Syria Op-Ed: Why Palestinians Should Stand With the Syrian People

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.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


    • Two or even three generations lost. They were led astray by anti-Jewish extremists and have been trapped in a world view that involves the destruction of Israel as the solution to all problems.

      They expect to be treated as “refugees” when they were born in Lebanon or Jordan and have homes there. Having treated the Jewish refugees from Europe in the 1940s as badly as possible, they expected sympathy for their.own refugee status.

      They continue with endless rocket, rock or knife attacks on Israelis, and then complain bitterly when the Israelis respond. They seem happy to be used as cannon fodder by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

      Self-indulgent fantasists.

      • And one of their biggest complaints is that Israel doesn’t let them enter Israel freely looking for jobs. The sense of entitlement by the Palestinians is just mind boggling. This is the result of billions of dollars of free money they get from the UN, from the West and bleeding heart agencies, and from the Arab oil money.
        And then they blast Israel for controlling goods and materials entering Gaza, but they never blast Egypt which has a long border with Gaza and which Israel does not control. Selective hatred I guess. I bet they were all quite ecstatic when Morsi, their pal, started bombing Copt churches and massacring Christians.

        • Dear Kazemi,
          1. Once the illegal Israeli occupation and blockade is ended, Palestinians will no longer be forced to go work for their oppressors.
          2. Egypt has a short border with Gaza and Israel does control it, via Yankistan holding the stings of their pet putschist, Sisi.
          3. When did Morsi “start bombing Copt churches and massacring Christians”?

      • Don Cox I’m I the only one who thinks that after world war 2 they should of put the Jews in Canada or Australia as both of those countries at the time where sparsely populated, plenty of room for them and it would keep them safe as they be in a Liberal democracy that no hostile neighbours to them.

        • After WWII the Jews were in no mood to be “put” anywhere. They wanted to go to the Jewish homeland at whatever cost.
          Even the worm will turn, and the Jews had been persecuted (by everyone more or less) until they turned and fought.

          I wonder if the Yazidis will eventually turn and fight in the same way ?

  1. According to the ORB poll. The majority of Syrians support Assad. Assad controlled areas represent the majority of Syrian people.

    If the Palestinians are to stand with the Syrian people, surely Scott, you mean the majority.

    • I guess since the Baathists control most of the population we must also assume that the majority of Ethiopians supported the Derg as controlled the bulk of the population for 16/17 (or 13/14 depending on weather or not you count the war starting in 74 or 77) years of war-a war that also started by a tyrant massacring protestors on the street I might add. Also Polls done in North Korea show they all love the dear leader so should now assume that they do?

      • The poll was conducted by a British firm, not a Syrian one.

        What’s more, the majority of those killed have been Syrian army, who are Sunni. You might need to come up with an explanation as to why they have not abandoned Assad in droves.

        • So Baath so popular why did come in 3rd in the last democratic election and then come to power by slaughtering 820 people? Why did they not beat the people’s party in the election? Japan and Mexico are democracies a party that gets democratically re-elected all the time, why can’t the so popular followers of Baathism do the same? So popular that need Aryans and Russians to fight for him?

          As for there being Sunnis who support him, they are from the upper classes as Not George Sabra says

          “Fascism with Syrian Characteristics

          Like its fascist counterparts in Iraq and Libya, the Assad regime was the product of a series of coups and countercoups during the heyday of Arab nationalism and ‘Arab socialism’ in the 1960s and 1970s. These struggles naturally selected the most conniving, sneaky, and ruthless hangmen. Only by honing these attributes to perfection did survivors of this Darwinian process gain the right to rule, to govern, to control the state machine.

          The victor of this personalistic struggle for power in Syria was Hafez al-Assad, an Alawite Ba’ath Party activist who (like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak) rose through the ranks of the Air Force. This peasant-turned-tyrant put an end to the incessant coups that plagued Syria since it won independence from France in 1946. His was the sixth and final coup in 24 years. He shrewdly and systematically constructed a regime that would make coups and political change all but impossible. Its inner core consisted of his family, the Assads, either by blood or by marriage; they headed the most powerful or sensitive posts in the military-security apparatus. Its outer core, in lesser but still powerful military-security posts, consisted of members of the Alawite tribe the Assad clan belonged to, al-Matawirah. The other three major Alawite tribes populated the elite military-security services like the Republican Guard. The military-security apparatus’ chain of command was constructed to rob its commanders of any autonomy. Powerful units could not take action without the knowledge and approval of generals from other units or of the president himself.

          With family, tribe, and sect ties forming a series of social security rings around Hafez al-Assad and his clan, Sunni generals, politicians, and businessmen formed the outer shell of the regime, broadening its social basis beyond a fraction of a sect. Appointments, cronyism, patronage networks, and marriage cemented the regime’s Alawite core to its Sunni shell. Bashar’s marriage to Asma can only be understood in this context since Sunni-Alawite marriages are exceedingly rare in Syria outside of elite circles. The alliance between the Alawite and Sunni bourgeoisies, senior and junior partners in tyranny, would endure until it was pried apart piece by piece, post by post, bombing by bombing, defection by defection by the revolution that left the regime without much of its Sunni façade.”

    • “Majority of Syrias support Assad” is a myth. Assad controls 18% of Syrian territory. Total population in Assad controlled areas is roughly 5 Millions I gliding g the IDPs and that is less than 25% of Syrian population. Assuming all support Assad, which is also a myth, that is hardly a majority.

      • Absolutely right. Even an estimate of 20% support for the tyrant Assad is way over estimate.
        For the sake of argument, I’d assume all the Alawites, Christians and Duruz support Assad, that’d make less than 20% of Syrian population.
        Mind you a large proportion of Christians and Duruz even Alawites do not support Tyrant Assad Clan.

  2. “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.”

    This is what I been saying for ages, that Asshead, the mullah’s, Mubarak etc. do not nor ever have cared about Palestine they use Palestinian plight as a stick to beat the Jews with as form of legitimacy, because they have been to war with Israel so it helps demonise the enemy, but they don’t care for the Palestine people. If you think they do care, tell me why did they never speak out against Pol Pot exterminating Cambodia’s Cham Muslims? Or all when the USSR and Eastern Bloc supressed all religion including Islam? Or the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang province? Or Ida Amin’s massacres of Muslims and Christians or when the Derg was committing genocide against Eritreans who are both Christian and Muslim? Or what about during the Yugoslav wars? Anyone care to explain?

    • As opposed to absolutely impoverished desperation when one has to import sectarian fighters from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, & Lebanon to prop up the *Syrian National* cause.

  3. What exactly makes people who were born in Syria, to parents who were also born in Syria, Palestinians?
    They are being kept “refugees” and stateless for opportunistic reasons, and they suffer because their Arab brothers and sisters make them suffer.

    • The same thing that makes Irish-Americans celebrate St Patrick’s Day, or Jewish Americans emigrate to Israel.
      Traditions die hard. But they do seem to die out in the end. Normans and Vikings whose ancestors were born in England think of themselves as English or British and do not want to “return” to Norway.
      And do the “Palestinians” think they are Arabs ? They are probably descended mainly from Jews who converted to Islam a thousand years ago.

  4. Scott,
    Reading the title made me believe you’ve finally come to your senses.
    FYI, millions of Syrians have fled to government controlled areas. They are not fleeing to “rebel” held areas.
    Coming to my senses, I reminded myself that folks are paid to promote the propaganda in your article.

    [Edited — unsupported allegation]

    • People will flee to Assad-controlled areas to escape the bombing. That doesn’t mean they support his rule or methods.

    • Mike probably thinks that reason millions of starving Ethiopians fled to Derg controlled territory is not because there was a famine and the Derg kept all food aid in its bits to starve the Eriatinas and partisan Ethiopidans into submission (like Stalin did in Ukraine and Germany did in Greece and Holland). No no they come for food they came because they supported the butcher of Addis Ababa who shot students and charge their parents for the bullet. Clearly that’s why Ethiopians came to Derg territory it was poltical opposition to the Wayane/TPLF and this had nothing do with it.

      Likewise he must think that seeking a place won’t they won’t be bombed equals political loyalty to controller of the territory. Mabey he thinks the Poles who fled to Iran because they supported the Pavli Dynasty too.

      I do love how Mike pretends to be a patriotic American when he supports the regime had help Hezballs (who inspired OBL BTW) murder nearly 150 marines and allowed al-Qaeda to slip into Iraq to kill American soldiers.

  5. It had been a lovely day. The pheasant season is nearly over and I got six brace today. Drove home with a very muddy Red Setter on the seat and pheasants laying on the floor of the Land Rover. I fantasised about getting Bashyer Arsof in my 12 bore sights all the way home. When I did get home and opened up EA Worldview and saw all this nonsense from St Petersburg, I thought, oh for bagging a brace of trolls!

    [Edited — avoid references to specific persons]

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