May 6, 2014
Today, the Syrian uprising encompasses several different conflicts and turmoils that have deep regional consequence. It engages the dispossession of the Palestinians, the question of resistance to imperialism, and the question of the Iranian-proxy group, Hezbollah. Slogans are one thing and reality is another. Syria’s Ba’ath Party constituted a political platform only to perpetuate oppression in the name of power and control. It has become clear to many that Palestine will not be freed by mass murdering despots. Here I present a timeline that illustrates the past and present betrayal of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Syrian regime:
Black September 1970: Hafez al Assad made the decision to send tanks into Jordan to support the Palestinians against Hashemite King Hussein. The PLO won popular support amongst the Arab masses after the regimes were thoroughly discredited in the 1967 humiliation at the hands of Israel. King Hussein ordered his Jordanian military to attack the PLO forces in Jordan because of their declared policy to overthrow him. Assad refused to send any major Syrian military support because he feared another war with Israel would erupt. He refused to provide air cover to the Syrian tanks and they were forced to withdraw following the bombardment by the Jordanians. This left the Palestinians isolated, abandoned, and several thousand of them were massacred by Hussein’s Jordanian military. Only a few weeks after Black September is when Hafez al Assad led his military coup in Damascus.
1973: Syria attempted to regain control of the Golan Heights and it failed. Hafez al Assad found himself become the security guard for Israel’s northern border. Colonel Rafik Halawi, the Druze commander of the infantry brigade that was destroyed by the Israelis in the Golan, was executed under the orders of Hafez before the war even came to an official close. The Syrian regime claimed he was killed in battle with Israel and anyone who was caught saying anything otherwise was threatened with torture and imprisonment.
1976: Hafez al Assad supported the Lebanese Christian fascist Phalangists against the Lebanese Communist-PLO alliance that had formed in opposition to both Phalangist and Ba’athist tyranny. The Syrian military’s invasion of Lebanon in 1976 was approved by the US. However, the Lebanese Communist-PLO alliance wiped the floor with the Syrian occupation forces in June of that year. Two months later Hafez al Assad made an example out of such resistance. The Phalangists, backed by Hafez al Assad, committed a massacre of Palestinian people at the Tal al Zaatar refugee camp. With the blessing of the Arab League the Syrian government decided to ally itself with Israel to prevent the defeat of the Phalangists. They besieged the Palestinian camps of both Karantina and Tel al Zaatar with Syrian weaponry and 2,000 Palestinian people were slaughtered. An open letter from the Palestinian resistance within the camps was released that summer;
"Syrian weapons are being used – most unfortunately – against our camp, while the rulers of Damascus continue to repeat that they are here in Lebanon in order to defend our camp. This is a murderous lie, a lie which pains us more than anyone else… But we wish to inform you that we will fight in defense of this camp with our bare hands if all our ammunition is spent and all our weapons are gone, and that we will tighten our belts so that hunger will not kill us. For we have taken a decision not to surrender and we shall not surrender…"
1980′s: As part of its vicious crackdown against leftist dissidents during the 1980’s, Hafez al Assad’s regime arrested hundreds of activists from both the Party for Communist Action and the Syrian Communist Party in an attempt to smother the last remaining voices of dissent after it had crushed the Muslim Brotherhood. It was the Syrian Communists who worked with a group of Palestinian dissidents called the Palestinian Popular Committee in the Yarmouk refugee camp in the Damascus governate. The Palestinian Popular Committee was founded in 1983 but was forced to dissolve two years later as a result of Hafez al Assad’s campaign of arrests. 200 members of the Party for Communist Action were arrested by the Syrian security forces in 1986.
The PLO began to splinter in 1983. Colonel Saed Abu Musa was Arafat’s rival and he led a rebellion amongst al Fatah in the Bekaa Valley. Abu Musa had been a professional soldier in the Jordanian army before joining the PLO. The Syrian regime supported him and assisted in supplying him with weapons. Abu Musa and his followers ran Arafat’s men out of Tripoli that summer. When a reporter from Newsweek asked Yasir Arafat for a comment regarding this mutiny he responded with, "Don’t ask me about the puppets and the horses of Troy… Assad wants my pen. He wants the Palestinian decision, and I won’t give it to him." Most of the Palestinian refugees chose Arafat over a Syrian puppet, but as a result of Hafez’s meddling Arafat’s men were forced out of Tripoli and the Palestinian resistance was disempowered.
In the "War of the Camps" between 1985 and 1988 Hafez al Assad recruited the Shia Lebanese Amal Movement. It was in armed conflict with Hezbollah at the time and it opened fire on the Palestinians and Hezbollah simultaneously.
2000: While Bashar al Assad was praising the second intifada, hundreds of Palestinians were languishing in his jails. Attiyeh Dhiab Attiyeh, a Palestinian in his early 30’s, died in Tadmur prison in early 2000 due to medical neglect. He was already very ill when he was transferred in Tadmur in 1996. Attieyeh was a member of Fatah, the faction led by Yasser Arafat, and had been arrested in 1989 in south Lebanon before being sent to Syria.
2008: There is a similarity between the Hama massacre of 1982 and Cast Lead. In both massacres, the minarets of the mosques were destroyed by the invading occupation forces. They claimed that the minarets were being used by Islamist snipers. There’s no evidence of that in either situation, but there is evidence of the distaste for orthodox Islam expressed by both sets of perpetrators.
