A Syrian Tragedy

Southern Syria, taken by the author.

Where is the moral outrage at the deaths of thousands?

ISRAEL/SYRIA BORDER — Below me lies the ruined Syrian city of Quneitra. Destroyed between 1967 and 1973, the city has not been rebuilt. Time magazine reported in 1967: “The city of [Quneitra] was a ghost town, its shops shuttered, its [streets] deserted.” The Times of London reported on July 10, 1974 that it had been a “flourishing city” in the “richest municipality in the country”. It had been left as, the reporter wrote: “only a heap of stones… Today the town is unrecognisable. The houses with their roofs lying on the ground look like gravestones.” The reporter asked Nayef Nofal, the prefect of the city: “Will Quneitra be rebuilt?” He replied: “How could we do it?” This desecrated and despoiled city on the border between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights — as the United Nations describes it — and the Syrian Golan Heights is a symbol for the new Syria. The country has been ripped apart, its patchwork quilt of different ethnic cultures torn, its societal mosaic smashed. Syria today is full of Quneitras — its towns and cities, villages and hamlets, torn apart by the folly of war. “Syria”, a former mayor of the Upper Galillee Council told me, “is no longer Syria.”

Syria will not be rebuilt, reassembled or restored; its citizens will not be rehoused; it will not rise from the ashes for many years to come. A Syrian dissident told me via Skype the result “will not be a united country. I don’t know how it’s going to end. I doubt Syria will be united. People can’t live with each other.” Here at the border you can hear the splattering gunfire and muffled explosions of the civil war — Damascus is fewer than forty miles away and there is a battle going on here for the control of the border area.

The 17th and 18th July of this year saw the deadliest two days in the Syrian civil war with more than 700 people killed. More people have died this month than in the whole of 2011. Their president has been implicatesd in war crimes. Earlier this year, a report into the Syrian regime uncovered “evidence [that] would support findings of crimes against humanity” and “war crimes against the current Syrian regime”. David Crane, one of the legal experts involved, said the photos in question pointed to an “industrial-age mass killing”. There were fifty-five thousand images of around eleven thousand dead detainees who had been “tortured and killed by agents of the current Syrian regime” between March 2011 and August 2013. The pictures showed people with extremely low body weight, prominent ribs, lack of muscle, hollow facial appearances, ligature, marks around their wrists, ankles and necks, as well as signs of whippings and beatings. Some people had their eyes removed and others showed signs of electrocution.

To add to this, much of their country is marauded by extremist Islamists — images of crucifixions, amputations, decapitations and massacres are paraded on Twitter. Assad could have prevented the horrors of civil war. But his doctrinaire insistence that he will maintain absolute power at all costs means that he has destroyed his country. 9.5 million people have been driven from their homes — that’s almost half the population— the World Food Programme delivers basic food to 4.2 million — and many more are besieged without food — and almost three million have escaped the country. The UN only has a third of the funding needed and their human rights office has been forced to stop counting the number of dead because they cannot get access to the areas in questions — the figures range to around 171,000 people.

The oppressed Syrian people are unwatched, uncared for, unnoticed. And who really cares? This was asked by a well-known twitter user earlier this month: “Yesterday [10th July] Syria had the lowest death count since last March. Only 86 ppl died due 2 barrel bombs & othe Assad attacks. Who cares tho, right?”

Over the past few weeks there have been protests in Western capitals against the Israeli operation in Gaza. There was no protest by those who marched against the Gaza operation, for the people of Syria. There needs to be an end to this selective internationalism. How can people protest when Palestinians are killed by Israelis but ignore the deaths of Syrians under Assad? Over 2,000 Palestinians have died in the Civil War — hundreds of whom starved to death in Yarmouk Refugee Camp (the camp used to have 180,000 Palestinians living in it, now only a few remain); almost 300,000 Palestinians have been displaced by the Assad government since March 2011 — and almost 3,500 by the Israelis in the same period.

The so-called ‘Peaceniks’ who marched in London, in Paris, in New York, are not anti-war. They are a pro-Assad organisation. When Western Countries threatened to bomb Syria in August 2013, Stop The War Coalition organised marches to “stop the war”. But there was a war going on which it seemed to have forgotten about. Apparently, that “isn’t Stop the War’s job”. Have you noticed when these self-titled pro-Palestinians accidently upload pictures of dead children, who they purport to be from Gaza, only to realise they are from the wrong war? It must be so difficult having to decide whether the dead child is from Gaza or Syria before deciding whether to be morally enraged… These people are not Pro-Palestinian, they are only anti-Israel. They have no right to pretend to care. Robert Fisk, who is not exactly pro-Israel, wrote in 2012: “The message that goes out is simple: we demand justice and the right to life for Arabs if they are butchered by the West and its Israeli allies; but not when they are being butchered by their fellow Arabs.”

Why are there only protests when a Jew kills an innocent civilian?

Why is it more acceptable when Muslims kill Muslims or Arabs kill Arabs than when Israel kills Muslims or Arabs? We should be just as outraged when an Israeli kills an Arab as when an Arab kills an Israeli or when an Arab kills an Arab or when an Israeli kills an Israeli. If we are prejudiced against one group, then that degrades the others because their deaths are seen to have less moral weight. If you lament the deaths of civilians, you cannot pick and choose. A murderer is a murderer, a life is a life, a corpse is a corpse. One twitter user wrote: “10yr old daughter asked me, “Why did everyone forget about Syria when Gaza started?” I sadly replied, “They forgot about Syria a long time ago””. Another twitter user, who is no friend of Israel, wrote: “Those who have sided with the Syrian regime or remained silent over its crimes have no moral ground to claim solidarity with Gaza.”

Ignoring a fire will not make it go away — it will fester and exacerbate the flames.

Syria has been ravished by war — but there is no grief from the ‘peace’ camp.

Will she be rebuilt? We have to ask: How could we do it?

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