Douma, and right after the UN peacekeepers left, the half man ordered his stooges to fire tear gas on the protesters, the young and old were taking cover while cursing the despicable. In the mean time, the number had risen to 50, in Hama since the peacekeeper left the city
It may be that researchers would want to examine as long ago as the period from the 3rd century BC until the beginning of the 17th century in order to find a regime so frenetically building walls and barriers in a hopeless quest to hold onto stolen lands as we in Lebanon may soon witness in the south of the country. It was back in 221 BC that in order to protect China from the land claims of the Xiongnu people from Mongolia, the Xiongnu tribe being China’s main enemy at that time who sought the return of lands they claimed the Chinese had stolen, that the emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the construction of a wall to guard China’s territorial gains.
Lots of walls have been built throughout history to preserve occupied lands.The Romans built Hadrian’s Wall in England to keeep the Picts out and the East Germans built the Berlin wall to keep the people in.But no regime in history has built, in the span of six decades, the number of walls as the paranoid regime in Tel Aviv has erected. And it plans at least five more “anti-terrorist protective walls” including one slated to begin soon along the Lebanese-Palestine border at the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila. And that one may present a problem.
The decision to build a wall “to replace the existing Israeli technical fence” along the Blue Line near the town of Kfar Kila was announced last month by Tel Aviv. The announcement followed a meeting between the Israel military and UNIFIL and both are keeping fairly mum about what it knows about this latest wall but UNIFIL spokesman Neeraj Singh hinted to this observer that the first section will be about half a mile long and approximately 16 feet high.
Some south Lebanon residents are strongly objecting for among other reasons that the high wall will block the scenic views into Palestine. Others are ridiculing the reasons for the wall expressed by the US-Israeli lobby that will ask the American taxpayer to pay for it.
Israel firster, David Schenker, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, set up by AIPAC, told a Congressional hearing recently: “South Lebanon is obviously a very sensitive area [for Israel], being so close to Metula and the possibility of infiltration by Hezbollah and Palestinians is a legitimate concern. The Israeli government believes that a this wall will prevent terrorists from launching direct line-of-sight firing of things like RPGs and mortars. Even the throwing of stones which some tourists visiting the area are in the habit of doing.”
Local observers, UNIFIL officials and experts like Timor Goksel, who worked as UNIFIL’s spokesman for 24 years along the blue line, expressed surprise at why Israel is claiming that Kfar Kila is a particularly dangerous area that needs a wall.
In point of fact the area has not been a particularly hazardous or “sensitive” one historically, even when the PLO controlled the area in the 1970’s. Goksel explained; “In my 24 years’ experience, there were never any attacks there because it’s adjacent to a Lebanese village, so any attack there will make life for the Lebanese difficult. I don’t think anybody has ever thought of doing anything there. Moreover, even if you cross into Israel at Kifa Kula there, you’re not going to come across an Israeli position for a long time, so it doesn’t make sense for anyone to attack from there. What are you going to attack? There’s no target.”
Some local observers are speculating that the real reason Israel wants the barrier in Kfar Kila might be to stop its troops from bargaining for drugs in exchange for weapons and classified military information, as the IDF’s drug problem among its “northern command” soldiers has escalated since the battering it took in the July 2006 war.
Israel’s newest frontier wall will follow the one being erected along the 150-mile boundary between the Sinai and Negev deserts. That wall building project is due to be completed by the end of this year of 2012. Once the Kfar Kila wall is finished, Israel will be almost completely enclosed by steel, barbed wire and concrete, leaving only the southern border with Jordan between the Dead and Red Seas without a physical barrier. But that too, may be walled in the future according to Shenker. He testified that the reason was due to the uncertainty in Jordan and its increasingly wobbly government.
Yet another wall, approximately seven miles from the Mediterranean along the southern border will meet the fence Israel has already been built around Gaza. This wall runs for 32 miles, with a buffer zone, which Palestinians are forbidden from entering, and extends close to 1,000 meters inside the narrow Gaza Strip, walling off more prime Palestinian agricultural land. This “security war” has caged Palestinians inside Gaza but did not prevent the cross-border capture of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.
Along the Palestine-Lebanon border, a barrier built by Israel in the 1970s along the boundary was reconstructed, after Israel was forced out of Lebanon in 2000 following a 22-year occupation. This barrier did not prevent Hezbollah in a cross-border ambush in 2006, capturing two Israeli soldiers in order to negotiate a prisoner exchange. Nor did it prevent Hezbollah from firing of thousands of rockets during the ensuing 33-day war in retaliation for Israeli bombing much of south Lebanon.
