Sunday, May 13, 2012

Palestinians and Assad: It's complicated

[Originally posted at NOW Lebanon]

Against the overwhelming condemnation directed by the international community at the Syrian regime for its bloody crackdown on domestic opponents, President Bashar al-Assad has always had one trump card with which to rally supporters to his side: his proclaimed devotion to Palestine. “Who, more than Syria, has offered to the Palestinian cause?” he asked in a speech in January. His allies in Lebanon also routinely reach for the same defense: “Can anyone say that the Syrian regime […] did not support the resistance in Palestine?” asked Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in February. Even British MP George Galloway recently reiterated his admiration for the regime he describes as “the last castle of Arab dignity,” praising the government’s “[refusal] to cut their relationship with the Palestinian revolution and its resistance.”

Many Palestinians in Lebanon, however, appear to remember things a little differently. NOW traveled to Beirut’s southern suburbs and asked Palestinian refugees if they thought the Assad regime has been good for Palestinians and how they view events in Syria today. Several refused to talk – reluctant, perhaps, to add to the numberless difficulties of life in a camp. But among those who did, there was little consensus, with some defending the regime, most ambivalent toward it and some openly supporting the opposition.

Ibrahim, pharmacist: How could I compliment the Assads? When the Syrians entered Lebanon [in 1976], they massacred Palestinians. Historically, as Palestinians, we don’t like the Syrian system, and this is known. So I am with democracy in Syria and with changes for the system, but only in a manner that serves the interests of Syrians, not the US. There’s a big American project for the Middle East, and we are against this, whether we like Assad or not.

Abu Tareq, grocer: Yes, Assad has been good for us. What’s happening today is not a revolution – a revolution is against your enemy, not your own government. I support every revolution that calls for reforming or improving the system, but this is not the case in Syria; this is started by Israel and its Arab allies. They never did anything for Palestine, so what are they going to do for Syria? This takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood is the biggest victory for Israel, because now they have more reason to build a Jewish state next to the Islamic countries.

Abu Jamil, member of prominent Palestinian political party: One has to separate the social and economic issues from the political ones. In Lebanon, we are forbidden from working in more than 70 professions, whereas in Syria, a Palestinian has more rights – he can be a doctor or an engineer; he has economic freedom. Of all the countries that host Palestinian refugees, Syria offers them the most social benefits and rights. However, politically, we actually have less freedom in Syria. Palestinians there cannot hold a march or form a party. The regime forbids it. So, of course we are for democracy and more rights in Syria, for both Palestinians and Syrians.

Abu Ahmad, arguileh café owner: No, Assad hasn’t been good for us. Listen, I’ve been following politics for 30 years. This so-called revolution is just a conspiracy, not only against Syria but the whole region, and specifically against Muslims.

Abu Muhammad: Yes, Assad has been good for us. Of all the Arab governments, his is the only one that kept the resistance alive, and said no to the US, in a way that protects the Palestinians’ best interests. Of course, no one envies Syrians for the situation they’re in right now. We all want Syria to be safe and sound, as a people and a regime. But we shouldn’t talk about Syrian internal affairs because it’s something for them to decide themselves.

Ramzi, shopkeeper: We Palestinians are against everything that’s happening in the Arab region. Yes, there is injustice and oppression in Syria, and we are against that; we are with the people. But this is not an Arab Spring. It’s chaos and ruin. It’s not only destructive for the regime, because Syria is not only represented by a regime; it’s destructive for the people.

Abu Daoud, shopkeeper: No, Assad hasn’t been good for Palestinians. Today, I see this as a revolution, because the regime cannot satisfy the vision of the people. I hope this situation will soon be resolved for good.

Khaled, shopkeeper: I don’t care about what’s happening in Syria, I’m neutral toward it. Our situation as Palestinians in Lebanon is more important. What has any country ever offered us?

Luna Safwan contributed reporting to this article. Some of the above names have been changed at the respondents’ requests.

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