On the Road to Damascus

ANALYSIS, BY TRANSCEND MEMBERS, CONFLICT RESOLUTION / MEDIATION, CURRENT AFFAIRS, EDITORIAL, HISTORY, MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA, MILITARISM, SYRIA IN DEPTH, TMS PEACE JOURNALISM, 20 May 2013

by Antonio C. S Rosa, 20 May 2013 – editor, TRANSCEND Media Service

peace5I participated, May 1-11, 2013 in the Mussalaha International Peace Delegation to Lebanon-Syria alongside fellow TRANSCEND member Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire, from Ireland, and 15 others from eight countries. Keenly aware of my responsibility, especially to my newly made Syrian and Lebanese friends left behind, I shall try to report, describe, make sense of what I saw, heard and experienced; also offer views and insights based on interviews. However, this report will take more than one article.Syria May 2013-3

(to enlarge photos click on them)

First impressions first: the people, the civil society, women, men, the youth, elderly, children, workers, the Arab street, as it is called. It was disconcerting coming into the country for the first time knowing what I thought I knew and seeing a calm, positive demeanor in people, which could well be misconstrued as apathy, yet exhibiting expectant, concerned, awaiting eyes and facial expressions. After some time I noticed a striking absence of anger or negative excitement in the air; people going about their daily business as if nothing was happening, as if life were normal. No cries for revenge against their many external aggressors, no fists in the air, no demonstrations against a dictator, no pleading or denouncing slips of paper passed to me surreptitiously by nervous, fearful hands. Eye contacts revealed seriousness, curiosity, kindness, hope, hospitality, happiness in seeing strangers. No public laughs or smiles though. Heavy hearts do not allow for such frivolities. Syrian people are suffering, they are sad, stuck, against the wall, being victimized for which they bear no responsibility. They just don’t know why they are being threatened, attacked, killed, tortured, and humiliated so viciously from so many fronts. The concept of proxy war is alien to them even though they are at its core. Fear of violence can be more psychologically and emotionally damaging than the real thing. Understandably, they are afraid of talking in public and being later identified and targeted by jihadists.

But then again, that is always the case, isn’t? Who cares about unimportant people when so many more pressing factors are in play? Like the obscene profits made by the oil multinationals, the 7 sisters cartel, and the preservation of wasteful lifestyles of peoples from richer, more powerful nations that need –and will take by any means necessary– the oil that Syrians at this juncture unfortunately have underneath their feet?

With the Prime Minister after the audience

With the Prime Minister after the audience

Disconcerting as well was to find a country bursting with activity and life, children in playgrounds or walking to school in their uniforms, open air markets filled with people, heavy traffic, buses running, life happening in and around Damascus. Disconcerting because I had psyched myself to find a country in ruins, people fleeing for their lives from bombs, tanks on the streets, a police state massacring its own citizens, large scale suffering, buildings demolished, people resisting the government by force, and so on. Yet, I saw none of the above; quite the opposite. But you will forgive my ignorance, for I am a Westerner and that is what we hear, watch and read in our corporate media, which without a pinch of shame, honesty or humanity tell us half truths, innuendoes, straight lies, and party-line talking-points uttered by talking heads about what is happening on this part of the world. And I stand guilty of believing them like a fool. Nonetheless, the country has been as if divided by checkpoints in every strategic entrance and exit. To give an idea, our Damascus hotel was surrounded by six different checkpoints strategically located around it. Armed personnel and soldiers on the streets is a common sight that adds to a sense of security.

Damascus

Damascus

Mairead and Mother Agnès-Maryam Soeur (our leaders) met privately with Syrian armed fighters and we were introduced to some persons victimized by their atrocities. Audiences included: Syrian Prime Minister Mr. Wael Al Halki, Deputy PM and Minister of Economic Affairs Mr. Qadri Jameel (opposition), Minister of Health Dr. Saed Anayef, Minister of Social Affairs Ms. Kinda Al-Shammat (a pleasant and intelligent young lady), Minister of Justice Dr. Najem Hamad Al-Ahmad, Minister of Information Mr. Omran Ahed Al-Zouabi, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Walid Muallem, the Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Mr. Ali Abd Karim Ali, the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon, and General Michael Aoun, an influential Lebanese party leader (who is rumored to discriminate against Palestinian refugees).

