This is a long but brilliant elaboration of why Palestinians should stand with Syrian revolutionists against the Assad dictatorship. Islamophobic, anti-Semitic & fascist political forces, including Bartlett, Beeley & David Duke, are sucking off Palestinian solidarity to buttress their support for Assad. But some of the most compelling voices opposing this are Palestinians like this writer Mohammad Ali who know the role of the Assad dynasty in collaborating with Israel at the expense of Palestinian refugees.
Some people say: why would a Palestinian oppose Assad? Isn’t Assad’s regime in Syria part of the Axis of Resistance against Israel? Didn’t Palestinian liberation organizations have their bases in Damascus during their fight against Israel? If Assad is against Israel, and Israel is against Assad, then is it not possible these claims of crimes committed by Assad are propaganda by the West against him?
In a very simplistic reading of the world, these are valid questions. But the underlying assumption is wrong and has been wrong for years. Assad’s regime is not against Israel; Assad’s regime is only for its self-preservation.
For decades before the Syrian revolution started in 2011, Palestinian discourse regarding wider Arab support for its cause has always come to one conclusion: the Arab governments betray and sell out the Palestinians for their own narrow interests. While the Palestinian cause has been dear to Arab populations in general, Arab governments (nearly all authoritarian monarchies and dictatorships) have often paid lip service to the Palestinian cause to appease their masses, while in action have betrayed Palestine and Palestinians in the pursuit of better relations with Israel’s Western protectors and to preserve their regimes against their populations. Syria under the Assads is been no exception.
Countless times from my childhood have I sat with my relatives and elders during dinners and ‘azeemehs’, listening in on their political debates, commentaries and criticisms of the news of the day. I sat with men who were members of the PLO, leaders in their communities in the resistance against Israel, who were imprisoned or survived massacres or who fought in battle. While they always talked of the criminality of Israel in their fight against Palestine, they spoke of the betrayal of the Arab regimes that helped facilitate this. They spoke of Black September when Jordan’s king massacred Palestinians, accusing the PLO of working against the monarchy, and crushing Palestinian’s military strength in its borders. They spoke of the Lebanese civil war, where some Arab factions allied with Israel in fighting the Palestinian resistance movements. They spoke of the arrests, deportations, and sabotage by most Arab countries against Palestinian self-organization, especially in the Gulf. The bitterness they held for the Arab regimes was even stronger than that reserved for the Zionists, because the Arab regimes with one face used to declare their support for Palestine, while with the other used to act to make the Palestinian problem go away so they can resume business as usual with Israel and the West. The Arab regimes, in action, wanted Palestinians to accept their lot as refugees quietly, preferably not in their own borders.
Hafez al Assad was a key focus for contempt. The young forget, but the elders who survived Black September don’t. While Jordan was fighting the Palestinians in September 1970, Syria sent ground forces to aid the Palestinians against the Jordanian military’s massacre. Hafez al Assad was the head of Syria’s Air Force then, and he went against the orders of his superiors and held the air force back from supporting the ground forces, leaving them open to strikes from the skies and defeat. Within weeks Hafez al Assad became the dictator of Syria in a military coup. The elders in those dinners all used to say that Hafez al Assad was rewarded by the West and supported in his coup as the payment for his betrayal of the Palestinians and his fellow Syrians who came to their aid. Ever since Hafez took power Syrian forces have never been mobilized to aid Palestinians, but they’ve been mobilized several times against them. I also sat with elders who fought for Fatah in the Lebanese civil war, who talked bitterly of Syrian betrayals and massacres of Palestinian refugees. Palestinians had resistance movements in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, and these had to be crushed by their own regimes to avoid Israel doing it for them. Jordan obliged culminating with Black September. Syria under Assad, while keeping offices open and allowing Palestinians to organize as long as they don’t oppose his regime, performed a campaign of incarcerations, expulsions, and assassinations to neuter any military capability of the Palestinians within his borders. He was happy to tolerate the visage of Palestinian resistance, but did not tolerate the Palestinians having any military capability which would ever threaten him, or threaten Israel getting involved with Syria. Lebanon’s factions that allied with Israel, weak with civil war, were not able to eliminate the Palestinian resistance there (where the fighters and leaders fled from Jordan and Syria), and eventually the Zionist state invaded Lebanon primarily to defeat the Palestinian resistance. Remember Syrian forces, who previously fought in support of Palestine before Hafez al Assad took power, were involved for years in Lebanon’s civil war fighting against Palestinian resistance forces and massacring refugees.
