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Feb 20

For the Sake of Syria, the Political Opposition Has to Grow Up

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu visits an Israeli hospital caring for Syrian wounded.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu visits an Israeli hospital caring for Syrian wounded. Alas, it is no exaggeration to say that Israel has done more for Syrians in the south of the country than all the opposition political groups put together.

(Note; This blog post referred to a statement released by the Syrian National Coalition on February 19th 2014. The statement has since been removed from the coalition’s website, but its substance can still be read here)

The Syrian National Coalition recently released a statement denouncing what it perceived to be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s media exploitation of Israel’s medical care for wounded Syrian  in the Golan area.

Calling it “nothing more than a publicity gimmick”, the statement from the SNC’s media center went on to say that “the Israeli entity stood against the Syrian uprising from the start”, and that wounded Syrian civilians were “forcedly [sic] taken to Israeli hospitals and are being employed today for marketing their political agenda”.

This one press release by the SNC may very well prove to be one of the most self-damaging statements ever released by a political organization. Not only did the SNC fall into a trap by reacting hastily to goading from its opponents, but by denouncing an act of charity that has saved so many Syrian lives, even from a country that has historically been an adversary to Syria, the SNC has very much called into question the Syrian political opposition’s ability to engage in any post-conflict reconciliation with those communities that stood with the regime during the war. If you can’t even bring yourself to say thank you to medical aid from Israel, how on earth are you ever going to bring yourself to meet the greater challenge of living and let live with those Syrians who fought for the regimw over the years. To say nothing of the vindication of those parties very much against any sort of help to the Syrian opposition, whom those parties see as potential adversaries in the future.

Alas, the SNC’s position is by no means an isolated one among the Syrian opposition. Indeed, the coalition probably felt compelled to make a denunciation along these lines to maintain its credibility among the rank and file activists. This one statement is going to have some very far reaching repercussions, especially with respect to any further aid the opposition can expect to receive. Who in their right mind is going to provide MANPADs and advanced anti-tank missiles to an opposition that can’t even reconcile itself to medical aid from a perceived adversary. Frankly, this regrettable episode has demonstrated that the Syrian political opposition still has alot of growing up to do.

The idea that any Syrian should feel apologetic for seeking medical aid from an Israeli hospital is yet one more morally bankrupt notion in a conflict that has already laid bare the moral shortcomings of many formerly esteemed parties and movements. What would the detractors of such aid have a wounded Syrian do? Bleed to death in the name of a none-existent “resistance”? Why do the SNC and other opposition figures care in the slightest what the opinions of the pro-Assad camp are on this particular issue? Anyone still supporting Assad at this point is clearly irredeemable.

This is a regime that has targeted Red Crescent volunteers and murdered a British surgeon for giving the exact same aid the Israelis are providing wounded Syrians. Dr Abbas Khan was rightly hailed as a hero, and Israel’s contribution to treating hundreds of needy Syrians deserves no less praise and appreciation. The pro-regimists have no moral standing or high ground on this issue whatsoever. Far from condemning Benjamin Netanhayu for visiting wounded Syrians, the Assad supporters’ time would be better spent asking where their beloved leader has been hiding out these past months. It is shameful that Angelina Jolie has made more visits to Syrian camps and refugee hospitals than Assad and Asma have combined.

The Syrian political opposition cannot keep making up their political stances and positions as they go along, and as the need arises. For years it has been widely known that Syrians have been fleeing to Israel for medical treatment, and it is unfathomable that the opposition didn’t have a clear stance prepared when it became an issue. For the sake of the country’s future, the Syrian opposition has to mature. The fighters on the ground have shouldered more than their fair share of the burden, they have grinded into the dust division after Syrian army division, making a mockery of Maher Assad’s once vaunted 4th Armored division. The opposition brigades have fought off both the terrorist organization Hizbollah and Iraqi militias allied to Iran. They have proven capable of fighting the regime and its allies forever needs be.