And the “protective walls” rise like mushroom after a summer rain.
Further east from Lebanon, an Israeli barrier has been constructed on the ceasefire line drawn at the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, running between the Golan Heights, which Israel has illegally occupied for nearly 45 years, and Syria. It was here that hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators entered occupied Palestine last May, in the Golan and along the Lebanese border. More than a dozen people were killed and scores injured when Zionist forces opened fire on the unarmed civilians.
A crossing at Quneitra, now operated by the UN, does allow some movement of UN personnel, truckloads of apples, a few Druze students and the occasional Syrian bride in white.
A few miles north of Quneitra is Shouting Hill, where Druze families in the Golan yell greetings across the barrier to relatives in Syria.
Moving south through heavily mined fields and hills, the 1973 ceasefire line is bordered by Israeli military bases and closed military zones, and shells of tanks from past battles, until it connects with the border with Jordan. It then joins with one of Israel’s first walls, constructed in the late 1960s, which now stretches almost from the Sea of Galilee down the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea. Most of this line is not Israel’s border, but rather a barrier separating Jordan from the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Around a third of the way down this stretch, the barrier joins the infamous huge steel-and-concrete West Bank wall. This runs along or inside the 1949 armistice line, swallowing up tracts of Palestinian agricultural land, slicing through communities and separating farmers from their fields and olive trees. As with its other 18 walls and barriers, the Zionist regime claims it is simply a security measure, but many believe it marks the boundaries of a future Palestinian state, consuming an additional 12 per cent of the West Bank. Approximately two-thirds of its 465-mile length is complete, mostly as a steel fence with wide exclusion zones on either side. According to the current route, 8.5 per cent of the West Bank territory and 27,520 Palestinians are on the “Israeli” side of the barrier. Another 3.4 percent of the area (with 247,800 inhabitants) is completely or partially surrounded by the barrier.
Returning to the subject of the latest wall project, increasingly the Zionist regime opposes discussions, hearings, visits, expressions of solidarity with Palestinians, and even the viewing its garrison state from south Lebanon. Cutting off a view that people throughout history have marveled at represents a continuation of its isolation and xenophobia.
Following the joint meeting at Kkar Kila noted above, UNIFIL Major-General Serra said: “The meeting was called to assist Israel in putting in place additional security measures along the Blue Line in the Kafr Kila area in order to minimize the scope for sporadic tensions or any misunderstandings that could lead to escalation of the situation.”
In fact, the opposite with likely happen. In a recent visit to Ahmad Jibril’s Palestinian camp in the Bekaa Valley, and in discussion with salafist groups in Saida, it’s plain the wall will likely become an object of target practice and strain further UNIFIL and Hezbollah efforts to keep theborder calm.
In a scathing commentary in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper, defense analyst Alex Fishman recently wrote: “We have become a nation that imprisons itself behind fences, which huddles terrified behind defensive shields.” It has become, he said, a “national mental illness”.
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and is reachable c/o email@example.com
“In September last year I had been arrested again by the regime for organizing protests,” says Mr. Alloush, speaking on a cafe terrace in Beirut. “After they released me, I ran into a group of men I knew as members of the Free Syrian Army. I walked up to them and screamed: “You guys have stolen our revolution! You are just as bad as the shabiha,” the pro-regime militia in Syria.
The rebels kept Alloush for four days, after which they told him not to show his face in Homs again.
Alloush is part of the movement of young revolutionaries who began the protests against the Assad regime in March last year in the wake of similar uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. They feel sidelined by the violent turn the conflict in Syria has taken since the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was formed last summer. An armed group comprised mainly of former Army soldiers who defected from the regime, it is also reportedly cooperating with Sunni jihadis from abroad and many brigades have adopted an increasingly sectarian tone.
“Our revolution has been stolen from us by people who have their own agenda,” says a singer who uses the pseudonym ‘Safinas’ because she still lives in Damascus. “We are not violent people. We want to get back to the real thing. It was a clean thing when it started, but it has become something else now. I am against the regime, but I am also against the armed rebels.”
More than 200 peaceful Syrian activists are gathered in Cairo until tomorrow for a conference aimed at uniting revolutionaries around one common goal: returning to the nonviolent protests of last summer. While they acknowledge that the FSA has built up significant momentum, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar calling for the international community to arm the rebels, they see an opportunity for the momentum to swing back to the nonviolent activists if the United Nations cease-fire brokered by Kofi Annan holds.
