Kill other peoples, but not your own

Israel/PalestineMiddle East
on 25 Comments

I am currently immersed in the culture and politics of Syria as producer of a four-day festival, Reel Syria 2012, here in London and in Edinburgh. We have invited Syrian artists and writers, including the cartoonist, Ali Ferzat, novelist Manhal al-Sarraj and musician, Samih Choukeir, to share their experience of creativity under a repressive regime. The Syrian people are under fire by their own government, as we are also constantly reminded by the media and our politicians. As someone who is committed to the Palestinian cause, I am disturbed by the emphasis on the abhorrent nature of a government targeting ‘its own people’, i.e. ethnic group, as opposed to other governments’ peoples or other ethnic populations in the same territory, as in the case of Israel and Palestinians.

What is most horrifying to me is the indiscriminate killing of non-combatants, shelled in their homes and in the streets. This is not to deny that Syrians are sickened and angered by the lies of a brutal regime that claims it represents and protects them from ‘armed terrorists’. My five-year old niece asked me the other day, ‘Auntie Elly are all governments bad?’ – she meant, ‘even ours?’ – she has picked up from me and her lawyer parents the basic truth that nation states and ruling powers do not protect human life unless it is politically necessary. The Syrian Ba’ath party believes it must kill to survive and Syrians are now comparing their ‘own’ government unfavourably to Israel.

A direct allusion to the apparent moral distinction between the crime of killing your own people, and ‘the other’ was put to a panel on today’s BBC programme, Question Time, by an audience member: ‘What is the difference between an Israeli bomb and a Syrian bomb?’ All the panelists without exception highlighted how intolerable it was to bomb one’s own people, regardless of their politically cautious levels of  ’sympathy’ towards the occupied Palestinians. Just as hearing that a father has murdered his own children is more chilling than hearing a stranger has done so, this is not an ethical and legal distinction, but a social and political one.

I leave you with a gem of a post left on the Facebook page of Israel’s Moshav Idan (and since removed; edited for clarity), which I once worked on during my misspent youth. I think it needs no comment except the obvious one: Israel inhabits no moral high-ground on the killing of women and children, whomever they belong to:

[Buy Israeli Goods] is a great idea but if we want to expand it why don’t the Knesset do something humanitarian, a global statement. We all live in a democracy. Look at the women and children in Homs where their government is killing them. With the Israeli military might in the region, why don’t they airdrop food and water to the starving and dying people. Think of it as their holocaust, and the statement it would bring, the powerful images and support it would bring to the Knesset.

25 Responses

  1. Justice Please
    March 17, 2012, 1:15 pm

    “This is not to deny that Syrians are sickened and angered by the lies of a brutal regime that claims it represents and protects them from ‘armed terrorists’.”

    What makes you so sure that there is no Islamist/Foreign terror group in Syria, who attacked first? Maybe even civilians, to make Assad look bad?

    Look, I have no idea what really happens there, and from what I hear, Syria could use more democracy. But there are enough predecents of illegimate foreign interventions to ask these simple questions.

  2. piotr
    March 17, 2012, 1:23 pm

    “This is not to deny that Syrians are sickened and angered by the lies of a brutal regime that claims it represents and protects them from ‘armed terrorists’.”

    There is civil war is Syria now, and many Syrians indeed believe that the current rule is preferred to the rule of the armed opponents of the regime. The slogan “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave” is popular in some pockets of the country and dreaded in other pockets. “Israeli might” was employed during the civil war in Lebanon but I do not recall any humanitarian episodes.

  3. Annie Robbins
    March 17, 2012, 1:29 pm

    wrt governments killing their own people i highly highy highly recommend watching the trailer to The Humanitarian War. (watch at least the first 2 parts)

    link to laguerrehumanitaire.fr

    HIGHLY

    • Elisabeth
      March 17, 2012, 5:48 pm

      I looked at it. Thought it was not very good or convincing. Sorry.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 17, 2012, 6:02 pm

        don’t be sorry. not everyone will be convince by interviews of people saying they did no investigation before making their allegations wrt death counts, stuff like that. the world is full of people supporting nato intervention. i’m just not one of them.

