to Comment
    4. i_like_ike52

      I am afraid I am going to point out the egregious error in Samah’s statement:
      With the Nakba, I asked how it could be that Arab countries didn’t lift a finger and why they were so indifferent
      This is completely untrue. It was the Arab countries, along with the local Palestinian leadership that CAUSED the “Nakba” by proclaiming the intention of launching a genocidal jihad against the Jewish Yishuv in the country. Azzam Pasha, head of the Arab League, said there would be a massacre of the Jewish Yishuv that would be remembered like those of the Crusades and the Mongols. The Nakba was the result of the Jews DEFENDING themselves from this Arab onslaught. However, the Arabs didn’t give up. Nasser’s support for the Fedayun and threats against Israel lead to the 1956 and 1967 war, which Nasser, in the run-up to the latter, promised would lead to the eradication of Israel, Then there was the Egyptian-Syrian assault in 1973 which was also repulsed. Samah’s is wrong in saying the Arabs world was indifferent. It’s just that they failed in their numerous, bloody attempts to do something about it.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “This is completely untrue….”

        This is calculated spin of complex history. You want it both ways. You want to say “‘those Arabs’, unlike ‘us Jews’, they don’t care about each other” (running roughshod over vast intra-Arab differences and cultures) at the same time you beg to differ on “the Arabs” caring about the Nakba. This from individuals who are always crowing that “basically no one cares about the Palestinians.” You pick and choose and have it both ways. You write conclusions and then design theses to match. That’s called propaganda.

        Reply to Comment