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Editorial Note: In Paris, Hearing the news from Syria

Long before the Great Syrian Revolution started on March 15, 2011, I hold a special admiration to the Syrian people. Much of it stemmed from close friendship with Syrian activists in the occupied Golan Heights, since their half-year general strike in 1982. In a more general perspective, Syria used to be the beating heart of the Arab national movement. In March 1920, when the “Syrian Congress” declared the first independent Arab state in modern history, “The Arab Kingdom of Syria”, representatives from Palestine took part under the name of “Southern Syria”.

Separated by the Zionist occupation of Palestine since 1948, we couldn’t have any direct connections with our sisters and brothers in Syria. But the Syrian patriotic culture, from Duraid Lahham’s satirical movies and Samieh Shkeir’s lyrics to “Bab Al-Harra” (the Neighborhood’s Gate) TV series, were everybody’s bread and butter. The commercial center of Hallisa neighborhood, where I live in Haifa, was named Bab Al-Harra in honor of the series.

Palestinian response to the Syrian Revolution

When the Syrian revolution started it became a major concern for everybody in Palestine. In fact it is the most controversial issue in Palestinian political life. While clear majority of Palestinians support the Syrian people – the popular masses, Islamist, Liberals and the radical Youth – there is a vocal current of some Leftist and Nationalist elites that see the Assad tyranny as the last defense against an imperialist takeover.

At the beginning of 2012 we organized “Palestinians for the Syrian Revolution” which raised a progressive secular voice in support of the revolution. By the end of that year, Herak Haifa (Arabic) took part, with many other groups, in collecting material support to relieve the suffering of Syrian refugees in Jordan. It is symptomatic that even this wholly humanitarian effort aroused rouge responses from some local Shabiha (Arabic), as the supporters of the Assad regimes are named here after the Syrian thugs with the same name. On May 31, in the global day of solidarity with the Syrian revolution, Palestinian Youth held demonstrations in Bab Al-Amud (Damascus Gate) in Jerusalem, in Ramallah and Al-Khalil.

Yet as the revolution was transformed from an enthusiastic peaceful mass uprising to a prolonged civil war, there is a constant strain on the public support for the revolution. Any excess on the side of the revolution, and any compromise from its leadership, is looked upon with grave concern. Is toppling the regime worth all these efforts and sacrifices? How do we know that what will come after it will be any better? Unlike the Syrian people that have no choice but to fight on or put their lives in the hands of their torturers, we can simply stop watching the news and ignore the bloodshed.

Going to Paris

Any dictatorship creates communities of political refugees spread around the world. Any new wave of conflict and oppression throws away a new wave of refugees. Going to Paris is a special opportunity to hear the news from Syria from people that were there and took part in the struggle until the recent period. On June 27-29 I spent 3 days in Paris, hearing the story of the Syrian Revolution.

Paris is a very good place to talk about the revolution. It is a city that, till this day, celebrates its bloody revolution of 1789 – 1799. This revolution is remembered by Humanity as the turning point from Backwardness and the rule of hereditary monarchs and oligarchs to Enlightenment, Modernism, Republicanism and Democracy.

Being in Paris was also a good opportunity for quick review of French history. We were reminded that the revolution, after a prolonged bloody struggle, produced first (1804) the “republican” Emperor Napoleon and then military defeat and the return of reactionary kings (1814). Only after 81 years and three more popular revolutions (1830, 1848 and 1870) has the third French Republic really established itself. Still we all feel obliged to the tradition of the French Revolution.

This puts in perspective the great Arab Revolution – the Arab Spring – which is the spearhead of a new renaissance of Humanity that now spreads all over the globe. As this revolution develops without an agreed plan and with no clear leadership, it makes it all the more important that we discuss and learn and build our network of activists.

One question that I asked my Syrian friends was: “What is the best source to read news and analysis about the Syrian revolution?” They didn’t think that there is a good answer to this question.

In the next few days I will write some posts to summarize what I heard in Paris. It is not a systematic research, nor a wide range of views, neither a deep analysis. But it is a humble attempt to draw a live picture through the impressions of honest young (and old) people that risked their lives and freedom for the liberty of their people and their country.

If you have any suggestion about good sources to learn more about the Syrian Revolution – please leave the links in a comment to this post.

(The photo above was taken at the Paris demonstration in support of the Syrian Revolution on Saturday 29/6/2013. On the right you see the Kurdish flag raised alongside the flags of the Syrian Revolution. Beyond them on the tree to the left there is a Palestinian flag…)