Nakba Day 2011: Hundreds of Palestinians from the refugee camps in and around Damascus were bused to the demilitarized zone that separates Syria from the Golan Heights. The safety of the Palestinian civilians was not prioritized. The fence was breached and Israeli occupation forces opened fire and a dozen Palestinian people were killed. There was a repeat of this bloodshed in June on Naksa Day; the anniversary of the outbreak of the June War in 1967. Another dozen Palestinians were shot and killed. This was unprecedented because never before had the Syrian government bused hundreds of Palestinian people to the Golan on either anniversary. Why 2011? To deflect attention from the ongoing slaughter and political turmoil in the streets. One of the main intelligence branches in Syria deals only with Palestine-related issues. It’s impossible for the Syrian government to not have known that a breach of the fence in the Golan would’ve cost Palestinian lives.
Fall 2011: Ghiyath Matar, a young man with Palestinian origins living in the Daraya suburbs of Damascus, began the tactic of giving out water and flowers to the regime security forces that has been sent to attack demonstrators. By early September of 2011, he was dead. His mangled corpse was delivered to his family four days after his arrest. Several US envoys attended his funeral. The spokespeople for the Assad regime said an armed gang was responsible for Ghiyath’s torture and death, and that is half true because, after all, there was an armed gang running the government.
As a result of Bashar al Assad’s genocidal campaign of government repression, Yarmouk became a home for one million internally displaced Syrian refugees by the end of 2011. When the Free Syrian Army gained ground in the southern suburbs of Damascus the Syrian military began to shell the camp while, at the same time, continuing to arm the pro-regime PFLP-GC. Mortars were fired at the camp by Assad’s forces before the FSA ever stepped foot in it.
Summer 2012: Regime para-militaries who lived in Nisreen street, close to Yarmouk, opened fire on a massive anti-government demonstration. They killed ten Palestinians, including a little boy.
Fall 2012: The FSA set up a supply line through Yarmouk, and massive collective punishment at the hands of the regime ensued. Government security forces encircled Yarmouk. By October of 2012, the entrances to the camp were only open two or three days a week. The civilians bore the brunt of the violence; starvation, disease, and random shelling.
December 2012: Syrian regime warplanes bombed a mosque in Yarmouk that was housing internally displaced Syrian refugees. Dozens were killed. The excuse for this atrocity was that the FSA had hidden some weapons in the basement of the mosque.
2013: Khaled Bakrawi, a young Palestinian-Syrian community organizer and founding member of the Jafra Foundation for Relief and Youth Development, was arrested by regime security forces in January of 2013 for his leading role in carrying out humanitarian and aid work in Yarmouk. By September, the Palestinians of Yarmouk learned that Khaled was killed under torture in a detention center in Damascus.
Khaled Bakrawi took part in the June march into the Golan. He witnessed the leader of the PFLP-GC, Ahmad Jibril, lead the people into the Israeli-occupied cease-fire zone. Knowing what was going to happen, he tried to dissuade his fellow Palestinians from following Ahmad Jibril’s orders, but to no avail. Khaled was forced to watch regime security forces relax and drink tea while Israeli occupation soldiers rained bullets down on his neighbors. Khaled took two bullets in his leg. The young man, who was labeled a hero for taking a few Zionist bullets, would later fade away into obscurity following his murder at the hands of Bashar al Assad’s security forces.
Palestinians in Yarmouk have been killed and injured by the PFLP-GC. The Russian BM-21 Grad Rocket was used to attack Yarmouk in July of 2013. Two grad missiles were fired onto the Hamdan bakery on July 24th, killing fifteen civilians. It was reported by both Reuters and the Yarmouk Camp Coordination Committee that this attack was carried out by the PFLP. Fifteen Palestinians in Yarmouk died of starvation between September and December of 2013. The number of Palestinian refugees killed since 2011 in Syria has reached at least the thousands, in addition to the hundreds lost or imprisoned, and over 180 tortured to death in regime detention centers.
As this piece of writing was being edited, I learned that a 30 year-old Palestinian journalist named Bilal Ahmed Bilal has just recently died under torture in a Syrian prison cell. Syrian Air Force Intelligence agents arrested him in the fall of 2011 in the town of Darya. He was charged with protesting against the government, filming the demonstrations, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a regime military court. Clearly, the machine of destruction does not stop for one moment.
In conclusion, the Assad regime’s annihilation of the country is good for Israel. An Arab despot who crushes his own people always has a special place in the Zionist heart. Israel has always relied on corrupt Arab despots like Bashar al Assad to put down the masses for them. An anti-Iranian sentiment is being sown in the Arab world as a result of its colonization of Syria. Hezbollah is too busy murdering Syrians to cause Israel much trouble. Also, Israel no longer faces any pressure to give up the Golan Heights.
What are we to make Palestinian individuals, both in Palestine and in the diaspora, who continue to sing the praises of this purported "resistance"? What are we to make of non-Palestinian individuals in the West and elsewhere who claim to support the Palestinian cause, yet are also unable to see the forest for the trees? Ba’athism is dead, but Basharism is not. Has resistance become a brand name? Has it been co-opted by imperialist forces who are responsible for the deaths of Palestinian people, and have been responsible for the deaths of Palestinian people since the Lebanese civil war? The Syrian regime under Hafez al Assad became notorious for its multiple bloodlettings and betrayals of the Palestinian cause. His son is continuing in his father’s footsteps beautifully. May the false label of "resistance regime" encased in stone to some get what it deserves; to crack, shatter, and drift away in the wind. A new Nakba is here, and those of us who proclaim our solidarity with the Arab peoples should behave accordingly.
Nicole Gevirtz is an American anti-Zionist Jewish college graduate that is specializing in Middle Eastern Studies.
-Photo: Morning Star by Youssef Abdelke