We visited the People’s Council of Syria (parliament), hospitals, refugee camps, were briefed by senior field coordinator Maeve Murphy at the UNHCR intake center in Zahleh-Lebanon, and met with a representative of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and with ambulance drivers and health workers. We were also welcomed by some ten leaders from various religions, sects and faiths, were greeted in churches and mosques, and I talked with common folks every time an opportunity presented in shops and in the streets. I talked with an active member of the political opposition to the present regime. He was in prison for 24 years, released 11 years ago, and wants changes—but without outside interference as he told to me textually. The 71 year-old kind and intelligent gentleman who declined to give his name also told me he did not marry and have children because he was in prison, and he was ashamed of that.

Ecumenical Service at the Melkite Greek Catholic Church Patriarchate (our hosts)

Ecumenical Service at the Melkite Greek Catholic Church Patriarchate (our hosts)

ACTORS AND PARTIES TO THE CONFLICT

A deeper contextual assessment and analysis within a peace studies/conflict resolution paradigm would require more time and research into the complexities of the conflicts (in the plural) vis-à-vis the newest perceptions, facts and evidences acquired herein; the majority of actors are not evident whereas the main, deadliest ones are shielded by ‘deniability.’ However, they are all known—and very active. Of one thing you may rest assured: Bashar al-Assad is not the sole culprit, THE bad guy in this saga. He is a well liked leader all over, which is evident in different cities, in talks with differing kinds of persons, and by their attitudes and actions. Body languages, eye contacts, non-verbal messages work wonders in bringing hidden messages to the surface. Billboards with his picture are spread throughout the land and they are clean, well preserved. One does not see graffiti over them, obscenities or anything like that. Syrians in general show pride in having a handsome leader, an eye doctor who is not a sanguinary dictator like Saddam Hussein was. I would assume that in the present context even those who oppose him are on his side to defend Syria’s integrity as a functioning society.

Quoting Johan Galtung[i]: “An image of the goals of some outside parties:

  • Israel: wants Syria divided in smaller parts, detached from Iran, status quo for Golan Heights, and a new map for the Middle East;
  • USA: wants what Israel wants and control over oil, gas, pipelines;
  • UK: wants what USA wants;
  • France: co-responsible with the UK for post-Ottoman colonization in the area, wants confirmed friendship France-Syria;
  • Russia: wants a naval base in the Mediterranean, and an “ally”;
  • China: wants what Russia wants;
  • EU: wants both what Israel-USA want and what France wants;
  • Iran: wants Shia power;
  • Iraq: majority Shia, wants what Iran wants;
  • Lebanon: wants to know what it wants;
  • Saudi-Arabia: wants Sunni power;
  • Egypt: wants to emerge as the conflict-manager;
  • Qatar: wants the same as Saudi Arabia and Egypt;
  • Gulf States: want what USA-UK want;
  • The Arab League: wants no repetition of Libya, tries human rights;
  • Turkey: wants to assert itself relative to the (Israel-USA) successors to the (France-UK-Italy) successors to the Ottoman Empire, and a buffer zone in Syria.
  • UN: wants to emerge as the conflict manager.

Every single statement here can be challenged and challenged again.  But let us for the sake of the mental experiment assume that this image, with 16 outside and five inside parties, is more right than wrong.”

The People’s Council of Syria (Parliament)

The People’s Council of Syria (Parliament)

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Affairs, Mr. Kadri Jameel, is a Communist Kurd elected on the opposition party platform. He came to talk to the delegation at the 5-star hotel where we stayed in Damascus. He affirmed that his electoral victory represented a foot on the door for further changes, which envisioned a multiparty political system. I talked with four members of his security detail. One of them, 26, showed me his wound: a bullet entered through his backside and exited through his neck, which had been broken as he was attacked by foreign fighters coming from Turkey at a Palestinian refugee camp in Latakia on Aug, 2011 when he was still in the army. Although army officers, they guard the leader of the opposition. I was told by them that these armed gangs of trouble makers target especially the minorities (Druze, Christians, Shia) in hopes that they turn against the government.

As the government moves to a multi-party system, a non-territorial federation with two chambers, one for provinces and the other for nations, with vetoes in matters of vital concern might be useful.”[ii]

In addition, as much as I tried, no one leader could or would answer my two basic questions: What is the source of this conflict? What are the solutions? Perhaps it was so because all our audiences, meetings, visits, and so forth were made in groups: our delegation, composed of 16 invitees from eight countries, our hosts, the press (which at times stole the whole show all for themselves), plus the heavily armed security around us everywhere around the clock, sometimes annoyingly so. Thus no conversations or even follow-up questions were ever entertained. But I got a generalized reply based and around a single theme: “The violence must stop!” Moreover, few of the leaders spoke English. Thus a lot of our ‘conversations’ was lost or truncated in the interpreting process. What stands out is that almost all of the various leaders and people in general seem to agree that the major, perhaps only problem facing the country is the (contained) violence and threat thereof. Nothing could be farther from the truth, though. So I will stay more at the surface in this overview of our visit.

Galtung’s bird’s eye view of the situation (in Syria, TMS 29 Apr 2013): “Over this looms a dark cloud: Syria is in the zone between Israel-USA-NATO and Shanghai Cooperation Organization-SCO [Russia-China], both expanding.

“Then, an image of the goals of some inside parties:

  • Alawis (15%): want to remain in power, “for the best of all” (Assad’s power base);
  • Shias in general: want the same;
  • Sunnis: want majority rule, their rule, democracy;
  • Jews, Christians, minorities: want security, fearing Sunni rule;
  • Kurds: want high level autonomy, some community with other Kurds.”

However, Susan Dirgham, a delegate from Australia, offers a qualification:

“Much of the propaganda in Australia that leads to young Sunni Lebanese Australians to go to Syria for jihad relies on claims that in Syria you have an Alawi minority suppressing a Sunni majority. My understanding is that most of the ministers are in fact Sunni and the business elite with the economic power in Syria is also mostly Sunni. 

Like the mainstream media, Wikipedia does not present reliable information on this subject. (Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Ministers_(Syria) )

For example, 

“The Information Minister, Dr Al-Zouabi, is Sunni (not Alawi, as claimed by Wikipedia).

“The Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, is Sunni (not Greek Orthodox, as claimed by Wikipedia).

“The Deputy PM and Minister for Economic Affairs Qadri Jamil is Kurdish, as stated, and Communist (not Alawi as claimed by Wikipedia).

“It is interesting that the religion of the Minister for Social Affairs Ms. Kinda Al-Shammat is not listed on the Wikipedia page though one would assume she is Sunni because of her white hijab and the way she wears it.”

REFUGEES

Children at Bekaa Valley refugee camp.

Children at Bekaa Valley refugee camp

Refugee camp children in Lebanon

Refugee camp children in Lebanon

 

The Syrian state and its population are being indirectly attacked by US/EU/NATO/UN; and directly by Israel,  HERE and also HERE, by the autocratic dictatorships of the GCC-Gulf Cooperation Council: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, UAE (mostly Sunni Muslims) in partnership with Turkey (secular), and by Al Qaeda plus a diversity of mercenary jihadists (by definition terrorist groups), each with its own agenda, recruited from 29 countries and paid by GCC/CIA. Syrians are also assailed by UN sanctions and an embargo, and by a foreign press bent on demonizing, lying, destabilizing the country (not merely the regime). The mercenaries fight among themselves to grab the moneys channeled from the CIA and other American institutions via GCC and/or Turkey. Weapons enter Syria hidden in Turkish ambulances posing as such. US cash provides weapons and logistics, fund mercenaries, pay for jihadists. Bands of jihadists armed to the teeth invade Syria through Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon (Tripoli). Turkey opened its Syrian borders to them and, through terror, they displace the populations forcing them to take refuge back in Turkey in an effort to destabilize Syria. Turkey, in fact, invites Syrian refugees into the country. It is documented that Syrian refugees in Turkey are mistreated, have their organs removed (stolen), children sold for forced marriage or else. There are an estimated 50,000 foreign jihadist fighters terrorizing Syria’s countryside: snipers, bombers, agitators. They torture and kill men who refuse to join them. In their religious fundamentalism they believe that any Muslim they kill will automatically and immediately achieve paradise; they are actually doing them a favor (!). There is a score of young Europeans on their ranks as well (Germans, Dutch, British, Australians).

Al-khalil Palestinian refugee camp in Baalbak, Lebanon

Al-khalil Palestinian refugee camp in Baalbak, Lebanon

We visited and talked with a chief of family, refugee in Lebanon and saw twenty people living in a space roughly 6×6 without ventilation, a room inside a warehouse, for which they pay the equivalent of 400 dollar/month. One filthy kitchen, one bathroom. And that is that. They are on their own to find work and everything else. Some resort to stealing and committing petty crimes to survive.  This is typical, not an exception. And he explained that in his native Homs jihadists take over their houses, rape their women, and kill young males who refuse to join their ranks. Chechens, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Lebanese, Jordanians, Turkish, Europeans compose these gangs armed, fed and maintained by the above mentioned foreign governments. He said they attach suicide vests around peoples’ bodies and threaten to explode them if they don’t do what they are told. Underneath a rather dignified posture, he was scared, terrorized. Yet we kept hearing the same mantra over and over: “I want to go back home, I don’t belong here.” It was truly heartbreaking, and I felt helpless in the face of it. Bearing witness we were.

