Witnessing genocide

It is time to realize that concerted action, not fruitless diplomacy, is the Syrian people’s lifeline.

May 17, 2017 21:45
3 minute read.
Sednaya prison complex

A satellite view of part of the Sednaya prison complex near Damascus, Syria is seen in a still image from a video briefing provided by the US State Department on May 15, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Trump administration this week accused the government of Bashar Assad of carrying out the mass killings of thousands of prisoners and burning their bodies in a large crematorium in order to conceal its ongoing atrocities.

The State Department estimated that some 50 prisoners are being hanged daily at Saydnaya Military Prison, north of Damascus, and are then burned in the crematorium to conceal these crimes against humanity.

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While Israel should not act unilaterally, we should be leading the world’s efforts to halt these atrocities – even to the extent of offering to join a coalition aimed at ending Assad’s campaign of genocide. The self-destruction of Syria under Assad’s dictatorship has so far destroyed some 500,000 lives since 2011 and has brought about Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, while enabling Islamic State jihadists to emerge as a global terrorism threat.

Israeli lawmakers from across the political spectrum are urging the IDF to bomb Syria’s crematorium, evoking inaction during the Holocaust in demanding military action to stop Assad’s atrocities. One minister has openly called for Assad’s assassination as the only way to halt the execution and cremation of thousands of political prisoners.

Some cabinet members who urge action say this is the responsibility of the United States, which revealed the crematorium’s existence. Rejecting this, Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid posted on Facebook that Israel has a “moral responsibility to act, when within striking distance of the IDF people are being burned. We have to wipe that crematorium off the face of the Earth.”

Lapid drew a direct parallel between the Allies’ failure to bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz during the Holocaust and the international community’s failure to stop the bloodshed in Syria. “Why did the world know [what was happening], but not do anything? Well now we know, and we’re not doing anything,” he declared. “Chemical weapons and incinerators – both the crematorium and Assad must go.”

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni tweeted on Monday that “Assad cannot be a part of the region’s future,” while Interior Minister and Shas Party chairman Arye Deri also called for Assad’s crematorium to be bombed, but urged the US to carry out the strike.

On Tuesday, Construction Minister Yoav Gallant (Kulanu) accused Assad of genocide and called for the dictator’s assassination. “The reality of the situation in Syria is that they are executing people, using directed chemical attacks against them, and the latest extreme – burning their corpses, something we haven’t seen in 70 years,” Gallant said. “In my view, we are crossing a redline. And in my view, the time has come to eliminate Assad. It’s as simple as that.”

While nothing in the Middle East is nearly that simple, US Jews also drew parallels with the Holocaust. The head of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, spoke for all Jews in a statement on Tuesday:

“As Jews, we are particularly shocked by the extreme brutality of the Syrian regime, which evokes the worst nightmares of Nazi atrocities against the Jewish people. The world learned from the 20th century that it did not do enough to stop the crimes of the Nazis, which led to the genocide of six million Jews." He challenged the international community “to put an end to the inhumane actions of the Syrian government.”

The Assad regime’s use of the outlawed sarin gas to asphyxiate civilian opponents is well documented and should have already been brought before the International Court of Justice for it to issue a warrant for his prosecution.

The reason it has not yet done so – according to Jonathan Spyer, director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya – is realpolitik. He warns that Russia’s ever increasing intervention in support of the Assad regime could result in a possibly violent showdown with the US.

It is time to realize that concerted action, not fruitless diplomacy, is the Syrian people’s lifeline. “It’s an insane regime and good that the administration is telling people about it,” Spyer concluded. But as a largely silent world contemplates the grim, black-and-white US satellite photos of the Syrian crematorium, Israelis cannot help but be reminded of how a similar silence condemned millions of Jews to death just a lifetime ago. It is time to do something.

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