An undercover Al Jazeera correspondent takes us inside the lives of Syria’s anti-government demonstrators.
By: EdwardTeller Friday March 16, 2012 8:44 pm
I. On March 16, 2003, Near the southeast border of Gaza, Evergreen College senior Rachel Corrie was run over by an Israeli Army bulldozer, and killed. Four days later the United States invaded Iraq.
Soon after the war started, I decided that I would write an anti-war musical composition, centered around Corrie. After sharing my proposed lyrics with her family, I got their permission to go ahead. Six months later, The Skies Are Weeping was complete, and we were beginning to rehearse the work for soprano, small chorus and percussion ensemble with the University of Alaska Anchorage’s percussion group.
In the lead-up up to a public meeting about the work’s perceived anti-Israeli content, I became the subject of an incredibly intense on-line attack, peaking on April 7th through 10th, 2004, at hundreds of hostile e-mails per hour. By the time the meeting was held, co-hosted by an Anchorage rabbi, I had decided that I couldn’t expose the kids in the percussion group or choir to the same vituperation and beyond that I was experiencing and being threatened with.
I have not posted the past four weeks. In the meantime, the Assad’s army entered Homs, and then Idlib as FSA withdrew from both cities, massacres have taken place Car bombs have returned to the picture, just as Annan is expected to send a team of experts. However, the new car bombs have targeted areas with Christian majorities including today’s explosion in Aleppo’s sleimanyeh quarter. This is consistent with warnings signs that came out last week regarding the regime’s intent to wrap up its perceived victory by increasingly forcing Syria’s Christians to take a sectarian side.
Here are a few comments on specific issues.
Batta (Duck), a befitting address by a “modern” wife and by an admiring young woman to a man whose army assisted by vile militia gangs is terrorizing and murdering Syrians ever since some of these Syrians declared that they have had enough of his family’s totalitarian control over their lives and are no longer willing to take it.
Oddly enough, absent (to-date) from the leaked emails are indications of any involvement by senior government officials, business partners, religious figures, or even social climbers’ in the narrow circle the boy-king has surrounded himself with. What we notice is the critical role of two intern-level women (Shehrazad Gaafari and Hadeel Al-Ali) along with the notorious Luna Al-Shible in proposing media campaigns and passing information and summaries to the boy-king who is occupying his busy time with state affairs in parallel with trivia such as downloading teens songs from I-tune and playing harry potter games among other life occupations.
The men in the email are different. They are security oriented. One passes advises (or commands) from key Iranian and HA contacts, still through the interns. Another (Khaled Al-Ahmad) seems to be the personal envoy-spook of the boy king traveling throughout the country’s hot-spots and making observations and recommendations while connecting with regime-friendly Lebanese tycoons. The father in law remains heavily engaged as well, putting to rest claims of his family’s distance from the murderous regime and placing himself at risk of being the first member of the regime to be successfully tried in the west for abetting and aiding crimes against humanity. He may be followed by his daughter, who may now be tried in the UK for violating sanctions, independent of what trivial, yet expensive items she seems obsessed with purchasing.
What comes out drives a dagger at the heart of the loyalists and regime-made opposition claims that they oppose the revolution because it threatens to destroy the institutions of the state. It also obliterates the loyalists frantic efforts to retain the fraudulent image of a “normal” president and state. Clearly, when a young, albeit seasoned diplomat such as Jihad Maqdisi has to rely on a intern level advisors to pass his opinions to the head of state, one must wonder the extent at which the Assads believe in these institutions. Needless to say, pro-freedom thinkers and intellectuals have argued from day one that under the Assads, there are no institutions or state, as all are simply overshadowed by a cancerous criminal-security apparatus and mafia family.
Some of us will get busy trying to decipher the interpersonal relationships of the boy-king now sarcastically known as Batta in attempts to demonstrate the increasingly isolated family. However, the presence of these intern-senior-advisors and their impacts on the actions taken by the regime can not and should not be trivialized by sarcasm. Information provided to the boy-king by these people were acted upon and may have resulted in deaths, including those of journalists in Homs. And if anything they indicate that the boy-king is in control and has directed actions either by transferring the information to his henchmen, or by directly ordering actions. These advisors are not merely providing media advise, but far more sinister advises, even if the emails do not reveal direct orders from the boy-king to his high ranking officers and henchmen. The compartmentalization of connections only illustrates his lack of trust in the state and its institutions not to mention his derogative description of his own fraudulent reform laws. It is no wonder that regime apologists on Syria Comment are now blasting Joshua Landis for publishing the little he did of these emails. The little that has been leaked exposes their own moral degeneration.