In one of the refugee camps we visited in Lebanon (more aptly called a concentration camp) we talked with a couple from Homs–he being a pharmacist and engineer–who had their house and business blown up due to terrorist activities. Now they live by charity in the Bekaa Valley-Lebanon, under a tent and with nothing but the clothes over their bodies. They are not allowed to work, own property, have a dignified life. There is no sanitation and there are check points with armed soldiers at the gates. Multiply this by about 1.5 million and you will have an approximate dimension of the human tragedy. We visited the Sabra Palestinian refugee camp as well, of the infamous Sabra-Shatila massacre by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in September 1982, on the outskirts of Beirut. In addition we toured the UN High Commission for Refugees intake center in Zahleh, Lebanon, next to Bekaa valley and were briefed by Maeve Murphy, UNHCR senior field coordinator. She said that there is a staff of 50 workers to deal with an influx of 1,500 refugees a day.

This is how it works, according to Prime Minister Wael Al Halki himself, with whom we spent 2.5 hours and with him doing most of the talk to explain in detail and with statistics and evidences what is really happening for the last two years. Jihadists take a village by assault, kill public officials, take over private houses in which to hide, burn plantations, spread terror and devastation. Their aim is simple: to render the country as ungovernable as they possibly can, disrupt normal life, destroy institutions, livestock, people. They occupy hospitals forcing medical personnel to look only after foreign fighters, not allowing wounded locals or government soldiers to be treated. This has created a wave of refugees from a total population of 21.9 million. Internal displacement is calculated at 1.5 million people. And 600,000 external refugees according to the Minister of Social Affairs, Ms Kinda Al-Shammat (estimate). But the UNHCR provides an official estimate of 1.5 million refugees spread over the different neighboring countries as follows:

- Jordan: 471.677;
- Lebanon: 469.217;
- Turkey: 347.157;
- Iraq: 146.951;
- Egypt: 66.922.

viewer

Places of Origin of Syrian Refugees Registered in Lebanon
(click on the photo to enlarge and have a clearer view)

GOVERNMENT RETALIATION

Syrian authorities on the other hand reacted to the rampant and aggressive terrorism through a policy they call ‘iron hand.’ Tanks, artillery and infantry descend in force on the places that foreign fighters keep under siege and blow up the buildings where they hide, keep armaments and snipers. However, before striking the buildings fliers are thrown from helicopters advising residents to leave the area, what is not always possible because the terrorists use them as human shields, keeping them under captivity inside their own residences. Collateral damage is high, it is a policy many consider unacceptable. But given the odds he said it is the best alternative. And this method, as brutal as it is, is bearing fruits as the terrorists are being decimated or otherwise driven farther and farther from populated areas. The minister of justice said textually: “Those who invade us to kill and destroy our country will not leave Syria alive.” But the jihadists still occupy and keep under siege many localities. If compared to the US retaliation to the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center, killing millions, invading other countries, and lingering still 12 years later through drone attacks and selective assassinations, such ‘iron hand’ policies are mild (without condoning the violence, that is). Those are, therefore, the demolished buildings shown ad nauseam and out of context, over and over on CNN, BBC, FOX and the rest of them.

According to a delegate from the USA:

“Most of the men and some of the women do not want to be photographed, but the children don’t mind.  Several people from Qusayr, a town on the Lebanese border said that when the demonstrations first began two years ago, they were nonviolent and the local officials would even clear the roads for them.  However, as they became more violent, the central government failed to act and the town was eventually overrun by armed local elements and foreign fighters from Chechnya, Azerbaijan and other places.  It was only after the population fled that Syrian troops finally came to quell the rebellion, which has apparently not yet been fully accomplished. I have no way to assess the accuracy of these stories, nor to generalize them, but at least my modest Arabic skills allow me to strike up conversations with whomever I want, and there are no government minders in Lebanon.  Nevertheless, we all want to meet with groups that have a very different story to tell, and Mother Agnès-Maryam has included such opportunities in our schedule, even Jabhat al-Nusrah, the al-Qaeda affiliate, with whom none of us expected to be able to speak.”

