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January 20, 2012

Keeping fingers crossed for Assad

We must admit, this is the Syrian people’s finest hour. It is not our finest hour.
By Aner Shalev

What is the final number? 4,000? 5,000? How many people have to die? Is 6,000 not enough? Are 6,000 people in a country that doesn’t have a lot of oil equivalent to just 600 dead in an oil superpower? What is the determining event? Is it indiscriminate sniper fire, even at funerals? Is it the killing of children? Is it systematic tank fire on city centers? Or is it gruesome torturing to death of protestors in front of a large crowd? Or is it perhaps terror attacks staged by the regime itself in its own capital, in the grand tradition of the burning of the Reichstag?

What is the red line that if crossed will make the world say, Enough? If Syrian blood is so cheap, perhaps the injuring of Arab League observers is a red line? Or mortar fired directly at a group of foreign correspondents and the death of a French journalist? What is the exchange rate for the blood of different nationalities?

Syrian protesters - Reuters - 19012012 Syrian protesters marching in Homs in late December. A heroic uprising that Israel hopes will fail.
Photo by: Reuters

Of all the revolutions in the Arab world, the Syrian uprising is depicted as being the most impressive and heroic. In Tunisia and Egypt, the army sided with the protestors within a relatively short time and forced almost immediate regime changes that gained American support. In Libya, the struggle took longer but even from its early stages seemed like a civil war with protestors using a range of weapons and later on receiving military assistance from NATO.

In no Arab country except for Syria has such restrained protest encountered such violent suppression, so determined and so cruel. In no other Arab country have protestors been abandoned by the enlightened world like they have been in Syria. And despite the tremendous risk, the many casualties and the uncertain chance of success, these protestors go out to the streets every day, without weapons, without support, armed only with faith. Yes, it is permissible to be moved by a heroic struggle for freedom and impressive displays of courage even in an enemy country.

Less impressive is the Israeli response to events in Syria. Defense Minister Ehud Barak posed as usual as a fortune teller and predicted that Bashar Assad would fall within a few weeks. Since then many weeks have gone by and Assad is still in power and still slaughtering. In the Israeli defense establishment, however, the prevailing sentiment seems to be panic over the possibility that the struggle to obtain freedom will succeed and the Syrian regime will fall.

Chief of Staff Benny Gantz spoke of a stream of Alawite refugees potentially flooding into Israel in such a scenario, and of Israel Defense Forces preparations for such an eventuality. Gloomy predictions of the transfer of dangerous Syrian weapons to Hezbollah are being made around the clock.

It is possible to read between the lines – Israel is not interested in Assad’s downfall. Israel is secretly rooting for Assad. Israel is silently praying that the murderous Syrian dictatorship hangs on, a dictatorship that means quiet on the Golan Heights without any threat of peace. As always, Israel prefers the status quo, the world of yesterday.

The world of tomorrow does not interest us, even if it may contain possibilities and dramatic change. Perhaps the fall of Assad will actually lead to the weakening of Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon and in the entire region? Who cares? We’ll take the threats. The Syrian uprising has already prompted Hamas to move from Damascus to other Arab capitals and made it more moderate. But it seems that we prefer an extremist Hamas.

The present Israeli leadership consists of the people of yesterday, who look forward to the past, swim against the tide of history and hastily flee from any change. The familiar is preferable to what is good and right. Who knows, perhaps the stream of Alawite refugees they are predicting for us here will also include Assad and his family. If we are already rooting for Assad, why don’t we give him political asylum?

We must admit, this is the Syrian people’s finest hour. It is not our finest hour.

Hama ’82 : memories and testimonies

Thank you for this beautiful but painful entry. This February is the month to finally face up to the crimes that happened to Hama, while we were sleeping, while we were young, while we were silent. It is time to read the words of the survivors and listen after we ignored them for decades. It’s time to weep for Hama, to weep for our past and present. It is time as a nation, to collectively mourn Hama openly, without fear, for the first time since 1982. Maybe by the end of the month, we will be able to let go of some of the guilt and move forward, knowing while Assad repeats the sins of his father, we are not repeating the sins of our silent fathers.

A very harrowing account. It can’t have been easy to recall such painful memories.

Such evil can never be permitted to exist. How can anyone in their right mind even contemplate compromising or having a dialog with the entity that created such barbarity.