In the aftermath of the continuing leaks, Nir Rosen seems to be in the hot seat now. On at least two occasions, he was described by both the intern and the in law as being “helpful” to the regime. Although it is more than possible that in both cases, the two “inner-circle” members have interpreted any critique of the opposition as favorable to the regime, and thus bestowed the “helpful” title on Rosen, critiques of Rosen seem to focus on the implication that he may have divulged information that was used to help the regime’s aggression against homs. Rosen himself has written a post protesting his innocence. I will now from opinion on his response and would leave it to the readers to decide.
Where to ?
Antisemitic who ?
Who or what could have prompted Ali-Abuminah to write such a counter-productive diatribe against the beneficial works of Atzmon ?
Palestinians boycotting and in effect censoring a hard-hitting, courageous fellow traveler is a disgraceful act and poor strategy. It has come as a rude shock to many of us genuine campaigners for Palestine.
I’m pretty sure Mr. Abunimah didn’t read Atzmon’s book.
Does he not know that Atzmon’s book has been clearly blessed, endorsed and reviewed by illustrious authors and researchers, and alternative media stalwarts, long time ‘Friends of Palestine’ the likes of Messrs. John Mearsheimer, James Petras, William A Cook, Jeff Gates, Paul Balles, Alan Hart, Kim Petersen , Richard Falk, and scores of others as no other book ?
Do the signatories on the anti-Atzmon condemnation paper have a problem with all of the above mentioned writers?
Do their work get space on Ali Abunimah’s Electronic intifada blog ?
Does Abunimah & Co. even realize that these respectable committed campaigners have spent a life time writing volumes to spread awareness about the Palestinian struggle through their writing and activism and many of them have wound up uterly frustrated and penniless precisely due to the lack of any unity, organization or support from diaspora Paletinians? Shame on you!
‘Gilad Atzmon has written an absorbing and moving account of his journey from hard core Israeli nationalist to a de-Zionized patriot of humanity and passionate advocate of justice for the Palestinian people. It is a transformative story told with unflinching integrity that all (especially Jews) who care about real peace, as well as their own identity, should not only read, but reflect upon and discuss widely.’
Professor Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University, author of over 20 books, and UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestinian Territories.
‘Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it increasingly difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their ‘Jewishness.’ Panicked Jewish leaders, he argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim. As Atzmon’s own case demonstrates, this strategy is not working and is causing many Jews great anguish. The Wandering Who? should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike.’
John J. Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago
‘Gilad Atzmon’s book, The Wandering Who? is as witty and thought provoking as its title. But it is also an important book, presenting conclusions about Jews, Jewishness and Judaism which some will find shocking but which are essential to an understanding of Jewish identity politics and the role they play on the world stage.’
Karl Sabbagh is a journalist, television producer and the author of several books including A Rum Affair, Power Into Art, Dr Riemann’s Zeros and Palestine: A Personal History. He is currently the publisher of Hesperus Press
‘Gilad Atzmon‘s The Wandering Who? is a series of brilliant illuminations and critical reflections on Jewish ethnocentrism and the hypocrisy of those who speak in the name of universal values and act tribal. Relying on autobiographical and existential experiences, as well as intimate observations of everyday life, both informed by profound psychological insights, Atzmon does what many critics of Israel fail to do; he uncovers the links between Jewish identity politics in the Diaspora with their ardent support for the oppressive policies of the Israeli state.
Atzmon provides deep insights into “neo-ghetto” politics. He has the courage – so profoundly lacking among western intellectuals – to speak truth to the power of highly placed and affluent Zionists who shape the agendas of war and peace in the English-speaking world. With wit and imagination, Atzmon’s passionate confrontation with neo-conservative power grabbers and liberal yea sayers sets this book apart for its original understanding of the dangers of closed minds with hands on the levers of power.
This book is more than a “study of Jewish identity politics” insofar as we are dealing with a matrix of power that affects all who cherish self-determination and personal freedom in the face of imperial and colonial dictates.’