“Mr. Annan’s plan is our main hope at this point and we are trying to have everybody abide by it,” says Haytham Khoury, a member of the Syrian Democratic Platform, attending Cairo’s conference. “We are contacting other opposition groups, trying to give hope to the people through media” to convey that “this is a very good step toward saving lives and regaining a completely peaceful revolution.”
The Syrian regime suspended military action beginning April 12, but reports of renewed shelling today underscore the fragility of the cease-fire, which is aimed at ending the violence that has killed more than 9,000 since the uprising broke out. With the international community struggling to gain leverage over the regime’s brutal crackdown, some Syrians see the FSA as their only option for freedom.
“Frankly, we’ve given up” on the international community, an activist in Damascus who identifies himself as Mar says via Skype. “You guys have let us down. The FSA is our only hope for salvation now.”
Assad’s government has characterized the uprising largely as the work of armed gangs and terrorists. The activity of the FSA, which has been accused of human rights violations as it fights the regime, has complicated what began as a revolution in which the masses peacefully but persistently demand political reform as Egyptians did in Tahrir Square.
Some say that the Assad regime views political change, rather than armed insurgency, as the greater threat.
“The regime is more afraid of the nonviolent protesters than it is of the armed Islamists. That’s why most of them have been forced to leave the country or are in prison,” says Yara Nseir, who was forced to flee Syria last summer after she had been detained 18 days for distributing leaflets. “They wanted it to become an armed uprising because it allows them to tell the world that they are fighting terrorists.”
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made a telling remark at an Istanbul press conference April 13, when he was asked if “the Syrian regime is afraid of their own Tahrir.” He replied, “That is what we have believed from day one.”
‘I told them to their face they are criminals’
Alloush, who fled to Lebanon to escape the FSA, was among the first activists to organize anti-regime protests in Homs when the uprising began in March 2011.
“Back then the regime would have armed troublemakers mingle with the protesters to have an excuse to open fire on us. Well, they don’t need to do that anymore: the Free Syrian Army has provided them with the perfect excuse to go on killing people.”
In February, Alloush went back to Homs clandestinely. He made the rounds of the city’s mosques to persuade the imams there to preach against the use of violence. When the FSA found out he was in town he fled to neighboring Lebanon once again.
Another young Syrian activist, who goes by the pseudonym Yusuf Ashamy, has also drawn the ire of the FSA.
Mr. Ashamy was in Tripoli in north Lebanon last month to ask the FSA for help in sending a shipment of medicine to besieged cities in Syria when Human Rights Watch published a report on severe human rights violations by the Syrian rebels.
In an open letter to the leaders of the Syrian opposition, Human Rights Watch cited “increasing evidence of kidnappings, the use of torture, and executions by armed Syrian opposition members.”
“I told them to their face they are criminals if they do such things, and that they know the meaning of the word freedom,” says Ashamy.
Ashamy was told he had better not show his face around Tripoli again if he wanted to stay alive.
“They have ruined everything,” Ashamy says of the FSA. “In the beginning we were all Syrians. But when I was last in Homs [late last year] I found that people there were not even aware of what is happening elsewhere in the country. They see this as a purely Sunni Muslim insurgency, and I was accused of being a spy because my ancestry is Druze. ”
Why the uprising has shrunk
“We are still many who want a peaceful revolution,” an activist who calls herself Celine says via Skype from Damascus. “But since it became an armed conflict, many people who were sympathetic to our cause have dropped out.”
It has also become much more dangerous to stage protests. “These days we only talk to people we know very well,” says Celine.
As a consequence, the protests have become much smaller. Celine describes one recent action.
“We had agreed to meet at a strategic intersection in central Damascus. Some of us set tires on fire, while others chanted slogans. The whole thing lasted no longer than five minutes. Bystanders wanted to join us but we’d already disappeared.”
It may not seem much, “but it is important that our voices are heard. And we make sure that our protests are filmed and the videos are sent out to the media.”
Leaders needed for ‘this sensitive period’
The Syrian National Council, an umbrella opposition group, is supposed to provide a channel for working for political change. But even Ms. Nseir, who is the SNC’s spokesperson in Lebanon, says the SNC is seen as too closely aligned with the FSA to present a real alternative to their armed rebellion.
“The SNC claims to be representative of the Syrian people. That’s just not true,” says Nseir. “They talk only about arming the rebels. They never talk about nonviolent resistance and they certainly do not speak for the ramadieen, or grey people, the silent majority who support neither the regime nor the armed rebels.”