Two elderly members of my family in their sixties were gunned down in their home in Hama in 1982. Their children recognized the father from his wedding ring, this how bad his body was.
The level of hatred is manifest in the extreme brutality that followed that is also accounted by the book from Tadmur to Harvard. In this book the account is very similar to one of my relations who was imprisoned for more than a decade and once released had to walk in his slippers the 20 km to Damascus and when he showed up his family did not recognize him for so emaciated he was and they thought that this was a vagrant coming in for begging.
Once a person was taken into custody the sentence was death and the trial was to either confirm or commute the sentence.

Dear Amal
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Your words do reflect what I was thinking as I was trying to finalize the translation of this installment. I had originally intended to have all of Khaled’s memories translated into a single post, but as I proceeded the feeling of guilt you so eloquently identified became overwhelming, and the only way to cope with it for me was to finish this segment and get it out, for I wanted the world to read Khaled’s words as soon as possible.

Yes, it is time to weep for Hama, as well as for the more than 6000 murdered by orders of the person who insisted on inheriting his father’s legacy as a butcher of Syria. And as we weep, and work, each within our best towards freeing ourselves and Syria, we forge a new country. A country that has finally learned to grief and to move positively.

The most distinguishing difference between those who support this revolution and those who have for months now only found reasons to stand against it is rather simple. We trust Syria and Syrians, they don’t. Poet Hala Mohammad now ends every post she writes by saying: Syria, I trust you. I think she is not being poetic only, but prophetic.

Words cannot describe the emotions I felt and feel from reading this post. I hope we Syrians can really learn our history no matter how dark it is, and insure that it never repeats its ugly face, and only enforce the great values that we all know and love.

And by the way OTW, the sentence “Syria, I trust you” is one of the most beautiful sentence I have ever read, and I believe in it with more conviction than anything else.

Thank you for this blog, I am learning so much about my Country, things that either I wanted to forget about, or was not aware of.

I still maintain that RIFAAT AL ASSAD was the main person responsible for Hama. Hafez may have ordered it, but Rifaat planned it and executed it. He was there in Hama throughout the Operation. He cannot be allowed to go scot-free, he is a killer, a killer in the same way the Mukahabarat Chief of Homs was a killer during the Clock Square Massacre. Anybody agrees with me ? It is criminal, no worse than criminal to trivialize the crimes of Rifaat just because he has distanced himself from the regime.

And what about Tadmur massacre ? that was done purely on the initiative of Rifaat, Hafez was recuperating in hospital at that time ( if u did’nt know the MB had tried to assassinate him at the Airport, the Tadmur Massacre was in retaliation for that).

I know u guys will label me a mukhabarati intent on obfuscating Bashar’s crimes. But I prefer calling a spade a spade, and Hama 82 was much worse than what has happened in the last 10 months ; and I prefer Rifaat to be in the dock along with his nephew(s).

Dear Observer
I hear your grief for your relatives. I have few of my close relatives who spent a lifetime in Tadmur, and when I finally had the chance to talk to one of them, he told me, there were times when we envied those who perished.

I believe there is not a single person in Syria in the 80s who did not have a distant relative or kinsman killed or imprisoned ( inclduing many regime bigwigs).

OTW,many thanks for this testimony.
In order to illustrate it ,here are photos from the past of the rased neighborhoods by assad’s militia which are on the left bank on the pictures .Can be seen the Sufi lodge of the Kilani and the Kilani neighborhood and al Hader further.

