The Ghouta Slaughter and Arab Responsibility

This article was first published at the New Arab.

AFP photoIn 2011, people in the eastern Ghouta (and throughout Syria) protested for freedom, dignity and social justice. The Assad regime replied with gunfire, mass arrests, torture and rape. The people formed self-defence militias in response. Then the regime escalated harder, deploying artillery and warplanes against densely-packed neighbourhoods. In August 2013 it choked over a thousand people to death with sarin gas. Since then the area has been besieged so tightly that infants and the elderly die of malnutrition.

Seven years into this process – first counter-revolutionary and now exterminatory – the Ghouta has tumbled to the lowest pit of hell. This didn’t have to happen. Nor was it an accident. Local, regional and global powers created the tragedy, by their acts and their failures to act. And Arab and international public opinion has contributed, by its apathy and relative silence.

Blame must be apportioned first to the regime, and next to its imperialist sponsors. Russia shares the skies with Assad’s bombers, and is an equal partner in war crime after war crime, targeting schools, hospitals, first responders and residential blocks.

Then Iran, which kept Assad afloat by providing both a financial lifeline and a killing machine. Iran’s transnational militias provided 80% of Assad’s troops around Aleppo, and some surround the Ghouta today. Their participation in the strategic cleansing of rebellious (and overwhelmingly Sunni) populations helped boost a Sunni jihadist backlash and will continue to provoke sectarian conflict in the future.

But the blame stretches further. American condemnations of the current slaughter, for instance, ring very hollow in Syrian ears. The Obama administration, focused on achieving a nuclear deal with Iran, ignored Iran’s build-up in Syria. It also ensured the Free Syrian Army was starved of the weapons needed to defend liberated zones. And by signalling his disengagement after the 2013 sarin atrocity, Obama indirectly but clearly invited greater Russian intervention. Since the rise of ISIS, the United States has focused myopically on its ‘war on terror’, bombing terrorists – demolishing cities and killing civilians in the process – but never deploying its vast military might in a concerted manner to protect civilians. Objectively, despite the rhetoric, the US has collaborated with Russia and Iran.

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, called for a humanitarian truce to allow civilians to evacuate. This sounds humane, and if the fall of Aleppo is any guide, it’s probably the best scenario Ghouta residents can expect. But the proposal’s lack of ambition illustrates the current dysfunction of the global system. Instead of acting to stop the slaughter and siege, European statesmen support mass population expulsion, requesting only that it be done as gently as possible.

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Lessons from South Africa: On the Path to Negotiations with Leverage

Solidarity disclaimer: This piece was written about a half a year ago, as I returned excitedly from a workshop in South Africa. These are my (a privileged beneficiary of the Israeli apartheid system) conclusions and analysis, and in no way presume to be an “ultimate truth”, or an attempt at dictation for Palestinian action. I only hope that it’s instructive and serves as yet another window, out of many, for thoughts, debate and input. The word “we” refers to participants of the workshop.

Often when I’m asked what the point of BDS is, I quickly answer “to get the Israeli regime  to the negotiating table with no preconditions” and then I move on to tactics. Sometimes we get so mired in the blood and brutality on our path of resistance, that we need to be yanked out of it, in order to stop and see our golden milestones.

Negotiations and the Death of Liberation Continue reading “Lessons from South Africa: On the Path to Negotiations with Leverage”

Upheaval in Souls, Bodies, Imaginations

Christopher Lydon of the wonderful Radio Open Source interview joins the great Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury for a stimulating discussion on art, politics and literature.

CAIRO — Elias Khoury is the sort of novelist we rely on to tell us what is going on. Himself of Lebanese and Christian antecedents, he wrote Gate of the Sun (1998), a stylized and much-admired fictional account of the Palestinian naqbah or “catastrophe” from 1948 to the infamous Sabra and Shatillah massacres in Lebanon in 1982. Writing, he remarks, is his means of discovering his ignorance and overcoming it.

For Omar Misharawi: Killed by Israeli Airstrikes on 11/14/12

BBC journalist Jihad Masharawi carries his son’s body at a Gaza hospital. (Associated Press)
BBC journalist Jihad Misharawi carries his son’s body at a Gaza hospital. (Associated Press)
Omar Misharawi (Jihad Misharawi, via Paul Danahar)
Omar Misharawi (Jihad Misharawi, via Paul Danahar)

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

At death you measure
no more than our arms
When we rise
to blow a prayer into your charred lung
we find resplendent
butterflies
milling about — lapidary
punctuations of our time
together
(eleven months in all)

Horror turned honey
and lustrous
as buds of new fruit

Ya Shaheed
You witnessed

Adam of Lost Eden

by Najeeb Mubarki

(This article first appeared in The Economic Times, May 19, 2007, while the Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, was still alive.  Darwish was born exactly seventy-one years ago in the Western Galilee village of al-Birwa on March 13, 1941.)

Mahmoud Darwish (13 March 1941 – 9 August 2008)
Mahmoud Darwish (13 March 1941 – 9 August 2008)

In his 2004 film Notre Musique [Our Music], a journalese-philosophical meditation on war and reconciliation, Jean-Luc Godard gave pride of place to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. In the film, repeating what he had once told an Israeli journalist, Darwish inverts the relationship with the ‘other’: “Do you know why we Palestinians are famous? Because you are our enemy. The interest is in you, not in me…” By saying that he was important because Israel is important Darwish wasn’t just referring to the erasure of identity and history the Palestinians have had to struggle against, but perhaps more to the continuum of suffering, of that erasure, that has been passed down, as it were, to the Palestinians by the Jews. Not that Darwish now needs to affirm his self as an inversion of his ‘enemy’, or that he needed a Godard to affirm his being. In fact, it is quite the other way round, he was in the film because one cannot make a film on reconciliation without him, and his is a poetry of love, loss, of memory and exile that is more a challenge to the occupier than slogans and bombs ever can be.

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Absolute Power

Part of Al Jazeera’s The Arab Awakening series.

As revolution shakes the Arab world, a series of films explore the roots of the uprisings and ask ‘what next’? Those in a position to know reveal the ‘tricks of the trade’ of Arab dictatorship.