Nseir has considered resigning from the SNC, as others have done, “but I was persuaded to stay on and try and change things from within.”
She has set her hopes on the Cairo conference. “We hope to agree on a message that everyone who is against the further militarization of this conflict can get behind,” she says.
“The opposition: They have to solve the problem,” says Ali Ali, a Syrian activist who was heavily involved in planning the nation’s uprising and now resides in Cairo, where he is attending the conference.
“The people who are demonstrating in the streets need to stop the blood and need a real opposition to lead this sensitive period,” he says, adding that like the regime, the opposition is responsible “for the blood that bleeds every day in Syria” and finding a way to make violence end.
“This conference is an arena for all political ideas and visions to meet,” says Syrian activist Orwa Al-Ahmed, now living in Dubai. “Most people are with the peaceful initiative. But to achieve this it requires the involvement of other political leaders and visions.”
The activists are not naïve: they know they cannot turn back the clock to last summer, before the uprising turned violent. But they are still determined to work toward peaceful solutions.
“There is no going back,” says Alloush. “The Free Syrian Army is a reality and we have to accept it. But that does not mean that we have to accept them as the leaders of this revolution. I know these people, and I know that many of them want to turn Syria into an Islamic republic if they get the chance.”
The Syrian opposition has called for mass demonstrations this Friday to test Mr. Annan’s peace plan. One of the conditions of the plan is that the regime allow freedom of assembly.
“We have a tiny window, but time is against us,” says activist Safinas. “We are fighting two regimes and two armies now.”
Two Afghan youth taking refuge together with the Afghan Peace Volunteers
Last weekend, in Kabul, Afghan Peace Volunteer friends huddled in the back room of their simple home. With a digital camera, glimpses and sounds of their experiences were captured, as warfare erupted three blocks away.
The fighting has subdued, but thevideo gives us a glimpse into chronic anxieties among civilians throughout Afghanistan. Later, we learned more: Ghulam awakens suddenly, well after midnight, and begins to pace through a room of sleeping people, screaming. Ali suddenly tears up, after an evening meal, and leaves the room to sit outside. Staring at the sky and the moon, he finds solace. Yet another puzzles over what brings people to the point of loaning themselves to possibly kill or be killed, over issues so easily manipulated by politicians.
I asked our friend, Hakim, who mentors the Afghan Peace Volunteers, if ordinary Afghans are aware that the U.S. has an estimated 400 or more Forward Operating Bases across Afghanistan and that it is planning to construct what will become the world’s largest U.S. Embassy, in Kabul. Hakim thinks young people across Kabul are well aware of this. “Do they know,” I asked, “that the U.S. Air Force has hired 60,000 – 70,000 analysts to study information collected through drone surveillance? The film footage amounts to the equivalent of 58,000 full length feature films. The Rand Corporation says that 100,000 analysts are needed to understand ‘patterns of life’ in Afghanistan.”
Hakim’s response was quick and cutting: “Ghulam would ask the analysts a question they can’t answer with their drone surveillance, a question that has much to do with their business, ‘terror’: “You mean, you don’t understand why I screamed?”
Two days ago, “Democracy Now” interviewed Hakim about on-going U.S. military occupation in Afghanistan. “If we don’t address the agreements that the U.S. and Australian governments and other governments are making for a long-term war strategy in Afghanistan,” Hakim observed, “we are heading for an increase in violence in this part of the world, in South Asia, perhaps perpetual war, more serious than the Kabul attacks.”
Analysts could better understand patterns of life in Afghanistan by mixing with Afghans in their homes and along their streets, unarmed.
The analysts would spend less tax-payer money but possibly obtain a genuine perspective on everyday life in Afghanistan. If they interacted with Afghan people instead of surveying them from the air, they’d be better equipped to study ‘terrorism,’ their supposed intent.
What if U.S. analysts could feel the frustration Afghans feel as convoys of trucks bearing fuel and food for U.S. soldiers drive past squalid refugee camps where children have starved and frozen to death (250 die of starvation every day; 40 froze to death since January, 2012 ).
Hakim again: “They would understand quickly, even through cursory study by one ‘non-analyst,’ that Afghans are just as infuriated by U.S. soldiers urinating on corpses as U.S citizens are by their own police pepper-spraying college students.
