Israel’s Newfound Popularity in Syria

April 27 2018

Since 2013, Israel has been providing humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians near its border and has brought thousands of Syrians to its hospitals for treatment. It has also provided some covert military aid to Syrian rebels, in addition to launching sporadic attacks on Syrian and Iranian positions. As a result, many Syrians have changed their attitude toward the Jewish state. Elizabeth Tsurkov writes:

On a popular Syrian news group on Facebook, a Syrian activist recently shared a video of Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian teenager in jail for slapping an Israeli soldier. . . . But . . . most of the group’s members—all of them Syrian—reacted dismissively. [One] commentator, from Daraa, wrote, “If [Tamimi] had raised her hand in front of a Syrian soldier, he would have field-executed her.”

Far from outliers, these comments exemplify a changing reality among Syrians. The extreme levels of brutality meted out by the Assad regime and its allies against civilians in Syria have improved the image of the IDF by comparison across the Arab world.

On April 17, 2018, when Palestinians mark “Prisoners’ Day,” a popular Syrian opposition website decided to mark the occasion by posting an infographic comparing Israeli prisons and those of the Assad regime. The infographic shows that while 7,000 Palestinians are incarcerated in Israel, 220,000 Syrians are held in regime detention facilities. According to the infographic, 210 Palestinians have died in Israeli prisons since 1967, while 65,000 Syrians have died in regime detention over the past seven years. Such irreverence toward Palestinian suffering by an Arab media outlet would have been unimaginable a few years ago. . . .

But it’s not just aid that’s caused the shift in perception. Views toward Israel among Syrians also changed thanks to its strikes on the Assad regime, Hizballah, and later Iranian targets in Syria. For the first six years of the civil war in Syria, Israel was the only foreign force to have bombed the Assad regime and its allies, the parties responsible for about 90 percent of civilian casualties in Syria. And while not all anti-Assad Syrians support the strikes, many do, and they are no longer afraid to express those views openly on social media.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel-Arab relations, Syrian civil war

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat