It's amazing, and also sad, to see what the Israeli-Arab dispute has done to our faculties of judgment. What have you done to us, you wicked dispute? Any argument between a man and his wife is measured according to its place in the dispute. Jews use to ask, "Is it good for the Jews?" - even when they were talking about a soccer match. In sophisticated Arab circles, everything is evaluated according to its compatibility - or lack thereof - with the positions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama. Arabs used to recite, "Don't expect good things from the West," as a result of the bitterness they suffered under colonial rule.
When former U.S. president Richard Nixon visited the Soviet Union in the 1970s, he boasted that in America anyone could curse him. Leonid Brezhnev rejoined, quipping that in Moscow everyone also cursed Nixon.
Yet it is not wise to criticize the oppressive side in a dispute exclusively; morality enjoins the oppressed to blow the whistle on unacceptable steps taken by its own side in a dispute. Thus, the Palestinians, especially the Palestinians in progressive circles, should spearhead a denunciation of Bashar Assad's regime in Syria, because (among other things ) Assad's crimes are supposedly carried out in the name of the same principles those circles hold dear: liberty, progress, patriotism, socialism and anti-imperialism.
And we're not talking about something new. Even before the eruption of the protest movement in Syria, bone-chilling stories were circulating about the cruelty of Assad's regime and the hideous torture carried out in Syrian prisons. In the book "The Shell," Mustafa Khalifa, who was an inmate for 13 years, describes a group of beaten, emaciated prisoners who were brought, on the day of their release from prison, to a square in Damascus and placed in front of a sign supporting former Syrian president Hafez Assad, as though they were staging a spontaneous rally in support of the regime.
But not only the Palestinians keep quiet. It pains me to note that the denunciations uttered by Israelis and Americans against Assad's regime are barely audible. That is because this Assad regime, which so scarcely resembles its own descriptions of itself, suits the Netanyahu government. After all, the Syrian border has been the quietest Israel has seen in the past 40 years.
And when the world screams and rails against the settlements in the West Bank, not a peep is heard about the settlements on the Golan Heights. While the Israeli right frets about the possibility that Palestine will receive UN recognition as a state - thereby potentially rendering architects of the settlement movement vulnerable to persecution on the Golan, which is territory conquered by a state recognized by the United Nations - a settlement movement has flourished for a generation. At this rate, if the settlers were to show a trace of honesty, they would award Bashar Assad a medal, naming him "champion of the Golan settlers." In addition, the Assad regime can and has been used as a tool to lash out against the Palestinian national liberation movement, because Palestinian organizations that defied the Palestine Liberation Organization took root in Syria.
Today in Syria, massacres are being perpetrated against citizens as a kind of sequel to what transpired in 1982. Some say this is not an accurate description. OK then, if that is the case, why doesn't the regime allow the media to document what's happening there? As things stand, under a media blackout, there are many reasons to suspect that horrendous crimes are being concealed. In any event, it is hard to deny the fact that this regime plunders state resources for the benefit of its elite. Just ask Rami Makhlouf, a man of prodigal wealth, who happens to be the president's cousin.
The time has come to save our humanity from the jaws of this dispute. Our sense of humanity is what led us to cherish the principles we hold dear. Let's assume that circumstances are a bit unclear right now - precedence must be given to these humane instincts.
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