They would understand that just as U.S. citizens can’t even imagine living under the barrel of the Mexican army, Afghan citizens, including of course those labelled ‘insurgents’, dislike foreign guns. No number of Special Ops forces staying on perpetually beyond 2014 can make Afghans like foreign guns. This is what the U.S. Afghan Strategic Partnership War Agreement will do with at least 4 billion U.S. tax payer dollars a year spent just on Afghan security forces.”
16 year old Ali understands that the agreement being readied for the NATO summit won’t accomplish foreign troop withdrawal. This creates what for some is deadly distrust. Ali knows that a long-term foreign military means that the firing and killing will continue. “It’s tit-for-tat,” says Hakim, “U.S. soldier-for-Talib, dollars-for-rupees, and all those insensible human decisions that occasionally make Ali cry. But, the military and militant apparatus does not have human ears. It has bombs. So, when the recent Kabul attacks were going on, as seen in the very human moments in the video clip, the Afghan youth crouching in the refuge of a room were assured and delighted to hear from Voices activists, from across the miles, calling to ask how they were.
‘Ah! Someone cares. Someone listens.’
The monthly Global Days of Listening conversations which the youth have had with ordinary U.S., European, Middle Eastern and Australian citizens have helped change their lives person-to-person, overcoming the cold impersonal ‘shoosh’ of overhead rockets and under-running bloodshed.
Every day, Ghulam studies, cooks, washes the dishes and lives, very normally. But some nights, in the stupor of nightmares, Ghulam shouts subconsciously, out of ear-range to the million-dollar intelligence spies, ‘What kind of world is this that still insists on signing war agreements?’
How a battle over a Facebook page became a war for the soul of the Syrian revolution.
BY AMAL HANANO | APRIL 18, 2012
A woman stands in the middle of a busy Damascus street. Yellow cabs honk and weave around her. Her red dress, splattered with white paint, flows in the wind along with a red fabric banner held up above her head like a translucent shield. A group of people gathers on the sidewalk to observe as she turns side to side, for all to see. As we watch them watching her through our computer screens, we hear a new sound — not a familiar chant of the revolution, but loud claps of extended applause. When she faces the camera, we finally read her words: “Stop the killing. We want to build a country for all Syrians.”
Her name is Rima Dali, and she stood in protest alone, armed with a red scarf and a powerful message, in front of the Syrian Parliament on April 8. She would be detained for two days for her dissent.
Dali’s action, while brave, would have been easy to disregard as a fleeting incident if it hadn’t happened again, a few days later, in front of the Palace of Justice. And again a few days after that, when more people occupied Dali’s place and even more onlookers clapped from the sidewalk.
Activists like Dali, who had a strong presence at the beginning of the uprising, are trying to rewind Syria’s clock to the early months of the revolution, when the message of selmiyeh — peaceful — dominated the streets. During the past two weeks, despite the regime’s relentless violence, Syria protested like it was 2011 again.
During the 10-day lull between the announcement of U.N. and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan for a ceasefire and its implementation on April 10, violence sharply escalated in Syria — as it usually does before every international ultimatum directed at President Bashar al-Assad. But since then, while shelling and government attacks have continued in certain flashpoints, the daily death toll has decreased significantly. Within opposition circles, another sentiment was brewing even before the ceasefire: a realization that it’s time to reclaim the revolution in order to reclaim the country.
For months, the civic and social activism of these peaceful protesters have been rendered obsolete next to the physical heroics of the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) military operations against the regime’s brutality. Peaceful protests in city squares not only seemed impossible, but utterly useless against tanks, shells, and snipers. As armed resistance took its place within the revolution, the nonviolent activists slowly became passive pacifists. In recent days, however, that has changed.
This sea shift has been evident in the change in tenor of the names for the Friday protests. Every week, anti-Assad activists take to the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page where, every Wednesday, they vote on the name of the upcoming day of protest. With more than 444,000 “likes,” the page is one of the most popular online hubs of the revolution. In fact, people use the number of common “friends” they have with the page as a badge of honor: If you are pro-revolution and only a few out of your hundreds of friends have “liked” the page, it means you need to find new friends.
On April 6 — Good Friday — the chosen (and very awkward) name for the weekly day of uprising was rooted in Islamic history: It was the Friday of “He who has equipped a fighter has himself fought.”
The name was intended as a call for Arab countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia to fulfill their religious duty and arm Syria’s opposition. In stark contrast, last year on Good Friday, the Friday was named just that: al-Jumaa al-Azimeh, to express the unity of the Syrian people above divisive sectarianism. This time around, many asked: Why couldn’t the same name have been repeated again this year? But the long-winded name had won — by Facebook’s version of democracy.