Professor James Petras, Bartle Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, author of more than 62 books including The Power of Israel in the United States.
‘Atzmon’s insight into the organism created by the Zionist movement is explosive. The Wandering Who? tears the veil off of Israel’s apparent civility, its apparent friendship with the United States, and its expressed solicitude for Western powers, exposing beneath the assassin ready to slay any and all that interfere with its tribal focused ends.’
Professor William A. Cook, Professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California, and author of The Rape Of Palestine.
‘The Wandering Who? features Gilad Atzmon at his delightful and insightful best: engaging, provocative and persuasive.’
Jeff Gates, author of Guilt By Association: How Deception and Self-Deceit Took America to War
‘The Wandering Who? is a pioneering work that deserves to be read and Gilad Atzmon is brave to write this book!’
Dr. Samir Abed-Rabbo, author and Professor Emeritus in the field of international law. He is director of the Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies in Brattleboro, Vermont and the former Dean of The Jerusalem School for Law and Diplomacy.
It is a scholarly and truly monumental work, deeply profound and, of course, controversial.
Alan Hart, British Journalist and former covert diplomat in Middle East, ITN’s News at 10, BBC’s Panorama
Kudos to the publishers ‘Zer0 Book’ for pretty much outlining the problem:
Contemporary culture has eliminated both the concept of the public and the figure of the intellectual. Former public spaces– both physical and cultural — are now either derelict or colonized by advertising. A cretinous anti-intellectualism presides, cheerled by expensively educated hacks in the pay of multinational corporations who reassure their bored readers that there is no need to rouse themselves from their inter-passive stupor. The informal censorship internalized and propagated by the cultural workers of late capitalism generates a banal conformity that the propaganda chiefs of Stalinism could only ever have dreamt of imposing.
Zero Books knows that another kind of discourse — intellectual without being academic, popular without being populist — is not only possible: it is already flourishing to the regions beyond the striplit malls of so-called mass media and the neurotically bureaucratic halls of the academy. Zer0 is committed to the idea of publishing as a making public of the intellectual. It is convinced that in the unthinking, blandly consensual culture in which we live, critical and engaged theoretical reflection is more important than ever before.
We have the potential on the Internet, for this “other kind of discourse.” intellectual without being academic, popular without being populist but only if we can keep it free from government interference and regulation and Zionist infiltrators! Which is not only possible but essential if we are to ever have or regain a reliable exchange of factual and honest ideas, knowledge and information which has not been twisted to the degree that the truth is no longer evident in order to fit some marketing or political objectives.
That means that the lie will have equal opportunity to ride First Class as well as the Truth. But… given any sort of government or economic controls or Zionist influences, then the Lie will supersede the Truth, and the forces of market and politics will prevail, and Truth, knowledge and real information will fade from the pages of history.
Earlaiman a frequent commentator on these pages astutely observes that most of the signatories on the anti-Atzmon condemnation paper are located in foreign (non Palestine) nations where they probably feel fat and secure in their high and lofty offices, pulpits and lectures.
These folks and those like them justify fully a former US Military strategic analyst Dr. Alan Sabrosky’s, criticism of the Palestinian movement’s “leadership” in the first of a series of his articles last summer, that so upset some within the Palestinian movement.
When the ship is sinking, blame someone who criticizes the organizers of the voyage. Never, ever, blame yourselves or the people who took you onto the rocks.
But then, what else can one expect from the same people who have led Palestine and Palestinians for 60 years from one triumph to another….?
These people are either fools, or dupes of the Israelis, or simply too terrified of what the Israelis can or will do to them, or some combination thereof.
I don’t always agree with Atzmon, and many people don’t agree with me, but so what? Reasonable people can disagree.
Each and every one of us has his or her own foibles and hobby-horses, and whether we give rein to them occasionally or not, as long as the principal thrust of most of our work is directed at our main chance — which is countering that of the Zionists — we all need to exercise patience and charity, let the occasional transgression (as one or more of us may see it) pass unremarked, and continue the good fight. Internal dissension and a needlessly purist worldview just help our common enemy.
Issue with Atzmon in this instance is that he has gored accurately some exceptionally sacred (in a secular sense) Israeli/Jewish oxen, hence the response from the Palestinian variant of “Uncle Toms & Aunt Jemimas.”
