A gruesome image of dead children murdered in Syria by pro-Assad militias from the Banias / Bayda Massacre of 2013 has been re-circulating recently, mislabelled as an image of dead Palestinian children murdered in Gaza, as the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF)’s ferocious onslaught in the besieged coastal enclave with air / sea strikes followed by a horrific ground invasion continues unabated at the time of writing.
I have been silently following the heart-wrenching news unfolding in Gaza as Israel acutely escalates what it has essentially been doing to Gaza for over 8 years – besieging it, sharply curtailing the entry of all but the most basic necessities into the area (thereby triggering a series of grave humanitarian crises), and tormenting the populace with air strikes, border arrests, wanton killing sprees, and restriction of movement. I must say I had no intention of writing or even commenting about it, heart-wrenching as it has personally been, as I am not currently active on the Arab activist / social justice network due to a myriad of unrelated commitments that continue to entangle me. This changed drastically when I arose this morning and found that someone close to me had shared, in nothing but the most humanitarian sense of faith and compassion, the above image of dead Syrian kids on social media mislabelled in the aforesaid manner as being a snapshot of Israel’s on-going atrocities. Suddenly my heart sank. It stirred something indescribable in me, and I found it unusually impossible to satisfactorily embrace the internal ill-ease with my usual approaches.
So, here I am writing about it now. I am writing about this in the hope of humanising the distance. I will start by asserting with all the vigour my heart can expand to fill how utterly shocking is Israel’s maniacal and blood-thirsty behaviour in Gaza, as they plainly seek to approach – or even match – their similarly murderous 3-week long killing spree in Gaza in December 2008 – January 2009, leaving 1,400 dead. There is wall-to-wall coverage of what is currently happening in Gaza all over Arab media, not just in Palestine, but all across the Levant and North Africa. Because of the urgency of what is taking place and the base level of injustice inflicted on so many innocent people, it has temporarily overshadowed other crimes taking place in the region, such as the on-going murder, destruction, and detention by state forces of civilians in Syria and oppressive political measures in Egypt. Regardless of the proportions, the transgression of human rights in Gaza deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving. It deserves – and is entitled to – every initiative executed to highlight attention and mobilise campaigns to affect change on the ground that has befallen it so far, irrespective of whether or not certain activists mention similar atrocities taking place among other groups of people.
However, it is one thing to devote massive efforts across social / political justice media in order to support and be in solidarity with Palestinians that are deeply hurting right now, to culling images of similarly gruesome and outrageous war crimes, such as the massacre of children in the coastal Syrian city of Baniyas and the town of Bayda by Syria’s equivalent of Zionist mercenaries – namely, pro-Assad militants, and mislabelling them as being the victims of the Gaza atrocities. It is a disrespectful gesture, whether or not it was intended. It is dismissive towards both the Syrian victims of the Assad regime’s unsurpassed violence and of the Palestinian victims of the IOF’s genocidal waves of terror. It is insulting to Syrians because, directly or not, it contributes to the notion – which I hope continues to be dispelled as much as possible – that the Syrian revolution is less worthy of support than Palestine’s resistance against occupation. Syrians suffer when this happens, because it gives them the impression that certain Palestine activists are willing to give short-shrift to their valiant struggle for freedom and dignity in the face of a foe equally as oppressive and unshackled in its oppressiveness as Israel in the form of Bashar Al-Assad. It ignores the myriad revolutionary dynamics in Syria – peaceful and armed – and fuels tribalistic, partisan narratives, such as ‘Syria is too complex to support as a resistance movement’. These Palestine activists have appropriated and desecrated very personal emblems of Syrian’s suffering in the same manner that Israel does every single day with every aspect of Palestinian life, from hummus to kuffiyehs.
The Palestinian victims of Israel, such as those who have recently died in Gaza, also suffer from these misrepresentation tactics because there is more than enough legitimate media available depicting the horror of what they are currently going through. Their suffering is multiplied because they are reduced to cheap pawns whose genuine pains are left completely unaddressed, leaving aside the moral implications of even sharing images of dead bodies online to raise awareness for political ends to begin with.
Ultimately, though, there is something even bigger missing here, and it is not in more criticism, shaming or calling out. This article is not by any means meant as an attack on the person / people who mislabelled that image from Syria as being from Gaza, and most definitely not the vast majority who shared it, who I am sure genuinely thought it was accurately labelled. If any such people are reading this, I want them know that I harbour nothing but love and goodwill for them. A gentle reminder for all readers is what I offer instead. Accordingly, I would like to devote the conclusion of this piece as a reminder that I do believe our personal markers as being Gazans, Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis, etc. are identity designations that are vital to those who invest meaning in them. Our sense of who we are, and what makes us special and unique are not factors to be dismissed, ever! Even though, say, ‘the Syrian experience’ varies greatly in terms of one self-identifying Syrian to the next, in terms of range of cultural interactions, interests, family ties, location in/out of the country, and, in Syria’s case, being as it is so big and friggin’ diverse, in terms of religion, customs, dialect, and even the language itself! That being said, it is equally important to realise that differences are differences in resonance and vibration, and not fundamental constitution as living beings. We are all humans borne of the same cosmic / godly material, and we exist in each other. Yes, we are Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Armenians, but underneath that we are human. And we exist in each other. Even our worst enemies, blinded as they may be by their oppressive practices, share the same unlimited potential that we do as activists or socially conscious people. In practice, however criminals such as those loyal to Bashar Al-Assad or Benjamin Netanyahu probably will not get the chance to explore these in a world where despots are brought to account. The same cannot be said for us, for in witnessing the revolutionary struggles of our neighbours, we not only enrich them with our solidarity, we enrich ourselves by finding validation in others. In short, we become stronger by surrounding ourselves with those who remind us of who we are, across regional and cultural markers. And we do this by opening our hearts, by being transparent in our words and what we share online, and constantly seeking to harmonise the diverse elements that exist within each of us. There is a frequency out there, a revolutionary frequency that has moved mountains, and it can be seen in those moments, however fleeting, when popular will is brought to bear on leaders. It is when we all collectively promote what we love rather than criticise what we hate. I understand revolution to mean just this, to echo on into eternity not our words (talk is cheap, man) but the energy and vibration behind everything we do. It is, after all, a revolution. It may indeed include critical debate clubs, but is, in essence, creatively and artistically, so much more than this. We are inseparable. We are inseparable because – leaving aside the intertwined resistance heritage between Palestine and Syria, the latter which would never have taken off with the former – separation is the basis of fear. And fear, as we know it, is an illusion, because we are constantly bombarded with the idea that our world is only one of injustice, pain, and darkness. We are so much more. We may be fear, but we are also love. We might be anger, but we are also laughter. We may be indignation, but we are also rejuvenation. Therefore, on a holistic plane, we are pure expansion and abundance. We are so much more than what we have been told. The day we realise this is the day the revolution comes full circle.