Last week, before the Facebook polling closed for the name of the April 13 protests — the day after the U.N. ceasefire deadline, the day in which solidarity was key — one name was in the lead: the Friday of the Armies of Islam. Yet another divisive (and completely off message) choice. This time, however, peaceful activists were ready to take action and fight back in a battle for the Friday name.
On Wednesday, April 11, media activists on Facebook and Twitter began a campaign to “rock the vote” for Friday’s name. They advocated the secular, inclusive choice, “A Revolution for all Syrians.” It was an intense campaign. Usually around 8,000 votes are cast each week, but last week there were more than 30,000. It was as much a battle between Islamic sentiment and secular inclusiveness as it was a struggle between those dedicated to solely an armed resistance, and those who still valued the power of nonviolent activism.
The gap between the two names slowly narrowed, and eventually the message of unity won by almost 2,000 votes. This small but significant victory unleashed palpable excitement among Syria’s online activists: There was a sense that they had been heard and gained control of the revolution’s message, at least for the moment. It was a needed boost of energy to a group of worn-out activists and, more importantly, it proved that a revolution within the revolution was not only possible but necessary.
Syrians’ practice of naming the Fridays of the revolution was inspired by their Yemeni counterparts, who did the same thing during their revolution. The first Fridays were named by the Revolution page’s administrators, and reflected the popular aspects and crucial demands of the revolution: Friday of Dignity, Friday of the Martyrs, Friday of Freedom for Detainees, etc. The names grew to have such influence on the street that the various opposition groups decided everyone should have a say in naming each Friday. In an exercise of online democracy, a voting system was established on Facebook with a weekly suggestion of seven potential names — two nominated from the Revolution page, two from the Local Coordination Committees within the country, two from the Revolutionary Councils inside Syria, and one from the what is called the “red rose” group representing pacifists and secular individuals.
Some weeks, the names referred to current events, while others seemed to be random and at odds with the principles of the revolution. Fridays that request some sort of intervention have become common: There has been a No-Fly Zone Friday, for example, and Buffer-Zone Friday, a reference to the idea of setting up a safe zone for anti-regime Syrians along the Turkish border. Some Fridays seek to legitimize certain opposition factions — for example, “The Syrian National Council represents me Friday” and “The Free Syrian Army protects me Friday.” In fact, the Free Syrian Army was dedicated three separate Fridays of support.
The Friday names both stem from the street and in turn influence it. Especially for the politically charged names, the process seems to work in a cycle of forced legitimization: the Revolution page suggests the names, people on Facebook vote, the name is raised on banners held up by the people, who in turn give legitimacy to the name that was given to them. The name becomes a part of the revolution’s timeline — each week, it appears in media reports and video clips as the guiding principle behind the protests.
In the last two weeks, the need for active voices of nonviolent resistance was apparent in efforts both inside and outside Syria. One instance of Syrians being inspired by the world outside their borders was a flash-mob protest in the Sham City Center Mall in Damascus, which emulated flash-mob protests that have been popular for months with university students across American and Canadian cities, though of course without the same level of danger.
Another example of youth activism occurred in the early morning hours of April 12, the first day of the Annan ceasefire, when a large group of University of Aleppo students created a human SOS formation on campus grounds. Armed regime thugs soon arrived, locking the gates to trap the students. Some were beaten and arrested in the aftermath.
Recently, the launch of the Zero Hour Internet campaign — a manifesto calling for mass protests to occupy the squares and streets across Syria — created a positive, revolutionary buzz. Video clips supporting Zero Hour came from prominent activists inside Syria as well as supporters outside. While many are skeptical whether this hour will ever come to fruition, the strong, unified reception it has garnered from activists, opposition military forces, and politicians has underscored the urgent need for this message.
These events have emerged in tandem with the U.N. ceasefire and the beginning of yet another monitoring mission, with the first five of an advance team of 30 monitors arriving in Damascus on Sunday. The creative, nonviolent resistance tactics counter the regime’s escalation of violence toward the Syrian people, despite the agreed-upon ceasefire. The FSA, for the most part, has held the truce while the regime pounded areas in Homs, Zabadani, Idleb, Douma, Taftanaz and rural Aleppo with rockets and shells. Bullets from security forces and snipers continued to target civilians protesting in many areas of the country, including the cities of Aleppo and Deraa. Despite these gross violations by the regime, the opposition continues to restrain the armed resistance and call for peaceful civilian protests.