      • Elisabeth
        March 17, 2012, 6:34 pm

        I do not believe there were mercenaries in Lybia, but I just did not get the rest of the argument. And it was hard to follow: All these twitching an changing visuals (I am an old fashioned person, I do not adjust to these things.) And then trying to follow the sound (French) which did not agree in timing at all with the English subtitles. I did not get anything from it at all. But maybe this is just me.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 18, 2012, 12:51 am

        perhaps this will resonate with you, it is from today:

        link to youtube.com

        17/mar/12

        Peaceful protesters being shot at all over Benghazi by NATO Mercenaries, people are waking up and seeing the truth, and realizing that Qaddafi was right, like they say, “better late than never”.

        africom will be located outside tripole. that is what the war was for. they couldn’t find any african nation to host it, so they conquered one.

      • aiman
        March 18, 2012, 12:52 am

        “i don’t care, the world is full of people supporting nato intervention. i’m just not one of them.”

        Me neither. I don’t get how liberals can support “intervention” on so-called humanitarian grounds. We live in a world of mind-blowing (literally) bombs and a cruel hyper-masculinity (a trait also shared by Samantha Power and Susan Rice and other women in power) and it is with these weapons “humanitarian intervention” is supported? I don’t support megalomaniacs like Qaddafi but neither do I support those who executed him in such a cruel fashion. It tells us a lot about how power works, how cruelty usurps cruelty.

      • Taxi
        March 18, 2012, 4:57 am

        Elizabeth,

        You live under a moon rock don’t you?!

        Just google ‘mercenaries in libya’ and have a peruse.

        People out there, israel has contracted Blackwater for black ops to destabalize ALL Arab countries, including Syria.

        Upsidedown world here where the mossad are in bed with both Blackwater AND the islamic salafist terrorists.

        Apartheid israel can stir all the blood and poop in Arab countries as it wants – it ain’t gonna save it from humiliation, defeat and dismantlement. Coming to your TV screen soon.

        link to irandefence.net

  4. Kathleen
    March 17, 2012, 4:32 pm

    “I am disturbed by the emphasis on the abhorrent nature of a government targeting ‘its own people’, i.e. ethnic group, as opposed to other governments’ peoples or other ethnic populations in the same territory, as in the case of Israel and Palestinians. ”

    This really gets to me as well. You hear folks talk like Anne Marie Slaughter, Paul “WMD’s in Iraq” Wolfowitz and others talking about how many people have allegedly been killed by Assad and his killing machine yet Wolfowitz (and I believe Slaughter supported the invasion of Iraq) and others who lied the US into Iraq never talk about how many Iraqi people’s blood they are drowning in. And of course you do not hear anything in our MSM about Palestinians killed by the Israeli government over decades of apartheid. Nope many of the war criminals are busy counting the deaths of the other war criminals killing sprees. Even George Clooney (who is really making an effort to bring attention to leaders in the Sudan who are responsible for thousands of death) by saying those who kill their own people. Whats the difference if it is Bush/Cheney/Wolfowitz being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, Assad or the Israeli Palestinian government. War criminals are war criminals.

  5. Daniel Rich
    March 17, 2012, 5:24 pm

    I am not a fan of any regime, because non of them will stand up to the true ‘demos’ as the Greek envisioned it. Something’s very fishy about what’s going on in Syria right now. I’ve this gut-feeling something’s very wrong with the contorted information I receive. ‘We’, the west is/are harping on about ‘people power’ while we crush it at home. Have you ever tried to be democratic by standing up to ‘your ‘leaders?’ If your answer is ‘no’ give it a try and see for yourself what monster you’re protecting by being complacent.

