Borderline Views: World fails to protect Syria

Governments around the world do not even pretend that they are unaware of what is going on in the streets of Syria.

April 9, 2012 22:46
Syrian demonstrators carry mock coffins in Turkey

Good Syria demonstration picture 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

One of the convenient excuses that was used by the Allied powers for not bombing the rail lines to Auschwitz at the height of the Nazi Final Solution was that they were unaware of what was going on behind the fences and walls of the concentration camp. During the ensuing 60 years, numerous researchers have produced sufficient documents to demonstrate that there had been enough reports, including eyewitness evidence, for a true picture to emerge and that, had they wanted, the Allied powers could have used their air forces to take action.

One of the most important contemporary historians of that era, Sir Martin Gilbert, has concluded that the lack of action was due to a complex set of realpolitik considerations on the part of the western governments, and in particular Churchill, rather than a lack of information concerning the horrific murder of European Jewry.

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No such arguments can be used today for the lack of action on the part of the entire global community to intervene in the horrific massacres undertaken on a daily basis by the Syrian government against its own civilian population. Since the beginning of the uprising a year ago, over 10,000 Syrians have been massacred by their own government, villages and towns have been bombed by tanks and planes, and thousands of protestors, wishing nothing more than an open government, have been tortured and murdered. In the past few weeks. The actions of the Syrian government have intensified, resulting in the flow of thousands of refugees across the borders into neighboring Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.

The images in this global era of instant and immediate telecommunication are out there for all to see. Satellite TV, the Internet, and videos of the massacres and the bombings taken on smartphones and instantly distributed throughout the world, ensure that there is not a single government which is unaware of the nature and the extent of the atrocities.

The response of the governments is, in many ways, much worse than that of 60 years ago. They do not even pretend that they are unaware of what is going on. Instead they use a pathetic list of excuses for not undertaking the sort of military intervention that was undertaken in Libya – a major regional source of oil production for the western world.

That the Assad regime is the lesser evil, given the secular nature of the regime in a Middle East which has become engulfed by religious fundamental movements, or that Assad has a greater interest than most in ensuring a situation of non-belligerency with Israel, can not be the reason for the world’s non-intervention.

It may suit us here in Israel, but the world’s geopolitical decisions are not a function of what is good for Israel. Whether or not the Netanyahu government passed on a message through the channels of AIPAC to the US administration in this respect is of no relevance whatsoever. An international community which increasingly chants the mantras of human rights, of the dignity of the individual and the inherent right to freely express one’s own beliefs and preferences cannot continue to remain indifferent to the desperate plight of tens of thousands of Syrian citizens – regardless of whether they love or hate Israel – to the plight that still awaits them in the coming days and weeks.

WE WRITE a lot about the meaning of freedom at this time of year. It is the underlying message of the festival of Pessah. We focus on the dual dimensions of physical and spiritual freedom, past and present, from the exodus from Egypt to the liberation of the death camps, from the civil rights movements and the end of slavery to the opening of the Iron curtain and the end of the plight of Soviet Jewry.

For each of us, the meaning of freedom is different and the very fact that we can express our views, debate and argue with others, including our governments and elected leaders without the fear of being punished or oppressed for being different, is the most important indication of the great freedom that we enjoy in the Western world in general, and in the vibrant State of Israel in particular. We do not have to like or dislike those who are struggling for the freedom of thought in Syria, or anywhere else in the Middle East, to express our support for their struggle.

And if, at the end of the day, we end up with a more belligerent government on the other side of the border – although in the case of Syria that is hard to imagine – then the State of Israel has the means and technology at its disposal to deal with any new threat which may emanate from there. But we cannot remain indifferent to the sight of so many being persecuted and tortured for their basic desire to express their freedom of thought, or for the searing images of women and children being forced to flee their bombed out homes and villages.

No one in Israel, least of all the government, needs to be actively involved in what is happening in Syria. We have enough problems with our neighbors to know that this is one fight which we should leave for others to deal with. But we cannot be anything less than amazed at the inability of the world to intervene in a humanitarian crisis of such magnitude.

It sends us a clear message – that whatever the rights and wrongs of our own conflict with the Palestinians, the ultimate resolution of the conflict can only be guaranteed by our own strength and fortitude which, itself, is an outcome of the national freedom and sovereignty that we have enjoyed for the past 64 years. The inability, or unwillingness, of the world to deal with the Syrian crisis, despite its own stated values of human freedom and dignity, is a clear indication to us in Israel that we should think twice before relying on international guarantees for any future peace agreement with our neighbors.

It does not make peace any less desirable or critical, but it does mean that the ultimate resolution of the conflict, including the political freedoms for all the peoples of the region, must be strongly rooted in Israel’s ability to look after itself and not to rely on the mantras and goodwill statements of others.

The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. The comments expressed are his alone.

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