Rima Dali’s last Facebook status before being detained was inspired by a Martin Luther King quote: “The means we use to achieve our goals must be as pure as our goals.” Her message has since become a Facebook page, and inspired a renewed campaign of nonviolence. One of Dali’s friends, activist and harpist Safana Baqleh, was detained while attempting to protect her from security forces. She is still missing. On Monday, a group of activists protested in front of the Ministry of Interior once more. Their signs focused on the injustice Syrian citizens face every day at the hands of the police: “If you must arrest me, arrest me gently”; “If you want to arrest me, let my family know where I am”; and Rima’s direct question about her detained friend Safana, “Where is the harpist?”
Using means as pure as our goals is one of the most difficult — but also the most important — principles of the Syrian revolution. To follow it in the face of increased brutality, the opposition must fine-tune and recalibrate its actions and message as the revolution moves forward. The difference between the Revolution Facebook page and Rima’s red scarf is the difference between forcing a message and being the message. It is a lesson that the Revolution page, despite its popularity, must embody if it wishes to remain relevant.
In the beginning, no one thought Syria faced an endless list of Fridays ahead, but now, 57 Fridays in, it may be time to rethink the practice of naming the weekly day of revolt. The concept, once powerful and unifying, has grown tired and divisive. The Friday with a perfect name, “A Revolution for all Syrians,” marked a rare moment of rewinding the past and perhaps capturing a glimpse of what may have been if we had not grown passive. It’s a moment worth holding on to for a while.
Let every Friday be a day dedicated to the Syrian’s people fight for freedom and dignity. And let each one be called, simply, Friday.
Last Saturday I went on the saddest bike ride ever.
A few days prior I’d gotten an e-mail about a bike tour of the Jordan Valley, and I registered immediately. I thought it would be a great way to get some exercise, meet new people, and lend my support to Palestinian sumud (steadfastness) in the Jordan Valley. I volunteer in a village a little further north, so I’m familiar with the issues Palestinians face there: demolitions, land confiscations, resource theft, and the looming annexation threatened by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamain Netanyahu in 2010.
At 7:30 in the morning (a time I rarely see), I managed to be in Al-Manara circle in Ramallah, and after standing awkwardly on the sidewalk for a few minutes, I identified a group of fair-haired foreigners that looked sporty and out of place enough. I went up and introduced myself, and found that most of them were European, many of them Danish, in fact. I shared that my father’s family was Danish, but I couldn’t remember from where. It wasn’t a very good story. The organizer then led our walk to the bus. For five minutes the fair-haired foreigners ruled Rukab Street, before we climbed into our big maroon bus and waited to move out. We were joined by a handful of Palestinian girls who looked much more bright-eyed and bushy tailed than me. I spent the next hour and a half drifting in and out of sleep, while trying to catch the conversations around me and take in the view of the desert hills we were descending from. We were taking the windy Palestinian route, not the highway that connected the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley with Israel ’48. That straight shot gives Israelis and tourists easy access to a part of the Territories that doesn’t look very disputed, with Hebrew signs and rest stops and military monuments. And here we were, a bus full of ajaneb (foreigners), descending on the valley first and foremost to go for a bike ride, but fully aware of the situation and the statement we were making by riding bikes with Palestinians.
I was excited to see that a Palestinian group was organizing this outdoor adventure. I’d heard of hiking trips and Christian walks, but I’d never participated in them because the touristy stuff always cost money and I just wanted to do something spontaneous and cheap. Naturally, any Palestinian tourist venture has a political slant to it, especially if it ties the Palestinian people to their land, and especially if that land is in Area C. This area, which covers 62% of the West Bank and includes the Jordan Valley, is under full Israeli control, and as evidenced by the settlements and military camps scattered throughout, it would not be easily relinquished. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared two years ago that Israel would never give up the Jordan Valley, even though the international community considers it part of illegally occupied Palestinian territory and essential to the contiguity and economic survival of a Palestinian State.
Read full article here : http://mondoweiss.net/2012/04/if-you-give-a-palestinian-the-right-to-bike-in-the-jordan-valley.html
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrians by the thousands marched through the streets of cities and towns across the country on Friday, testing a tenuous, day-old cease-fire that the United Nations struggled to shore up when the rapid deployment of international observers snagged on Russian objections.
There were scattered reports of deaths and arrests linked to the demonstrations, which had been dubbed “A Revolution for All Syrians” by local organizers nationwide.