  6. teta mother me
    March 17, 2012, 10:05 pm


    Hollywood in Homs and Idlib?

    by Sharmine Narwani (source: Veterans Today)
    Wednesday, March 14, 2012

    “Editor’s note: As the drama in Syria intensifies, we are finally getting glimpses of the remarkable stage-craft that is going into propping up this one-sided storyline. The BBC just reported that armed opposition groups have planted explosives in Idlib, which has been touted as the scene for the next regime brutalities. But Sharmine Narwani brings us detailed testimony from within Idlib last Sunday that these fighters were laying down IEDs in and around civilian buildings as well. Why bomb homes except to create the impression of massive damage by regime forces? The plot thickens, but still, few are asking the hard questions on Syria. . . .

    the thickened plot even thicker; Huffington Post has stopped printing Narwani’s reports on Syria — link to english.al-akhbar.com

    “the media cacophony on Syria has just become too shrill – reporters, too reluctant to raise obvious questions – to just sit back and let this one slide.

    Especially when it is taking place under my nose at the place I have blogged for two and a half years. There’s no other way to look at this: by refusing to publish all but one of my seven Syria articles, AOL-Huffington Post is censoring a viewpoint that challenges the dominant narratives on Syria in the mainstream media. . . .”

    • Walid
      March 18, 2012, 9:27 am

      Anyone here remember Ghassan Bin Jiddo, the Tunisian TV journalist that resigned from a major Gulf news network last May because he wouldn’t go along with his bosses’ marching orders on how to conduct his reports on Syria?

      At the end of this month he will be opening his own Arabic satellite all-news TV network from his Beirut studios. When he announced his project, a ton of investors rushed to put money into it but he was picky and insisted on accepting only small investments to keep control of his editorial content. He turned down an offer of a$20 million investment from a wealthy Palestinian for that reason. He promises honest unbiased reporting of the news.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 18, 2012, 9:35 am

        yes i absolutely remember you mentioning Ghassan Bin Jiddo walid. that is great news.

  7. aiman
    March 18, 2012, 12:45 am

    “the basic truth that nation states and ruling powers do not protect human life unless it is politically necessary. ”

    How true!

  8. yourstruly
    March 18, 2012, 1:45 am

    msm isn’t going to challenge the u.s. government’s messing with nations that they have labeled evil, with said label reserved exclusively for countries that exercise some independence from the u.s. government, especially on their stance viz-a-vis the mideast conflict and on their willingness to strictly hone to laissez fair economics as dictated by imf/wb potentates.

  9. Eva Smagacz
    March 18, 2012, 8:09 am

    Seeing Syria unrest as a wedge that could be used for a regime change is a common viewpoint with plenty of evidence:

    See: Arab monitor report: link to economist.com

    Wikileaks are enlightening: link to rt.com

    Also: link to economist.com

  10. BradAllen
    March 18, 2012, 8:11 am

    You have to wonder whether Ms. Kilroy follows any intelligent media outlets where some reasearch and some effort has to be made to unearth the truth. She is obviously naive and finds it easier to read out loud the headlines in the western media and plays the victim while sitting in her comfortable home watching BBC and Al Jazeera. Wake up Ms. Kilroy, the world is not on TV. You started on the right track by going to Mondoweiss, keep going, maybe you’ll soon find you really need to research in the dark alleys of the Internet to find the facts of what is really happening in Syria.

  11. piotr
    March 18, 2012, 11:33 am

    When you demonize one side absolutely, then the only solution is civil war where the best gunmen win. The best gunmen can also be reasonable democrats, but more often then not they are not. That alone strongly advises a “relativist approach” where a road to comprise is open, and resolution comes from elections, and thus from “one man, one vote” rather than “one gun, one vote”.

    Voting can be manipulated by the current controlling power, while “one gun, one vote” can be tilted in our favor by supplying guns to the side we favor (or other ways of changing military balance, as it was done in Libya). This encourages our government to support civil war, a “morally pure” option.

    Syria has main centers along the Mediterranean, and Iraq, along the main rivers, but there is a continuum between the two countries. In particular, similar Sunni extremists operate in both countries and receive support from similar sources. In case of Iraq we were finding them abhorent, at least as long as Iraq was under our “responsibility”, in Syria, we do not care about the details. The perspective of the current government of Iraq is 180 degree different now. The very loud opposition to “Asad dictatorship” from Saudis and Gulf monarchs should give us a pause. These guys want Sunni guns to win. They do not give a damn about non-sectarian democrats.

