Let us suppose for the sake of argument that Syria’s Assad regime does enjoy a considerable amount of legitimacy, and that their concerns of an armed insurgency designed specifically to advance Western imperial interests are acceptable. Let us also accept, for one second, that the revolution in Syria is the main bastion of extremism and terrorism, and that there are no elements in it that could be reasoned with to sustain a stabler and more desirable future for Syria. Then given this legitimacy, and acceptable concerns, it must follow that the regime must have a some sort of moral ground upon which it makes its decisions. And this moral ground must be the product of certain moral feelings or moral values that legitimize any action. The question then becomes, how do these moral values or feelings allow a regime that purports to have the moral upper hand in a civil conflict justify its policy of collective punishment against armless civilians?
We have, for the longest time, rejected Israel’s claims that it does what it does in order to quell an Islamic insurgency in the Palestinian territories. From the Zionist perspective, there are unfavourable elements in the West Bank and Gaza, that possess an Islamic character that obstructs any possibility of having a meaningful settlement to the 65 year old conflict. From their perspective, Hamas uses civilian bases to launch attacks, verbal and militaristic, in order to undermine the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. These bearded individuals use terror and intimidation to extract concessions from the Jewish state, and because there is not an easy way to stop them, they must, begrudgingly (as they claim in some instances) bite the bullet and attack civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Furthermore, the Zionist narrative maintains that if the civilians of the besieged Gaza Strip want to stay alive, then they must abandon any areas where Hamas may exist. They must relocate to another place in this highly dense strip in order to leave the room open for the Israeli military to attack Hamas bases and neutralize them (with minimum civilian damage). However, those who support Hamas (and evidently these are many) must accept the consequences of their actions: they voted for an organization that they know is labelled by the international community as terrorist. They deliberately chose Hamas to represent them; therefore, the Zionist entity cannot possibly be blamed for wanting to protect their lands from these terrorist supporting Palestinians.
Such is the Zionist narrative, and as Palestinian activists we have always rejected it, in its entirety, and have gone to great lengths to expose the hypocrisy of Israel and its savage character. Solidarity groups from all over the world compiled long lists of evidence that demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that Israel exacts vengeance upon the Palestinians indiscriminately and intentionally. And we, the activists, have gone as far as saying that even if we were to bite the bullet (again for one second only) and accept that Israel is right in its claims that Hamas is threat to peace and security, then that does not, in any way, shape or form, justify its strategy of collective punishment. Why should an entire population be punished for something only a few has done?
And I maintain that this is exactly the case in Syria. Even if we were to accept, for one second, that the concerns and claims of the Syrian regime are legitimate and acceptable, then that does not, in any way, shape or form justify its policy of collective punishment against the Syrians all across the country, and it certainly does not justify its policy of collective punishment against the Palestinians of Yarmouk.
No moral principle can possibly sustain the claim that in some cases it is acceptable to target civilians even if these civilians are opposed to the government’s point of view. In fact, especially when civilians stand in opposition to the government and its policies, this government must do whatever it takes to protect the right of these civilians to express dissent even if this means making those who are in power ‘uncomfortable.’
So if we, as Palestinians, wholly reject collective punishment exacted upon our brothers and sisters in Occupied Palestine, then why are some of us applying different moral standards to the crisis in Syria? Why is it that when Assad’s forces are shelling Hama and Aleppo there is a silence that pierces that heart and soul of every person of conscious? Why do some Palestinians go out of their way to find reasons to stay neutral when it has become more than evident that the brutal regime in Syria knows no limits to destruction, death and carnage? And why do some try to discredit this revolution by using the claim that there are certain elements that pander to the West and are ripe with corruption when at the same time our own leadership in Ramallah is in bed with Zionist politicians in Tel Aviv and Washington? Should we not clean our house before we tell others to clean theirs? Or do the Syrians not deserve the same moral standards that we apply to ourselves?
These are very important questions. The credibility of our claim to return and liberation depends on showing uncritical support for the return and liberation of other oppressed peoples as well. We must cast aside our attachment to neutrality and replace them with unequivocal rejection of anything that comes out of the Syrian regime. We must express in the clearest of terms our support for the millions of Syrians who continue to reside in more than abhorrent circumstances in under-equipped refugee camps where many have died from starvation or piercing cold. Palestinians, who for the past 65 years, have taught the entire world what it means to be persevere, strong, collected, and filled with life, must realize that it is time to stand at the front line of the struggle against Assad’s regime and say that enough is enough.