By Zeinab Khalil, Sophomore at the University of Michigan
I never imagined that I would have to write this. I would rather not, but this a problematic trend that needs to be addressed.
Headlines of 50, 60, 100 people killed in a Syrian city make their way to us each day. The gruesome images that no one wants to look at are there. The videos that the Assad regime hopes we will eventually become desensitized to or become too sick to watch anymore are there. The horrifying stories of toddlers murdered at gunpoint are documented and known. The reports of journalists killed by the Syrian army’s shelling for trying to do their job are there. Everything we need to know to make a sound judgment about the “situation” in Syria is here. There is no question about the Assad regime’s ongoing savage and merciless attacks on the Syrian people- protesters, rebels, and civilians, whoever they may be. There are names and faces behind these numbers. They come with families, careers, ambitions and feelings. They are human. Yet some seem to have forgotten this fact, and have turned this into a question of conspiracies, dirty politics and double standards.
I’m not talking about the staunch Baathists who will defend Bashar Al-Assad to no avail. I’m not talking about the group of shameless Assad loyalists who breathe for the regime, who show up to harass us every time we hold a local demonstration in solidarity with the Syrian revolutionaries. People like that are too deluded or invested in the regime. They will fall with al-Assad, too.
I’m talking about a number of fellow activists, globally and locally, who support the unconditional freedom, immanent value and self-determination of Palestinians, who seem to be quiet, ambivalent or even supportive of the Syrian government’s abhorrent assault on its people. They use the oppression and struggle of Palestinians to justify and legitimize the ruthless Syrian regime, asserting that Bashar Al-Assad is a champion of resistance to Western hegemony.
To those activists, I ask: Have you forgotten the history of this regime? Does the word “Hama” mean anything to you? Have you forgotten the 46+ years of suppression, censorship and fascism of the Assad reign? Did you forget how this uprising began one year ago; how the protesters first came out with signs and chants in Daraa demanding the release of their children, and were immediately met with bullets and tanks?
If these truths don’t weigh much on you because you insist that Assad has always resisted Israeli militarism and occupation, or you think he’s at the forefront of Palestinian rights, let’s take a deeper look at the Assad regime and the Israeli occupation.
Israel illegally and unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, with no international recognition while doing so. More than 34 Israeli settlements and over 20,000 settlers currently occupy this territory. Israel now boasts that the Golan is home to its only ski resort. Israeli soldiers regularly exercise on Jabal al-Shaykh, what they’ve now renamed, Mount Hernon, which Israelis also take pride in using as a winter playground. The Golan is Israel’s calmest and most stable border. Thanks to al-Assad’s government, they rarely have to worry about it. Since the loss of the Golan by the Syrian government, the remaining 7,000 (used to be ~114,000) Syrians have no in-and-out privileges. Syrians born into the Golan will remain there for the rest of their lives. If they choose to leave, they can never return.
Israel is very comfortable with the Assad regime when it comes to the Golan. The Israeli leadership would much rather assume the submissive quietness of the Syrian regime than to have a new leadership that may try to challenge Israel’s occupation of these grounds.
To be blunt, Bashar al-Assad does not give a damn about Palestinians. How can he when he doesn’t even give a damn about his own people? The Assad regime has used empty rhetoric about Palestine for years to distract people from their own domestic issues (i.e. the elephant tyrant in the room) and to gain support and legitimacy from the public, an easy way to score some political points. The regime is simply moving with the flow- once it realizes it’s not in the regime’s interest to pretend to care about Palestinians, it will stop doing so. As an article posted by the Palestinian News Network states, “Any new regime in Syria will take a stance that is hostile to Israel because it will be in need of domestic legitimacy. On the other hand, the current regime—if it remains—will be in need of external legitimacy and would have to relax its position toward Israel.”
Israel prefers what it knows. It fears what it does not know. It always prefers the status quo for its neighbors; it clings to the dying narrative of its neighbors as eternally compliant, incapable and apathetic. It favors the world of yesterday. That way, it doesn’t have to worry about the people rallying against the occupation in any form. Arab tyrants and despots are good for Israel; they suppress the public’s sentiments and criticism of unjust policies, including criticism of Israeli aggression—some undoubtedly more than others—but, ultimately, they all do.
As a reporter for the Haaretz, Anar Shilo, explained regarding Israel’s position towards events in Syria, “We can read between the lines that Israel is not enthusiastic for the fall of Assad. It supports Assad without anyone seeing it. In secret, Israel prays to God that the murderous despotic regime remains. The despotic regime means calm in the Golan.” Similarly, remember what Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of Bashar al-Assad who owns more than 50% of the Syrian economy has said on Syria and Israel, “If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel. No way, and nobody can guarantee what will happen after, God forbid, anything happens to this regime.”
You cannot be anti-occupation and pro-dictatorship. You cannot be anti-apartheid and pro-tyranny. Call out and fight against oppression, indignity and enslavement wherever it exists, regardless of who propagates it. I wish I didn’t have to resort to making this a question of politics. The fact that the Syrian regime has killed 7,600+ people in a matter of months should mean something alone. The regime has injured, kidnapped and detained thousands of people, including bystander civilians and children, just for using their own voices to speak up. Knowing this should be enough for you to speak up, and at the very least, for you to unconditionally condemn the carnage of the Syrian people. Just as you stand by Palestinians demanding their freedom, just as you have stood with Egyptians against their oppressor, stand by Syrians as they die fighting to do the same. You only do a disservice to the Palestinian cause when you link it to dictators who have oppressed and silenced their own people for decades, just as Israelis have oppressed and silenced Palestinians for decades. You cannot stand for Palestinian self-determination, and ignore Syrians seeking that very same thing.