    A compromise with the regime that would lead to free elections is the best option. If you wait until the regime falls, some extremists will replace it and only Saudis will be pleased. Not to mention that the regime does not need to fail. Iraq will support it, so Asad can sell oil, get credit, import arms and other goods. After initial successes, insurgents can be throttled down to the level of lingering terrorism, as in Iraq.

    Of course, the question is if any compromises with “devils” are morally defensible. One should make a list of “devils” supported by USA, some surprisingly recent. E.g. the story of “false positives” committed by the democratic and friendly regime in Columbia. Or the story of “genocidaires” making a coup d’etat in Haiti with enormous help from USA. If you go to less recent pass, much bloodier examples can be found, like Guatemala, or more ambigously, Algeria (civil war with Islamists after they won elections claimed about 100,000 lives, but government was supported by the West throughout that war). There is a number of arguments that can be made why support of Colombia, intervention in Haiti, support of Algeria and Guatemala were reasonable, but if you agree with those and remain “moral absolutist” then you are hypocrite.

  12. Walid
    March 19, 2012, 2:14 am

    Syria is a chapter in the undeclared war of Sunni purists on what they consider heretical Shias centered in Iran, so you can’t really compare it to Haiti, Guatamala and so on. Keep in mind that Assad and most in his regime and commanding military officers are of the minority Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam but that oddly and wisely, the civil rule of the land as well as the national educational program have always been based on Sunni Sharia precepts and undoubtedly one of the main reasons why the Assads have been accepted for the past 50 years by the Sunni majority and avoiding civil unrest. Nothing had changed in Syria’s iron-fisted rule up until about a year ago when Assad’s fall from grace in the eyes of the West came about and out of nowhere only because of his loyalty to the Iran and this became no longer tolerable to Sunni fundamentalist neighbours Turkey, Gulf states and Israel. A year ago, Assad was told by the West that if he were to drop his support for Hamas, Hizbullah and Iran, he could go on doing whatever he wanted in Syria, but he refused. The same Sunni-Shia rumble is also at the root of what’s been happening for years in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam and other conflicts in the region.

  13. Walid
    March 19, 2012, 4:11 am

    I have no admiration for the Syrian regime but I still find it absurd to hear CNN report that the Syrian army massacred hundreds of civilians in one incident and in one room in Homs. More from Sharmine Narwani in al-Akhbar from about 3 weeks back in an article in which she details the bogus stories about the Syrian regime killing Syrian civilians and the wild numbers of casualties reported by the armed insurgents; some bits and pieces from Narwani:

    ,,, Nir Rosen, an American journalist who spent several months insides Syria’s hot spots in 2011, with notable access to armed opposition groups, reported in a recent Al Jazeera interview:

    “Every day the opposition gives a death toll, usually without any explanation of the cause of the deaths. Many of those reported killed are in fact dead opposition fighters, but the cause of their death is hidden and they are described in reports as innocent civilians killed by security forces, as if they were all merely protesting or sitting in their homes. Of course, those deaths still happen regularly as well.”

    “And, every day, members of the Syrian army, security agencies and the vague paramilitary and militia phenomenon known as shabiha [“thugs”] are also killed by anti-regime fighters,” Rosen continues.

    The report issued in January by Arab League Monitors after their month-long observer mission in Syria – widely ignored by the international media – also witnessed acts of violence by armed opposition groups against both civilians and security forces.

    The Report states: “In Homs, Idlib and Hama, the observer mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against government forces and civilians…Examples of those acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children…In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two police officers.” The observers also point out that “some of the armed groups were using flares and armour-piercing projectiles.“

    Importantly, the report further confirms obfuscation of casualty information when it states: “the media exaggerated the nature of the incidents and the number of persons killed in incidents and protests in certain towns.”