Tim King goes directly to the heart of the matter when he identifies the difference… “…knowing right from wrong and acting on it.”
It is really that simple!
Mona flinches each time she hears a bang in the chaotic refuge in the Lebanese mountains that has been her home for a week. The five-year-old wears several layers of baggy, boys’ clothes and clutches a ragged, blue bear. “I always get scared. My father is in Syria so I worry a lot about him,” she says. Bed-wetting and terrorised wails are nightly features of the lives of the 30 children who fled Homs and Qusayr, a nearby village, with their five mothers in two convoys last week.
Some of the children are boisterous and grapple for attention. Others sit in silence, their eyes dart around and their heads jolt each time the louder ones clap or smack the floor. Others sit in the centre of the room, frenziedly banging the carpet and imitating the chant leaders so familiar in videos of Syria’s protests.
“I know what they say at the demonstrations,” shouts Mona. In perfect unison they sing a chant about the revolutionaries of every Syrian town: “In Latakia they are safe, thank God; in Homs are the brave.” Each new rhyme they recite is more sinister – calling for the Shabiha, the regime’s militias, and Bashar al-Assad, to be hanged, for Muammar Gaddafi’s fate to befall them. The children belt out the words with a tragic glee. “We will not sleep until the ass steps aside,” cries 11-year-old Ala. When he grows up he insists he will be “the great leader of the revolution”.
Mona wants to become a doctor to help the wounded. “I was shot in the back,” she shouts, clasping a hand over her spine. She lifts her top to reveal her back is unscathed and giggles. The family says she wants to be like her mother, who has shrapnel from mortars lodged in her arm. They gather around a cast iron heater in the snow-capped mountain town. All live in three rooms, housed by a local NGO called the Islamic Group.
The assault on Homs and Qusayr intensified two months ago. When the breaks between the children’s screams narrowed and shrapnel burst in through the windows, five families decided to flee. They left the two neighbouring towns for the Baalbek mountains in Lebanon, smuggled across by those they describe as “good people”.
“We changed cars every six minutes,” says Ala. His mother says it was every 15, during a three-hour, 100km journey. Men who intimately knew their patch and the sniper positions bundled the children into a desperate relay of vehicles until they reached safety. The men stayed behind to defend the town. During a break in the bombardment the women packed a few possessions and left. Nearby buildings had been gutted by blasts and it was only a matter of time before their homes would be hit.
For months the children had not dared to go outside. Their homes were often immersed in total darkness as the electricity failed. They lived off meagre rations from last year’s harvest and had limited supplies of water as shells had hit the tanks on the roofs.
“Even if the children can escape the country, they often can’t escape the conflict and the fear it creates,” says Andrew Wander, emergencies media manager at Save the Children. His organisation is scrambling to create projects to support the vast influx of children into countries bordering Syria. Some of the children have been orphaned; others have only one parent left.
Two of the children in the crammed Baalbek home have a rare condition they call sumak – or fish – because it turns skin grey and scaly. It is an extreme form of psoriasis that has been left untreated for months. Ala, one of the sufferers, is prematurely aged, his raw and angry skin stretched over his bones. He perpetually forces a smile through cracked skin, but his face falls when he believes no one is looking. Every medical facility had closed in Qusayr, and Lebanese doctors are unsure what to prescribe – they have never seen such a severe case. He has the gravelled and wizened voice of an old man: “In Syria life is miserable,” he says.
“We know the children here in Lebanon are just the tip of the iceberg; there are many still in Syria and to get to them we need full humanitarian access,” says Mr Wander, who is desperate for the Syrian government to permit the creation of an aid corridor to reach those most in need.
Ala’s older brother, 14-year-old Mohammed, sits sullenly disengaged in the corner. He only looks up when the homeowner says he is unsure how long he can host them. It is clear he feels the burden of responsibility for his sprawling family, catapulted into this position by the grim turn of events. When questioned Mohammed gives curt, often untrue, answers. Asked if he joined the demonstrations, he says he did not. But his mother, 42-year-old Tfaha, says: “He did, he went every day – I encouraged him.”
Mohammed later admits he would like to join the Free Syrian Army. Would he not be scared? “No, I’d know I was defending our honour and our country.”
“If they had enough weapons we would all join,” says Tfaha.