Forgotten is our peculiar urban folklore, yesteryear’s spontaneous fun of small
Israeli kids rapidly rolling off their tongues the names of assorted Syrian
tyrants. This singsong accompanied sidewalk games and was a staple of silly
summertime tongue-twister contests.
Nobody then remotely believed that
riots and havoc in neighboring autocracies could betoken the rise of democracy
in the Arab-speaking sphere.
But for too long we’ve lost touch with our
not-so-distant past, a time when recurrent “Arab Springs” were once announced
with dizzying frequency. In Syria especially they followed in furious succession
until, in 1970, one Hafez Assad proclaimed the longest-lasting self-styled
spring and actually managed to pass on control of the abundant Damascene
sunshine and blossoms to his son, Bashar.
Both Assads’ nastiness and
penchant for massacres were hardly unique in their country. Syria spawned
carnage and “popular uprisings” a dime a dozen. Only the durability of
Assad-dynasty despotism was unusual.
Nonetheless, now – having learned to
view the world through the tinted lenses of hypocrite Europe and bedazzled
America – we, too, fall for the “budding democracy” babble.
But back in
the less-blinkered day, our assessments were more clear-headed. Never would we
ascribe high-mindedness to Syrian power-grabbers.
Rather than be wowed,
we laughed. Incomparable satirist Shai K.(Shaikeh) Ophir popularized a
sidesplitting routine consisting of a rollcall of Syrian tyrants going back to
1948. He recited them with what in hindsight appears like a forerunner of
fast-paced rapper-style chants.
It was so all the rage that little
pigtailed girls skipped rope and did hopscotch stunts while rhythmically
intoning a sequence of rhyming names like Adib Shishakli and Shukri
For a while, these were basic fare at Israeli
Ophir’s register of names began with Husni Za’im, who led
the Syrian army’s attack on newborn Israel in 1948 and then overthrew president
Shukri al-Quwatli and imprisoned him.
Za’im’s reign, alas, lasted merely
four-and-a-half months. He was summarily executed by his deposer Sami Hinnawi.
But before Hinnawi could get comfortable in the boss’s seat, he was unseated by
Adib Shishakli and assassinated in 1950. All three coups occurred during
Shishakli refused to allow the integration of Palestinian refugees
into Syrian society, and he shelled Druse villages to quell their resistance (a
common practice by Syrian conventions). He was toppled in 1954 and ultimately
assassinated in his Brazilian supposed safe-haven.
Next came caretaker
president Hashim al- Attassi, who already had behind him two stints in power as
president and two as prime minister.
In 1955 he was replaced by that old
favorite, Shukri al-Quwatli.
Between 1946 and 1956, Syria had 20
governments and four florid constitutions.
In 1958, al-Quwatli
amalgamated Syria with Egypt, forming the United Arab Republic. Formally Syria’s
president was Egyptian Gamal Abdel-Nasser, whose 1956 defeat catapulted him to
the status of a pan-Arab hero. Within a few weeks, al-Quwatli was betrayed, and
his Damascus power base was usurped by Salah Bitar and Akram al-Hawrani. The
latter was Nasser’s Syrian deputy, until they began to bicker. By 1959, al-
Hawrani had to flee Syria.
In 1961, Abdel-Karim al-Nahlawi overthrew
Nasser’s men in Damascus, and Syria became a separate entity once again, a fact
that didn’t discourage Egypt from exploiting the UAR epithet till
Syria was now a Ba’ath stronghold, but different factions within
that party battled each other with vengeance –literally. Nazim al-Qudsi was
Syria’s first post-UAR president. Upon his removal, Luwai al-Attassi presided
for four months till Amin al-Hafiz replaced him, ruling the roost from mid-1964
to early 1966, when Salah Jadid ousted Hafiz.
It’s roughly here that
Ophir’s long lampoon ends, replete with many more names than mentioned above. In
time, Jadid was booted out by Hafez Assad, and the epilogue is now unfolding
before our credulous eyes.
SUFFICE IT to note that the miscellaneous
short-lived dictatorships served the interests of incompatible components of
what’s misguidedly known as the Syrian nation. They all waxed ecstatic about
democratic and reformist virtues.
Way back, though, no Israeli was naïve
enough to take any of the ornate rhetoric seriously.
intellectually indolent molders of public opinion – smugly dismissive of the
lessons of history – not only fall for the fallacy but excitedly hype
It’s little wonder that most of the international community has lost
sight of what Syria was and still is. In the mix feature ignorance and fatigue,
along with lots of economic and geopolitical interests. It was expedient for the
world to turn a blind eye to truth. For us here, however, it was nothing but
unimaginable folly. We should know better – if only because of proximity and
because our self-preservation concerns behoove us not to disregard
But Hafez Assad’s Yom Kippur War record, sponsorship of terror
and patronage of Hezbollah were obstinately overlooked. Israeli governments
hankered after a deal with the same Assad who, when he served as defense
minister in 1966, addressed Israelis and blustered belligerently: “We shall
never call for nor accept peace.
We shall only accept war. We have
resolved to drench this land with your blood, to oust you aggressors, to throw
you into the sea.”
Assad never took back these words nor so much as
pretended to have softened. Unsurprisingly, White House residents and perfidious
Europeans pressured little unloved Israel to indulge the Damascus despot by
inordinately imperiling the Jewish state’s survival
Predictably, Israel’s own priests of pragmatism rushed with
alacrity to ingratiate themselves and decree that by ceding the Golan to benign
Syrian rule, we’d be blessed with blissful coexistence.
the homegrown omniscients’ dalliance with Assad-the-father. Staggeringly, their
enthusiasm for concessions soared after he went the way of all flesh and his son
inherited the blood-stained Assad mantle.
Our in-house experts uncannily
perceived the agreeable aspect of Bashar, the lanky ophthalmologist with a
supposed Western orientation.
Bashar, we were tirelessly preached to by
retreat-promoters, looks less totalitarian than his dad.
He’s just the
gawky guy next door who might make a nifty neighbor if we only try hard enough
to win him over.
Yet, confoundingly, life refuses to mesh with
established Israeli wishful thinking. Much to the embarrassment of our
indefatigable deal-peddlers, Bashar’s own citizenry is exceedingly less
mesmerized by him than his Israeli boosters were until quite
There’s no getting away from the fact that paying off dictators
to secure a semblance of accommodation is a losing proposition, because
eventually dictators disappear. With them vanishes the peace we’re required to
fork out for. There’s no Better Business Bureau or Customer Service to refund
Israel’s hefty, tangible and eminently risky investment in land-for-peace
Thank heaven the Golan is still ours – a buffer between our
small sliver of a state and the Syrian mayhem. Imagine our misfortune if Assad’s
tanks were parked on the shores of Lake Kinneret.
Those who insistently
brainwashed us that this is what’s prescribed for our national well-being should
atone for their sins by memorizing Ophir’s skit and performing it daily in
central city squares. Our street corners should again resonate with cadenced
renditions of “Adib Shishakli and Shukri al-Quwatli....”
jump-rope are optional.
www.sarahhonig.com Note to readers: The Tack will
now appear regularly in the Friday paper instead of the
Magazine. Caroline B. Glick is on maternity leave, and we wish her
mazeltov on the birth of her second son on February 13!