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The oppression of Gazans and Syrians – Two sides of the same coin

January 15, 2024 at 7:30 pm

Syrian graffiti artist Aziz Esmer paints the Al Jazeera correspondent Vail ed-Dahduh, who lost his son Hamza in Israeli attacks on Gaza, and the Palestinian flag on a school wall to show solidarity in Idlib, Syria on January 10, 2024. [İzettin Kasım – Anadolu Agency]

As we cross the 100-day anniversary of the war in Gaza, it is encouraging to see that the world is still deeply preoccupied with the crisis and the plight of its civilians. The recent news of the case that South Africa has brought to the International Court of Justice against Israel is testament to that, and social media is awash, highlighting the dire situation Gazans encounter in the face of Israeli bombardment. Israeli crimes are not new, and this conflict reaches back to 1948 but, slowly, the world is beginning to realise this. The war in Syria however, is ongoing, and over the New Year, Idlib and Aleppo have suffered under Assad’s airstrikes.

The conflict in Syria is approaching its 13-year anniversary, more than 150 months and though this conflict’s root is different to that of Palestine in that the primary aggressor is domestic, there are a number of similarities between the oppression that the citizens of Gaza have faced from Israel and Syrians have faced under the brutal Assad. The indiscriminate attacks on civilians in urban areas, the targeting of hospitals and, more pressingly, the failure of the international community to stand for the oppressed brings the Palestinian and Syrian people together.  The former have faced vetoes from the US when the United Nations Security Council has proposed UN resolutions to condemn Israel; the latter have faced vetoes from Russia and China when it has proposed resolutions to condemn the Syrian Regime. The Abraham Accords, signed toward the end of Trump’s term in office added to the worst kept secret in the region that Saudi-Israeli normalisation is on the horizon stands in grim comparison to the Arab League recently normalising relations with the Assad Regime. The aggressors are being rehabilitated.

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Interestingly, there is real convergence between Israeli interests and Assad. From the beginning of the conflict in 2011, Rami Makhlouf, Assad’s cousin and part of his inner circle at the time, said that “If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel”, making clear that Assad staying in his post would be to Israel’s benefit. The Israeli government and also its military have been clear that they would prefer Assad to remain at his post; he is Israel’s Arab favourite dictators; his faux axis of resistance pro-Palestine persona is a charade. Assad, the father, was culpable for the deaths of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in the Tal al-Zaatar massacre in 1976; Assad, the son, also killed thousands of Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk, 40 years later.  Protests, unless authorised by the Regime, are banned in Syria, so those wanting to stand in solidarity with Gaza have not been able to do so over the last 3 months.

From the start of the Arab Spring, Israel was nervous and never comfortable with the developments in the region. The unintended consequences of the counter-revolution, however, have given it reason to smile as pro-democracy movements didn’t succeed.  Moreover, Netanyahu played an understated, but crucial role in the formation of the plan to rid Assad of his chemical weapons in September 2013, which also stopped Obama from enforcing the so-called red line he  had staked his credibility on, and Assad obviously survived one of the most brutal chemical attacks committed since the second World War.

Gaza is no stranger to Israeli airstrikes and incursions, with 2008, 2012 and 2014 being amongst the most prominent. It is clear that this current conflict is by far the deadliest, with the number of deaths exceeding almost 23,000 at the time of writing.

Children, displaced due to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, try to get warm with a campfire under the harsh winter conditions in makeshift tent camp in Idlib, Syria on December 23, 2023. [İzettin Kasım - Anadolu Agency]

Children, displaced due to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, try to get warm with a campfire under the harsh winter conditions in makeshift tent camp in Idlib, Syria on December 23, 2023. [İzettin Kasım – Anadolu Agency]

It can be argued that Israel would not dare to do in Gaza what it is doing right now if it were not for the world reacting so aloofly to Assad’s impunity over the past decade. Assad, the father and the son, in a way shifted what is acceptable through sheer impunity, in what is known as “Hama Rules” after the 1982 massacre in Hama. The daily deaths in Gaza exceed all other major conflicts in the 21 century, according to Oxfam, offering a horrifying vision for the future, should this war go on. The scenes are so similar, that photos and videos of Idlib are being circulated on social media purporting to be from Gaza, though misinformation must be combated, lest opponents of the Syrian people be given a chance to dismiss claims of what is happening in Idlib under Syrian Regime airstrikes.

And, when Russia intervened militarily in the Syrian conflict in 2015, Israel had no objection and there was good co-ordination between Putin and Netanyahu.  Also, it is worth mentioning that the US provided token support to some of the Syrian rebel groups in the South in the early years of the conflict under the Obama presidency with the hope of a stalemate; not enough for a rebel victory but just enough support for rebel groups to be able to fight on, as the country was decimated. When this ended, Israel had no qualms and the Golan Heights – illegally occupied territory – were always protected.

The Syrian people can feel the oppression of those Palestinians in Gaza. The international community has, ultimately, faced both. Though we talk of months and years, the current context, the root of these oppressive regimes are decades old – 1970 and 1948 respectively. Generations have suffered, whilst the world looked on.

Recent steps taken by South Africa in the International Court of Justice, whilst encouraging, must be the start. In that vein, Canada and the Netherlands have also presented to the same Court regarding the use of torture in Syria, but it has taken more than a decade for this to happen. Long term transitional justice requires legal accountability. The people of Gaza and the people of Syria must be allowed to tell the world their stories, and face their oppressors in court.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.