As I read this horrific description of what happened in Hama, all these images came back to me. It was the fall of 1980. My eldest brother had finished his high school and left to Europe with my mother to enroll in university there. We were left with my father. We went to private school in Aleppo. It was a Friday. My older brother was in eleventh grade and his school was only half day on Fridays. I was in tenth grade and my little brother was in third grade. We also had a shorter school day on Fridays. When the school day was over and all the girls were boarding the buses to go home, the principal showed up with a very tense look on her face and ordered all the girls on our bus down. We could not understand why we were asked to stay in school and why only us. We heard that a parent had called the school, talked to the principal and down right ordered her to keep our bus from leaving. I later found out that the parent was actually no other than my own father.
Our old apartment was in a nice neighborhood in Aleppo. Unfortunately, the back of our building shared a wall with the intelligence service branch of “Amn al Dawleh”, the state security. All you had to do was walk a few meters to the end of our street, turn right and walk a few more meters to find yourself in front of their entrance. We did not even dare walk down that street. We were told by our parents to avoid it at all cost. It was completely blocked off for cars, but theoretically, a pedestrian could use that street. In reality, only those who were unfortunate enough to live on that street walked it and they were constantly harassed.
My brother had returned from school right before the call for Friday prayers. Considering he was sixteen at the time and with two distant cousins already in prison, my parents had forbidden him from even thinking about attending the Friday prayer. It simply was not allowed and God knows he tried. Right after Friday prayer, there was the sermon and then the congregation decided to walk from the mosque to the intelligence service branch behind our apartment. Apparently, there were detainees in that branch and the people were demanding their release. The men walked the 15 minute distance to the branch in a peaceful demonstration. From what my father was told later by members of the intelligence service, the men approached the branch entrance demanding the release of the prisoners. The branch chief came out and asked them to leave, but they were not backing down. He warned them that if they kept getting closer to the gate, they will be shot. They did not heed his threats. As the men started marching closer and closer to the gate, all hell broke loose. The unarmed men were faced with what amounted to a firing squad aiming directly at them. My father and brother were inside our apartment, but too close for comfort. They ended up on the floor in the middle of an interior corridor feeling like there was war outside our doors. All my father could think about was my bus and my little brother’s bus coming back to drop us off and getting hit by stray bullets. He crawled to the phone, called the principal and told her to halt the buses. She argued, he yelled: “Can’t you hear the war through the phone. This is not a joke. You will get the kids killed. Stop the buses.” She wondered what to do with the kids. He assured her that the parents would much rather pick their kids up when it was safe. Please just keep them at school until we could come. She did. My father called again and asked to talk to me. He told me to walk to my little brother’s school and keep him with me until he could pick us up. My brother’s school was in the same campus as my school. I walked there with my best friend, who also had a sister there. We picked both up and walked them back to our school. We were all so very scared and had no idea what was going on. My father finally came. He was in the car with two young men wearing camouflage vests. When I got into the car, I stepped on something. I looked down to see two machine guns on the floor of the car. They acted as a foot rest for all four kids until we approached our area. We had to go through three check points. Without the two men in the car, we could have never been allowed to go through. The area was simply off limits to anyone. We dropped my friend and her sister off at their house and proceeded to ours, where my brother was left home alone and near hysterical. It was a mixture of fright and excitement. He recounted the events for me without stopping to take a breath. A few minutes later, we went to our balcony and collected a big bucked full of shells. There were a few bullet holes on the walls of our apartment, luckily, no glass shattered.
The next morning, our cook arrived to our house shaking. I opened the door for her. She rushed in and told my father that across from the branch in one of the gardens there was a big pile covered with tarp. As she got closer, she could see human legs covered with blood peeking through the sides of the tarp. She told my father that there were too many and started sobbing.

And in very high definition as high that we can perceive interesting architectural details ,such as the monumental iwan in a house near the zawiya.

Dear Sheila
Thanks for sharing .This is the first time I hear this incident with such details. There will be  trials, and people know the names of the chiefs of these dungeons of horror. Even if they are retired, and living with their sons and daughters in some nice western country, cases will be filed. We have to do it.

Dear Shami
Old timer and the always reliable walking heritage encyclopedia, that high-res image made my day. Never knew how superb was the architectural heritage of Hama. The destruction of such wonderful neighborhood should also be counted as a crime against humanity. DO you have more photos, please either post the link or email it to me at


“….and when I finally had the chance to talk to one of them, he told me, there were times when we envied those who perished.”

Your lucky to have been able to converse with your relatives. My cousin was not able to talk for years. Even when he spoke his brain was fried. He still thinks the mukhabarat are watching him from across the street through the 4th floor window of his room.

His crime: His name and phone # was found in one of the his friends / student pocket phone book (who later turned out to be a brother of MB). Pathetic! No trial, just a conviction of 16 year old teenager and 20 year prison sentence.

Dear 7ee6anis
As Husam, observer, Sheila, and I did, please do tell your stories, even if it is a single paragraph. Part of our cross-generational grief is telling stories, sharing photos (as Shami just did).

The next segment will be longer, and i am afraid, even more horrific.


I am not sure I will be able to read your next post, too troubling and depressing to read. I mean, I find the more I read and follow the news the more I can’t function. What am I to do, drop my life and children and join the revolution on the ground in Syria? Anything short of that is cowardice. I feel helpless.

the hama massacre happened before i was born, though my mother does tell me stories about how hamwis fleeing hama ,reached homs bare foot. i cringe at the thought of how they were isolated back then, no youtube,aljazeera,bbc, twitter, facebook to document their crimes. how did they live?!?!? : they didnt. They were brutally murdered and forgotten until now…………..