    On February 3, the eve of the UN Security Council vote on Syria, news broke out that a massacre was taking place in Homs, with the general media assuming it was true and that all violence was being committed by the Syrian government. The SOHR’s Rami Abdul Rahman was widely quoted in the media as claiming the death toll to be at 217. The Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), which provide information to the VDC, called it at “more than 200,” and the Syrian National Council (SNC), a self-styled government in absentia of mainly expats, claimed 260 victims.

    The next day, the casualty count had been revised down to 55 by the LCCs. (link: link to bbc.co.uk)

    … While the overwhelming perception of Syrian casualties thus far has been that they are primarily unarmed civilians deliberately targeted by government forces, it has become obvious these casualties are also likely to include: Civilians caught in the crossfire between government forces and opposition gunmen; victims of deliberate violence by armed groups; “dead opposition fighters” whose attire do not distinguish them from regular civilians; and members of the Syrian security forces, both on and off duty.

    … The very first incident of casualties from the Syrian regular army that I could verify dates to 10 April 2011, when gunmen shot up a bus of soldiers travelling through Banyas, in Tartous, killing nine. This incident took place a mere few weeks after the first peaceful protests broke out in Syria, and so traces violence against government forces back to the start of political upheaval in the country.

    “Witnesses” quoted by the BBC, Al Jazeera and The Guardian insisted that the nine dead soldiers were “defectors” who had been shot by the Syrian army for refusing orders to shoot at demonstrators.

    Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, debunked that version on his Syria Comment website. Another surviving soldier on the bus – a relation of Lt. Col. Yasar Qashur, #6022 on the SOHR list, whose funeral I link to above – denied that they were defectors too. But the narrative that dead soldiers are mostly defectors shot by their own troops has stuck throughout this conflict – though less so, as evidence of gunmen targeting Syrian forces and pro-regime civilians becomes belatedly apparent.

    … People have to stop this knee-jerk, opportunistic, hysterical obsession with numbers of dead Syrians, and ask instead: “who are these people and who killed them?” That is the very least these victims deserve.

    Full article:
    link to english.al-akhbar.com

  14. Fredblogs
    March 20, 2012, 3:18 pm

    Perhaps the reason it is seen as worse is that governments are supposed to have ways of controlling their own people short of killing them. Like arresting them. You don’t have the same level of control of an enemy people so your alternatives may be “kill them” or “let them get away with whatever they have been doing”. When “whatever they have been doing” is “firing rockets at you”, the “killing them” alternative may seem more attractive than the “letting them get away with it” alternative.

    • Woody Tanaka
      March 20, 2012, 4:03 pm

      I knew it wouldn’t be long until someone could come up with some way of saying “Israel’s enemies killing bad, Israel killing good.”

    • tree
      March 20, 2012, 4:32 pm

      In case you weren’t really paying attention to what you just said, you just justified rocket fire from Gaza, as well as suicide bombers. After all, Israel has been firing missiles and lobbing bombs at Gaza for years, so then the “killing them” alternative, even though mostly ineffective, may seem more attractive than the “letting them get away with it” alternative. Israel, on the other hand, has proven quite capable of arresting Palestinians. Palestinians arresting Israelis, not so much.

      • Fredblogs
        March 22, 2012, 12:02 pm

        Nope, those things aren’t justified. Well, rockets aimed at military and suicide bombers in military uniform who target the military are justified by the war, the problem is that the Palestinian rockets and suicide bombers are aimed at civilians (a war crime). Well, that and the suicide bombers are dressed like civilians (another war crime, perfidy), which really hurts the real Palestinian civilians because they look just like suicide bombers to the Israeli soldiers. The immorality is in the choice of targets, and the use of tactics banned by the Geneva Conventions (like using ambulances as military transports and hospitals as military HQs) not on the fact of attacks. I don’t even have a problem with them capturing Israeli soldiers like Gilad Shalit, though holding him without letting the Red Cross visit him would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions, if the Palestinians acted like signatories to the Geneva Conventions.

        Also in the “killing them” alternative the “them” I’m referring to is their military (whether official or terrorist).

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