PHOTO: Residents of the mainly-Palestinian Yarmouk camp in southern Damascus amid a regime siege, February 2014
Palestinian-American journalist Mariam Barghouti writes for Muftah:
When Syrians were chanting “revolution, revolution, Syria! Revolution of dignity and freedom” in the streets of Damascus in 2011, they undoubtedly expected suppression from the regime of Bashar al-Assad. What they probably did not foresee, however, is complacency from the international community, including from Palestinians.
But, that is what they received. The Syrian conflict has uncovered disturbing shortcomings and contradictions among those who fight in the name of Palestine.
When Palestinians are being assaulted by Israeli forces, we often cry out “Where are the Arabs! Where are you, oh Arabs?” Yet, now that it is our turn to extend solidarity, we have become as faceless as our revered Handala.
Renowned Palestinian writer and thinker Ghassan Kanafani once wrote, “[i]f we were failing in defending the cause; then we ought to change the fighters and not the cause.” By failing to stand with our Arab brethren fighting in Syria, we have betrayed Palestine and tainted the principles that gave birth to the Palestinian cause, namely dignity and justice.
As we enter the Syrian civil war’s fifth year, I say to my fellow Palestinians: it is time – albeit very late – to stand in solidarity with the Syrian people.
The Palestinian Position on Syria
Palestinians are no strangers to exile, the pain of oppression, or the grave consequences of resistance. For these reasons, I find the mainstream, Palestinian position on Syria so perplexing. There is an inherent denial of the Syrian right to self-determination, based on a so-called “political pragmatism,” which maintains that the Assad regime is key to stability in the Middle East.
Over the course of the Syrian civil war, our actions – or lack thereof – have transitioned from mute silence to impotent discourse on the merits of noninvolvement in the conflict. Though we call it neutrality, we are, in fact, expressing the most spurious form of support for a regime that has hailed down barrel bombs on the civilians of Homs, Aleppo, and the suburbs of Damascus.
It is as though we are borrowing the narratives of our oppressors and sprawling them across the mountains of Syria. In muddled arguments, we strip agency from the Syrian people to choose their own fate, by not only abandoning them, but dictating what is best for them – telling them they must forfeit their uprising and accept the regime as the “lesser of two evils.”
This is the very approach we have rejected in our own struggle. Most politically active Palestinians would refuse to even entertain the thought of someone who is not Palestinian dictating how we ought to fight or resist settler-colonialism. Yet, we find no problem in recycling the very notions we rebuff and using them to repudiate Syrian efforts to topple tyranny.
In taking these positions, we justify ourselves by complaining about the “complexity” of the situation. Even worse, we often remain silent because the dictator in question claims to be anti-imperialist and supportive of Palestine.
But, Assad is anti-Israel – not pro-Palestine. There is a great difference between the two. To be pro-Palestine means to support the rights of Palestinians as an oppressed group. To be anti-Israel is to merely seek to weaken an enemy state. While the Assad regime is obviously opposed to Israel, it has little interest in the justice-seeking qualities of the Palestinian cause.
For those of us who are, in fact, pro-Palestine and truly guided by this cause, we cannot be disconnected from the global pursuit for justice, whether in Syria or elsewhere. To quote Kanafani once more, “everything in this world can be robbed and stolen, except one thing; this one thing is the love that emanates from a human being towards a solid commitment to a conviction or cause.”
To be true to the cause of justice, we cannot allow ourselves to be deluded by the conspiracy theories echoed at the expense of the Syrian people. We cannot be caught in the apparatus of the Assad regime’s oppression, which feigns support for certain struggles, like anti-imperialism and Palestine, in order to beguile the masses into accepting its injustices and crimes.