The Thin Line Between Us And The Enemy
I was just a freshman in late 2008 when Israel waged a major offense against Gaza. Just like most Syrians, I thought of that battle as my own. We have never distinguished ourselves from the Palestinians, not even during our current war. I recall being so outraged by the Israeli assault that I wrote a satire attacking not only Israel but also the entire Arab World for not doing enough to help the people of Gaza.
Unlike most people here though, I didn’t really bear grudges against Israel despite my criticism. I often criticized groups such as Hamas and even Fatah, and blamed them for perverting a just Palestinian cause; a cause that I don’t confuse with hatred. Whenever I discussed its nature with friends, colleagues or family, they accused me of sinning with thought. I was repeatedly scolded at by my parents, harshly criticized by some close friends, and lost communication with many potential friends who weren’t able to tolerate my opinions.
Still I did not like Israel’s military tactics or policies, which I believed empowered extremists even further. I was remote, so it was easy for me to make quick judgments on all sides and stick to utopian principles, without experiencing the actual fight. Syria was pretty stable back then. The last major war we had had was the confrontation between our military and the IDF in Lebanon in 1982. It wasn’t on our soil, and my generation wasn’t even born to witness it.
In 2008, I didn’t know what it was like to be hit by a mortar, observe the aftermath of an airstrike, or see an actual tank outside the military museum. To me war was just another subject in my school textbooks and another column in my father’s newspaper. Living in Damascus now, I can’t help it but look at things differently.
The war in my country hasn’t really changed the way I’ve always viewed the Israeli-Arab conflict but it has certainly changed how I feel about it. For the first time, it feels so real. It’s no longer a prize-winning image on a magazine cover, nor is it a touching report in a newscast. The truth is I no longer relate to either.
Even though the recent Jerusalem tragedies feel a lot more real, I’ve become very careful not to denounce, condemn or bewail. These are pretty serious actions that might result in disaster if we don’t know what we’re talking about or where to direct them. Often, we don’t understand what’s happening and we simply react to wars and political crises, whether in the Eastern Mediterranean, Iraq or Ukraine. It’s so hard not to get mad as hell when you hear about an Arab teenager burned alive or a Rabbi slain while praying. It’s easier to react with rage but that sometimes leads to dire consequences.
The enormous anti-Russia campaign in Ukraine has greatly damaged Russia’s economy and diplomacy. The ruble has dropped dramatically causing net losses of hundreds of billions. Even though he’s been ranked as the world’s most powerful figure, Putin has never been as isolated. His early departure at the G20 this week was just the beginning of perhaps a series of unpleasant moments in his career. If damaging Russia was the point, the Ukrainians have certainly succeeded, but is that even a real success?
In reality, this campaign has not, and will probably not succeed in addressing Ukraine’s most significant problems, which really have more to do with Ukraine than Russia. Yet, it has partly resulted in the annexation of Crimea, or at the very least made that process a lot easier. It has deepened the division between eastern Ukraine and Kiev, granting Russia wider control in the country. The Russians are losing in many places today but Ukraine is not one of them. The Ukrainians, including those in the east, however, are losing their country — to the Russians.
In Syria, we’ve made headlines for years now. Initially, it was easy for most of us to condemn the government’s crackdown on what originally was a non-armed protest movement. There were too many wrong practices and policies on part of the government that were worth protesting, but to what extent?
Our condemnations leveled up to outrage within the country and worldwide. We immediately started to act on it. We demonized the Syrian authorities and decided to go after them instead of encouraging reforms. Freedom, which used to be the main theme for most demonstrations, faded away as protesters turned to sectarianism and political violence.
Our uncalculated outrage has basically made it acceptable for some countries, who’ve never really been our friends, to impose sanctions which are crippling our economy, greatly damaging our currency and targeting our very livelihoods. We have gone so far as to repeatedly ask these countries to attack our own, without even considering the consequences.
We’ve embraced a radicalized opposition that perverted our just cause into a power struggle, causing the vacuum which jihadi formations are filling today. We’ve provided grounds for an armed opposition led by warlords to engage in operations that continue to divide and destroy our country. Our revolutionary propaganda has on many levels twisted the concept of self-defense and legitimatized pure terrorism. (Relevant to my first piece for the Daily Caller)
The Israeli-Arab conflict has taken the same patterns for generations. No doubt, Arab Palestinians have suffered for decades many kinds of persecution and discrimination, not only by the State of Israel but also by other entities including the PLO and Hamas. Injustice has followed them even to the countries where they sought refuge. It’s understandable where their outrage and despair come from. They are certainly entitled to fight for a just cause that we must recognize and embrace.
Justifying the slaughter of Israeli civilians cowardly killed at a temple, however, does not fall into that category. Neither does using Israel’s violations as excuses to carrying out these attacks. We deceive the Palestinians every time we tell them otherwise. The end doesn’t justify the means, not that there were any good ends that justified Tuesday’s Jerusalem attacks. Airliner-and-bus-hijackers, suicide-bombers, mortars and rockets have forever failed to grant the Palestinian people any of the rights they’re deprived of. These methods have never prevented Israel from demolishing a single house, uprooting an olive tree or removing an army checkpoint.
On the contrary, the use of indiscriminate violence against innocent Israelis has provided grounds for successive Israeli governments to take further measures that oppress the Arabs. That includes building the West Bank barrier, placing entire Arab cities under siege for years and waging some of the deadliest and most destructive wars against them. The July Gaza assault was just an example. Why should butchering and running over Israeli civilians bring any different outcome?
The picture isn’t different on the Israeli side where PM Netanyahu thinks that Mahmoud Abbas’s condemnation of terrorist attacks is not enough. “I want to see outrage,” said the Israeli premier while commenting on the attacks. “I expect to at least hear the same condemnation in an uncompromising and unreserved tone.”
The Iron Dome has prevented hundreds of deaths last summer and maybe so did the West Bank barrier over the last ten years. However, both the dome and the wall fall into the same category as Israel’s most military operations, all of which are a set of costly measures put in place only to hide a major political failure. That is, failing to bring true and lasting security through peace. These measures are no more than the hard shell of a raw egg. One crack in that eggshell and the whole thing collapses.
Netanyahu clearly understands the root of this conflict. It lies in the “deep hatred and terrible incitement against the Jewish people and their state,” though he doesn’t address Israeli policy’s role in creating the very environments where anti-Semitic sentiments prevail. The fact that no Israeli leadership has committed to investing the last eight years of truce in the north, the relatively long periods of calm in Gaza or the security cooperation with Abbas in the West Bank to achieve a political breakthrough shows how illusive and fragile Israel’s concept of security is.
It’s hatred that threatens us all, not bombs or rockets. Tuesday’s Jerusalem attacks make this point very clearly. These attacks should be a wake-up call that no missile defense, gun control or counter-terrorism measures will protect us when hatred prevails. The thing about hatred is that you can’t overcome it by bombing your way out; that always backfires.
It is one thing to commit an immoral act, say justifying a war crime, to get something you need, but it’s a whole different thing to commit an immoral act that damages you and achieves nothing. That is sheer idiocy. Blind outrage often encourages us to be both immoral and foolish. And then we claim to have a cause, which we certainly don’t as long as we continue to delude ourselves into thinking that what really matters is not how much we can do for ourselves so much as how much damage we can cause to our adversaries. We often do so at the expense of our own people, so over the time it becomes difficult to even tell who’s responsible for their suffering, us or our enemies. Only then we become our own enemies.