Support for the people of Syria….


Palestinians in Lebanon voice growing support for  Syrian protesters

July 31, 2011  06:21 PM (Last updated: July 31, 2011 07:12 PM)

By Brooke  Anderson

BEIRUT: When Suleiman Ghanem went home to Daraa to get married last March,  his friends in Sabra joked that he was going there to die, so they snapped a  picture of him. That same picture now hangs over the main street of the Sabra  market, a tribute to a young martyr of the Syrian uprising.

The picture of the 24-year-old hangs from loose wires above the poor,  crowded and densely populated predominantly Palestinian neighborhood, where many  residents have long supported the Syrian government because of its hard line  against Israel and the fact that living conditions there for Palestinians are  relatively good compared to those in neighboring Lebanon. But today, such  support seems to be waning.

“I was against the revolution in the beginning. I thought the Syrian people  were comfortable,” said Mohammed Qatantani, a 27-year-old shopkeeper who has  taken many trips to Syria over the years, always admiring the good  infrastructure, affordable healthcare and rights for Palestinians that he never  saw in Lebanon.

“But then I saw the news: the mass graves, the executions and the torture. It  looked like Israel had invaded Palestine. Oppression isn’t pretty wherever it  happens,” he said. He added that he had been with the Egyptian revolution from  day one, because of Mubarak’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza: the repeated  closure of the Rafah border crossing, and violent government clampdowns on those  who protested. .

It was three weeks into the Syrian uprising – which began March 15 – when  Qatantani says he began to change his mind, unable to believe his neighbor, a  young man who sold CDs and was engaged to be married, was part of the armed  gangs the Syrian government blamed for the unrest.

A series of incidents throughout the uprising contributed to the erosion of  Palestinian support for Assad’s government. In a televised press conference on  March 24, presidential spokeswoman Bouthaina Shaaban accused foreigners,  including Palestinians, of inciting violence.

Two separate demonstrations on the Israeli border, on May 15 and June 5,  heightened Palestinian mistrust, as first six and then 20 died at the hands of  Israeli forces, with many feeling the Syrian government played an implicit role  in the violence by allowing protesters to reach the border.

The deaths led to a mutiny in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, with  residents openly casting blame on their local leadership, the Syrian-sponsored  Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The release in May of a video showing the torture of 13-year-old Syrian boy,  Hamza Khatib, led the U.S.-based Egyptian Palestinian poet Tamim Barghouti to  reject the support of the Syrian government for the Palestinian cause.

“He who tortures a child to death is incapable of liberating a land, nor  defeat an enemy, nor provide support to an ally,” he wrote. “If the liberation  of Palestine requires torturing the children of Syria, then let it remain under  occupation, for that would be better for Syria’s and Palestine’s children.”

In Sabra, another resident, who declined to give his name, said he was never  against the Syrian government until a friend of his died. Now he says he follows  the news of the uprising closely and sees the government making “mistake after  mistake.”

Syria’s apparent attempt to win over public support through the Palestinian  cause seems to have backfired, with once loyal supporters beginning to question  the government’s claims.

“Where are these armed foreign gangs coming from?” Qatantani wonders. “They’re killing peaceful protesters, and [refugees are] fleeing to Lebanon and  Turkey. From what? Nothing?”

Indeed, as the uprising in Syria continues, many Palestinians appear to be  increasingly sympathizing with the anti-government protesters, despite their  traditional alliance.

“The position of Palestinians is mixed. On the one hand, Syria treats  Palestinians better than any other Arab country. But as for politics, with  satellite TV, people make up their minds by what they see,” says Hilal Khashen,  a politics professor at the American University of Beirut.

He adds that sectarianism could be a component in Palestinian support for  protesters, as Palestinians, like Syrians, are predominantly Sunni. He notes  that Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, a Shiite allied with the Alawite  minority leadership in Syria, has made several strong statements against the  uprising in Syria, calling the protest movement a foreign conspiracy. Meanwhile,  the Palestinians’ Islamic party Hamas, which has a representative office in  Damascus, has remained silent on the issue.

He also suggests that Palestinian support for the uprising could be related  to Israel’s position.

“Israel doesn’t want regime change. It’s pressing the U.S. to keep Assad in  place,” he says. “That’s why the U.S. is making mild statements.”

Samer Abu Fakher, 21, a student at Lebanese American University and a  Palestinian activist, says that he supports the uprising in general because of  the government’s history of repression in both Syria and Lebanon. But he’s  worried about the possible international or Muslim Brotherhood involvement in a  new democratic Syria. Either move, Abu Fakher believes, would be bad news for  Syria and the Palestinians.

Milad Abdullah, who sells nuts at his shop on Sabra’s main road, says he has  never supported the Syrian government because of its role in the Lebanese Civil  War, but he understands why some Palestinians continue to do so.

“I think most Palestinians are against the Syrian government but are afraid  to talk,” he says.

“They think Syria’s with them, so they should be with Syria. But that’s not  right. Syria was never with Palestinians because they loved them, it was just to  serve their interest.”

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::


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