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.