These were not forgotten by the elders who lived through them. Yes, you’ll find some Palestinians who support Assad because he allowed some leftist groups to operate in Syria, such as the PLFP, but he only let them operate as long as they don’t do any action to threaten his regime, including any action against Israel that would make the regime a target. But for the Palestinians who lived through the battles, the massacres, the betrayals, Assad’s regime has always been an enemy of Palestine when it suits him, despite his lip service to the Palestinian cause when that suits him.
With the Palestinian military resistance crushed and the fall of the Soviet Union, Hafez al Assad went full on in his attempts to be accepted and supported by the West, despite his supporters today saying he was ‘anti-Imperialist’. Hafez al Assad’s Syria was one of the few to send Arab troops on the side of the Americans against Iraq in the first Gulf War. Hafez al Assad’s intelligence Mukhabarat betrayed Ocalan and gave him to the Turks. Hafez al Assad spent the 90s kissing America and Israel’s feet for the opportunity to open his country for business, enriching his family and kleptocracy while his people became poorer. His son Bashar, whose supporters imagine is a ‘sovereign’ popular ruler even though he inherited the dictatorship, continued this collaboration with the West in the 2000s in exchange for better relations. He was a partner in the War on Terror, torturing suspects on America’s behalf as part of the rendition programme. He continued the lip service to Palestine while not allowing any dissent within his borders, whether from his own population or from Palestinians. And let’s not forget that during the revolution, when many Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp joined their Syrian brothers in asking for freedom, Assad’s regime besieged the camp, bombed it from the air, and gave ISIS safe corridors to join in the besiegement and assault on Yarmouk.
So again… I say all this as a Palestinian who wants liberation for all oppressed people, whether in Palestine or fellow Arab countries or elsewhere in the world. I say this as an anti-war activist who opposed the Iraq war. But I cannot live with myself if I’m not consistent with my principles and don’t wish for my brother what I want for myself. I will not, and never will support, Assad’s regime as it massacres Syrian civilians because Assad apparently ‘supports’ Palestine. I could not even if the support for Palestine is genuine, which it is not!
As for my fellow Palestinians and pro-Palestine activists: don’t fall for Assad’s propaganda, it’s the same that Israel uses against you. When Israeli supporters claim that videos of Palestinians suffering are faked, or justify bombing residential buildings because ‘terrorists’ are hiding there, why is it easy for you to see through that, but not when Assad says the same of his victims? If Assad, RT, PressTV, and their propagandists start putting out the same stories with the same sources claiming that Hamas is western backed, and that the Gazan civilian rescue and medical workers are ‘linked’ to ‘Western’ backed Hamas, honestly would you scrutinize those sources more and see through it??? Or would you then stay quiet as Israel bombs and murders thousands in Gaza, trusting your ‘anti-Imperialist’ news sources and saying that Israel is bad but Hamas is worse and there’s no good alternatives?
Could it be because so many Westerners have gone to Palestine, lived under occupation with Palestinians, spoke to Palestinians, engaged with Palestinian civil society, and participated with Palestinian non-violent resistance and demonstrations, that so many Westerners have become immune to the Zionist propaganda against Palestinians? Guess what, Syrians also have voices, they have also organized civil society, also have non-violent resistance movements and demonstrations and organizing, also have their equivalent spectrum in political approaches, ideas, activism and liberation. They have their peaceful approaches. They have their humanitarian workers. They have their militants, just like Palestine. What they don’t have are the witnesses it seems.
Assad has poisoned the situation by propagating the idea that there’s only two sides: Assad or terrorism. He’s murdered journalists and besieged areas and ISIS has murdered western aid workers. The last thing he wants is for witnesses to come from outside and spread the word of the resistance against him. The last thing Assad wants is a Rachel Corrie of Syria.
But even if you can’t go in, you can speak to the millions of Syrians outside of Syria who are opposed to Assad. Then ask yourself this: shall you ignore the millions of lived experiences of Syrians because their experience goes against the paradigm of the world you built as an ‘anti-Imperialist’? In other words, do you choose to live in the real world or the world of grand narrative debates?