But only an effective political movement can actually end a war, history has proven that time and time again. Armies can fight battles for years, but the conflict will be never-ending in the absence of a responsible, mature and efficient political movement to take Assad’s place. And bashing a country for providing medical aid to helpless Syrians is not the mark of a competent, well thought out political stance. If we cannot even bring ourselves to say “thank you, God bless you and keep you safe” to Israel for the help it has provided to hundreds of wounded Syrians, then why should any potential ally in the future even consider helping the opposition with the kind of military and material aid it desperately needs. Heck, not only is the political opposition seemingly incapable of securing new and better assistance, it seems hell bent on antagonizing those very countries already helping out in some way.

Maybe Barack Obama and the naysayers were right after all, maybe they knew us better than we knew ourselves. There are some Israelis and in the West who want nothing whatsoever to do with Syria and its problems, and statements like the SNC’s have validated their worse suspicions, that any Syrian opposition group the West helps are only going to be adversaries after the war. It is an unfortunate fact, that Israeli medical teams have done more for Syrians in the south of the country than all the opposition groups put together, to say nothing of the murderous regime that caused them to seek help in the first place.

Syria’s salvation will not come from any political move on the part of the regime. Over the past three years, Assad has demonstrated a contemptible lack of vision and political acumen needed to move the country beyond its current troubles. Just look at who he sent to Geneva, the most important conference in Syria’s history; Waleed Mu’allem, the most undiplomatic diplomat since Hitler’s Joachim von Ribbentrop. It is up to the Syrian opposition to create a vision and roadmap for the country. Syria is what happens when a society does not have a political class worth a damn on both sides. I’m not a political scientist, but even I know you don’t go and pander to your worst, most implacable enemies by denouncing countries that are actually providing your countrymen with the kind of help you are in no position to.

Of course, nothing happens in the Middle East in a vacuum, and alot of other issues intrude to make any conflict that much more complicated. Some Syrians, and indeed Arabs, are of the opinion that one cannot reconcile even to the slightest degree with Israel and hope to remain loyal to our Palestinian brethren and their aspirations. Frankly, it would not be unfair to say that this sort of hardline stance is most popular among those who have in reality done crap-all in a practical sense for our Palestinian brethren. By all means, go and jump on the BDS bandwagon if it assuages your guilt, and I’m sure the fact that the BDSers have a very flexible and self-serving idea of who is worthy of a boycott makes it that much easier.

But if nothing else, the past three years has taught Syrians who our real friends are. The ultimate moral and ethical test of a society is in how it treats foreign refugees, strangers who have lost everything and who can give back nothing in return except gratitude. We are very grateful to countries who have aided us in our time of need, and we are massively grateful to those countries who have helped massively. Countries like Turkey (I am so pro-Ottoman right now), Lebanon, Jordan and yes Israel. Kuwaiti private donors who have given with a generosity unheard of. Four months ago I became a refugee myself, and I for one will never forget any kindness shown to me or my people in our most difficult times.

And when the war in Syria is over, one of the things that I as a (hopefully) former refugee would want to see addressed, is the disgraceful treatment of our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the Arab world. If it is solidarity with Palestinians that certain Arabs seek, then nothing can improve the Palestinians’ situation more quickly than by granting them the right to work, study, travel and private property ownership in the Arab countries they currently reside in. Because frankly, I doubt there is a single Palestinian in the Levant or North Africa who wouldn’t swap places with an Arab-Israeli in a heart beat. I pray that a post-conflict Syria will be a Palestinian’s first choice of destinations, and that we would welcome them as we have been welcomed in some countries.

Those who have abandoned my people in our time of need, and especially those who have sided with our oppressors, have no business whatsoever preaching to a refugee about from who, where and how they should seek the life saving medical treatments and sustenance that they do. Personally, Israel’s kindness to Syrian refugees has demonstrated to me that Syrians and Israelis need not be adversaries in the future, that there is space and possibility for an accommodation on even the most seemingly intractable of issues. There is goodwill and humanity on the Israeli side, despite everything I have been taught to believe during my life.

I hope that in the future, those of the Syrian opposition who currently regard anything Israel does with hostility and suspicion, ask themselves what is to be gained by pandering to morally bankrupt pro-Assadists, whose beloved leader’s family could not, in forty years, regain the Golan Heights either through war or through negotiations. The whole point of an opposition is to give the country a different way of thinking. Knowing who our true friends are would be a good place to start.

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