Thanks for sharing, part of what I am trying to do is to help the world understand what really happened. I now realize many people, thanks to Husam that many people will not be able to read everything, but it is my generation’s duty to make sure that your generation is informed of our mistakes. When you depose the fool dictator, if possible, make sure that you never ever trust a “leader”, never ever place a fuzzy concept, no matter how sublime it sounds, above the value of individual life.

Dear OTW,they are from the library of congress digital collection, you will find many photos ,many available in high res ,not only of Hama ,but also from the other syrian cities ,taken during the Ottoman late era and the french mandate time.

OTW, I will continue reading, for now I must stop.

I heard the horrors of Hama a year later, from a lady, who lived through it. I could not sleep for days.. cannot recount what I heard, could not read Khaled’s account of that horrific February, 1982…..We met outside Syria.

But I will always remember her voice, her affirmation. The children will grow, you will see, she said with a nod. We never talked about Hama after. No one did.

I will never forget the savagery. I lived it, through her words.

For two decades Syria looked like a dungeon from the middle ages. The walls had ears, your closest relatives and friends might be informants, they were not. It was the “shock and owe” of Hama. The nation was subdued. The youth imprisoned or exiled, tortured or dead. Discussions were muted.

… his son Bassel died in a car accident. We all felt like perpetrators, what is awaiting Syrians now? The verdict was issued. It was God’s will. Later, the father died, till this day I did not wish mercy upon his soul. Never will.

At the same time, I will never forget my ignorance, my naivety and immaturity for quickly forgiving and forgetting that the butcher’s son, is from the same poisonous milieu. He is surrounded by the same old guard that committed Hama, that humiliated Syrians, physically and emotionally.

This murderous family and their guards has written their last chapter, solely.


Thank you for doing your part. Our generation knows fully well what took place. That is why I am for equal representation and I don’t trust any “leader” but God. Syrians of all people know that in order to get anywhere in politics (in almost every country) you have to be scum.


The Hamwis and the Homasneh were never forgotten. I don’t have any in my family, but they are always in our conversation as brave people. Facebook, twitter, etc…was not around, but God was. Hafez continues to be tormented in his grave to this day.

His brother Rifaat, pencilneck, and the clan…their day is coming.

My step mother had two brothers who were arrested in 1981. Their crime was that they prayed at the same mosque as an imam whom the regime didn’t like. She never heard from them again. It was heart breaking to see how hopeful she and her family would be everytime the regime announced an “amnesty”, hoping for any scrap of news about her brothers.

I was very, very young in 1982, and living in Homs. My memories of those times are hazy, but what I remember the most was the memory of so many women wearing black. No body needed to tell me that something terrible had happened, something no one dared speak about.

Ya Hafiz fiq wa shoof,serna ensibak 3al makshof


Can you provide us with an acount of the Artillery School massacre in Aleppo ? That event has always mystified me, as to how 3 to 4 untrained people armed with AKs could masdsacre 70 military cadets after storming the compound.

I have read this account in Arabic before and this is an excellent translation. It did not lose any of its strength. Well done. I was too young during the events of 80′s but I remember the fear and the tank parked in front of our home and the marks it left on the asphalt for months later. I remember hearing the gun shots. I remember growing up knowing about missing relatives and the hardships their families encountered. I remember relatives dismissed from government jobs merely for having the wrong family name. The fear was suffocating.

Dear Nusayyif,
I was a teenager at the time and my information is based on what I have heard from my parents and their friends. Remember that there was never an independent investigation of what exactly happened there. All we got was the official story. My recollection of the incident is that a Sunni officer from the Artillery School in Aleppo gathered the young cadets in the school gym and with the help of a few other officers, locked the doors, trapped them in and opened fire. They specifically targeted Alawii cadets. The death toll was at 32 or 34 cadets. Ibrahim Yousef was the main perpetrator. He managed to escape, but was later captured by the end of the MB uprising and hanged.
The perpetrators did not storm the compound. It was an inside job.
The reaction to the massacre was mixed. On one hand people were happy that somebody was finally standing up to this tyrannical government, on the other hand, people were horrified at the killing of these young men just because they belonged to the president’s sect.
By the way, I do not think that Zabadani is 3 hours from Damascus as you claim. If you drive fast, you can reach Aleppo in 3 hours.

Ibrahim Al-youssef was the duty officer for that night. Duty officers have absolute control of the cadets and no one would have had any reason to suspect his orders to gather the cadets. He managed to also sneak in external collaborators. As you said, what he did was a crime that was used by the regime later on to aggravate sectarian hatred.

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