Stop hunting humans in Syria!

“Men are accomplices to that which leaves them indifferent” (George Steiner)

Statement of opinion, Da’am Workers Party, February 26, 2018

The horrors of recent days in East Ghouta in Syria, evident in the corpses of men, women and children, have met with global indifference, including in the Arab states. The relentless bombing by the regime and its sponsors, the Iranians and the Russians, did not hesitate to target hospitals and residential neighborhoods. This crime against humanity is witnessed hourly on TV and social networks. The lack of response, the deafening silence, attests to the loss of a sense of right and wrong, the loss of a sense of humanity. What is happening today in the suburbs of Damascus can happen anywhere tomorrow.

The person responsible for this crime is Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Iran and Russia. But the massacre would not have proved possible had it not been for the tacit compliance of countries competing to grab a piece of the Syrian pie: the United States, Turkey, Israel and the Gulf States. Among the latter, Saudi Arabia and Qatar support mercenary militias such as the Army of Islam and the A-Nusra Front. They are joined by the American-backed Kurdish forces and the Israeli-backed Sunni rebel militias in the Golan Heights.

Contrary to Assad’s claims, in 2011, Syria was not the target of an international conspiracy, but rather a civil war between a dictatorial regime and its subjects, who have taken to the streets demanding freedom. The weakness of both the regime and the opposition has pushed both sides to seek help from outside parties who have little interest in the fate of the Syrian people, and who act in their own narrow interests. With the outbreak of the revolution in 2011, the line between the regime and the opposition was clearly drawn. However, President Obama, who had called for Assad’s downfall, turned against the Syrian opposition in order not to undermine the chances of a nuclear agreement with Iran,with the result thatAssad’s regime was narrowly saved. From the beginning of the uprising, Russia and Iran have stood with him, while the opposition enjoyed support from the United States, Turkey and the Gulf states. Nevertheless, the Russian-American agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal hit the opposition hard, paved the way for the emergence of ISIS (aka the Islamic State), and allowed Assad to slaughter his people using barrel bombs. Chemical weapons in the form of chlorine bombs have also been used.

The rise of ISIS and its takeover of Mosul in Iraq led to an important change in the Obama administration. It began to see ISIS as a strategic enemy. The US lost interest in the fate of the Syrian people under Assad. It ended its support for the Free Syrian army in favor of an alliance with the Kurds, who exploited Assad’s weakness, joining the Americans in the war against ISIS in exchange for their promise of an autonomous Kurdish region near the Turkish border. This in turn led to an immediate change in Turkey’s policy: from supporting resistance against the Assad regime, Turkey switched and began a war against Kurdish autonomy. Erdogan has succeeded in enlisting Russian support for this.

Russia backed the Turkish demand to transfer control of al-Bab, northeast of Aleppo, from the Kurdish- to the Turkish-supported rebel forces. In exchange, Turkey turned a blind eye to Russian involvement in Syria, contributing, for example, in the fall of Aleppo. The Gulf States, on the other hand, armed and financed Islamic militias thataim to liquidate the popular committees of the revolutionary movement in Syria; they took the liberated areas of Idlib and East Ghouta by force.

However, despite the defeat of ISIS and the re-conquest of Mosul by Shiite militias with Iranian support, and, notwithstanding the capture of Raqqa by the Kurds with American support, the war and the massacres continue unabated, this time under the watchful eyes of all parties involved in the Syrian arena.

The current massacre in East Ghouta is a consequence of the failure of the Russian-backed peace talks in Sochi at the end of January, where Putin tried to impose a political solution leaving Assad in power. Israel, for its part, is concerned about Iranian entrenchment in Syria, viewing this as a threat to Israeli control of the Golan Heights, and as a threat to its security in general. This threat to Israelcomes on top of that posed by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Those who pay the price of the conflict between the US and Russia, and between the regional forces of Israel, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf states, are the defenseless citizens of East Ghouta. After seven years of war that killed 400,000, incarcerated 200,000, and displaced 10 million people, it is clear that Assadcannot be part of Syria’s future.

Leaders such as Trump, Putin, Khamenei, Erdogan, Netanyahu, Mohammed bin Salman (Saudi Arabia), Tamim al-Thani (Qatar) and Hassan Nasrallah are indifferent to human rights. Syria is not the only victim of this situation. Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Iran, Turkey and Palestine are all suffocating under the yoke of oppression.

After the Syrian people, the first to pay the price for scorn of international law and for contempt of rights are the Palestinians. Trump’s decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem and to inaugurate it as part of Israel’s70th anniversary expresses not only its bias towards Israel, but its contempt for human rights and national freedom. Just as Putin can bomb and destroy Syria without opposition, Trump can force the Palestinians to make do with autonomy instead of an independent state.

When the Security Council stands helpless at the massacre of defenseless civilians in East Ghouta, how can we expect it to intervene in favor of the Palestinians, who have been living under occupation for 50 years? On the other hand, the silence of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in light of events in Syria undermines their moral basis, for example when they threaten to put Israel on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.They do not condemn Assad for the greatest war crimeof the century.

Israel’s policy of “non-intervention in the Syrian civil war,” in the name of its own security, is a failure. Not only because of its immorality, but also because the barbaric Russian and Iranian intervention that saved the Assad regime has turned Syria into a forward base for Iran and Russia. Israel sees Iran positioning itself near the border,an act that heightens the danger of war. The indifference of the Israeli public to what is happening in Syria only proves how successful 50 years of occupation have been. The occupation has closed the hearts of Israelis. They have grown accustomed to the scenes of destruction by their air force in Gaza, and the almost daily killing of Palestinian civilians who oppose military control.

The Da’am Workers Party, which supports the rights of the Palestinian people, also stands with the Syrian people who raised the revolutionary banner “Freedom and Democracy.” We call upon foreign forces – the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Israel, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – to withdraw from Syria and let the Syrians decide their future without foreign interference, not only for the benefit of Syria, but in the interests of all its neighbors.The alternative is a prolonged war that has already reached beyond Syria’s borders and threatens to engulf the region. It has the potential of bringing the US and Russia intoa direct confrontationthat could explode into an unthinkable war, after which, to quote Albert Einstein, the next will be fought with rocks.

* Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman

About Yacov Ben Efrat