Participants admitted to feeling somewhat tentative, sticking to back streets to avoid the security forces, snipers and tanks that were used to suppress the peaceful protest movement and that remained deployed around many central squares and major crossroads.
But the marches were just big and exuberant enough to remind demonstrators of the mass rallies that started in March 2011 to demand the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.
“We remembered the old days when we would protest in large numbers, when the whole city would protest,” said Fares, an activist in Zabadani, near Damascus, reached via Skype.
In Zabadani, as in many places, residents described a heavy police presence around mosques — the weekly Friday Prayer sermons have provided the kickoff for mass demonstrations since the beginning. “We didn’t gather in one point, we kept moving,” Fares said, with a lookout posted near security headquarters to raise the alarm when patrol vehicles roared onto the streets. “We wanted to show the world that we are adhering to our demands.” He asked to be identified by only his first name to avoid government reprisals.
A video uploaded onto You Tube said to have been filmed in downtown Hama showed an extensive mob clapping their hands overhead in unison while chanting “Oh God, let our victory be fast!” Another from Homs was more pointed with the crowd yelling “We want your head, Bashar!” among other slogans. Women and children appeared in some videos — they had all but disappeared under the onslaught that has left at least 9,000 people dead by the United Nations’ count.
Syria’s official news media reported mass demonstrations across the country in support of Mr. Assad.
The security forces were aggressive in some places, passive in others, a patchwork difficult to gauge from afar, as were the demonstrations themselves. Multiple checkpoints around Damascus were used to prevent public transportation from entering the downtown area, and security vehicles with Kalashnikov barrels protruding from windows slowly circulated in many areas.
A group of security officers in one such vehicle shouted at a group of worshipers emerging from a mosque to hurry home. In the suburb of Maadamiah, as the funeral of a protester shot dead on Thursday began to turn into a mass protest, security forces blocked the route to the cemetery and shot toward protesters to disperse them, said Usama, an activist reached by telephone, who also used one name for safety reasons.
Activists around the country reported that some demonstrators had been tear-gassed and others had been beaten, and there were a few reports of renewed shelling. But the violence was far less than in recent months, when scores were reported killed daily under the pounding of heavy weaponry.
Both the lack of international news media representatives circulating across the country and the presence of security forces on the streets contradicted the six-point peace plan negotiated by Kofi Annan, the special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported eight people killed after the demonstrations started. In addition, a lieutenant was killed and 24 other officers and a few civilians were wounded when a roadside bomb destroyed a bus in Aleppo, according to state-run news media. It also accused “armed terrorist groups”— its shorthand for all opposition — with the assassination of a local Baath Party official near the southern town of Dara’a and the shooting death of a brigadier general overnight near Damascus.
Given that all 15 members of the United Nations Security Council had endorsed Mr. Annan’s six-point plan, including the deployment of United Nations monitors, the resolution authorizing the mission had been expected to pass easily.
But Russia, the Assad government’s most important defender, objected to an operative paragraph that would give the monitors a free hand in conducting their work, granting them abilities like unhindered access to any place in the country and the right to interview anyone without government interference, according to Security Council diplomats.
Vitaly I. Churkin, the Russian ambassador, said he still expected a rapid vote on the resolution, but it was unclear how quickly the differences could be resolved. Negotiations going paragraph by paragraph started Friday afternoon and no vote was expected until at least Saturday, diplomats said.
An advance team of up to 30 observers, drawn from various United Nations peacekeeping or observer missions in the region, was due to be sent as soon as the Security Council approved it, said Ahmad Fawzi, Mr. Annan’s spokesman. The full mission would reach 250 observers he said, and as is common on such missions, Syria would have ultimate approval over the nationalities involved.
Mr. Fawzi described the cease-fire as “relatively respected.”
Valerie Amos, the top United Nations official on humanitarian aid, said at least one million people were in need of such help in Syria — the rapid provision of that is also part of the peace plan.
But foreign leaders continued to express profound doubts about how long it might hold. In Paris, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France told a television interviewer, “I do not believe in Bashar al-Assad’s sincerity, nor, unfortunately, in the cease-fire.”
Mr. Sarkozy, who is fighting for a second term in elections starting later this month, said the deployment of United Nations observers was important “so that at the very least we know what is happening,” and he urged the creation of humanitarian corridors to enable “those unfortunates who are being massacred by a dictator” to flee.
Hala Droubi contributed reporting from Beirut, Alan Cowell from London, and an employee of The New York Times from Damascus, Syria.