There is also the case of a boy shot by snipers in a street and whose body was whisked away by photographers who then made a video of his death; of his dying actually, fleeing afterwards and leaving the corpse behind. Medical personnel said afterwards that he could have been saved if taken to a hospital instead of to the killing fields’ improvised TV studio. The result of such filth is sold to TV networks for your and my robotized consumption. Yet as the PM asserted, the workers are being paid on time, schools, universities, public offices continue operating, and the government is able to maintain a somewhat normal life under such extenuating circumstances. As we toured the city or participated in meetings, we would hear loud booms at a distance, sometimes seeing clouds of black smoke rising from the bombed sites, or else, sounds of gun fights. We taped some of these with our cell phones. ‘Necessary evil,’ I was told, as I asked a gentleman in a restaurant, what he thought about such retaliatory bombings. People in fact don’t pay much attention to them. The UN says nearly 70,000 people have been killed since the foreign fighters entered the country and started the armed conflict in March 2011.

Another important point made by delegate Susan Dirgham:

“I don’t remember anyone we met supporting an arms embargo against the state.  We were reminded by the Melkite Patriarch that the selling of arms to the state is legal.  If it were stopped, the enemies of Syria would surely win.  I think what united everyone I met in Damascus was support for the state + dialogue.  This view was shared by people from different backgrounds and by those who supported the president and the current government and those who didn’t, such as the members of the “Third Current” I spoke with.  They may not have supported some of the tactics of the army or security etc, but they supported the right for Syria to defend itself from outside aggression and to remain in a position where it can defend its people and territory.  It seems as though we are being balanced and peace-loving when we support an arms embargo on both sides, but actually to support an embargo against Syria without also supporting the same for all countries in the region, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc. would not be helpful. Syria would collapse and be destroyed by its enemies if its army didn’t have the military hardware to defend the people and country, firstly against the 50,000 foreign jihadists/mercenaries, etc. and then against the states that work to destroy and dismember it.”

On one occasion an IED-Improvised Explosive Device exploded about 10 minutes after our delegation had left the Patriarchate of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church (our hosts throughout), where we had attended an ecumenical prayer for peace. I was shown photos immediately after, sent by cell phone, of blood on the floor from people killed and injured from the attack. Such is life in Damascus to which, after a short 10-day visit, we were getting somewhat used to. Understanding drives away outrage and harsh judgmental assumptions and conclusions. Mairead Maguire, who talked in private with four Syrian armed combatants, said they told her they took up arms against the government because they were unemployed; one of them with five children. Al Qaida offered them money. They took the offer and started killing fellow Syrians. Moreover, three shots were fired against the car of the leader/organizer of the peace mission, Mother Agnès-Mariam Soeur, a Melkite nun, on Sat. May 11, 2013 as she traveled to her native Homs, the hotspot city where her monastery was destroyed by terrorist activities.

Scene of IED detonation after we left.

Scene of IED detonation after we left.

IMG_2431

IED exploded minutes after our delegation passed this spot.

A delegate reports:

“There was the celebrated case of a nine-year-old Christian boy named Sari Saoud, killed by rebels in Homs.  His body was taken by the rebels, but his mother, Georgina al-Jammal caught up with them, and her embrace of her dead son was captured on video by the rebels, who then falsified the account to make it appear that the boy had been killed by government forces.

I talked with Georgina, who supports the government, but blames it for leaving the area without protection. She told me that she recognized some of the rebels from the neighborhood, but that others were strangers.”

CONCLUSION

A positive note: we were gifted with a VIP visit to the famous Umayyad Mosque in the old city of Damascus, fourth-holiest place after Mecca, where is located the tomb and shrine of St John the Baptist right at the center of the huge 4,000 year-old construction that had previously been a temple of Jupiter in Roman times and the Basilica of Saint John the Baptist. This mosque is at the end of the famous Road to Damascus, of St Paul’s conversion, which we walked by foot seeing the exact spot of the event. Upon exiting the mosque complex one could see another building erected by Saladin (1174–1193), also buried in Umayyad. This was just one of many fascinating experiences afforded us by our hosts being demonized and targeted for invasion and occupation by the West. They are understandably worried that invading marines wouldn’t have what it takes to appreciate such a wealth of history, art, religious traditions, faiths, civilization, and would most probably raze it to the ground as they have done elsewhere in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan. Right they are. We were hosted by the head of Umayyad, the Grand Mufti of the Syrian Arab republic, Dr. Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun and by the Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham, who organized and hosted our whole trip along with Mussalaha.

At the Umayyad Mosque with the Grand Mufti between Mairead and the Patriarche

At the Umayyad Mosque with the Grand Mufti between Mairead and the Patriarche

We arrived in Lebanon during the holy week of the Eastern Orthodox Churches and spent their Easter Sunday (5 May) as guests of one of the many Christianities of the Middle East, where it all began. An added treat.

The Mussalaha International Peace Delegation to Syria issued a Concluding Declaration. Being from varying backgrounds, delegates did not agree on everything and one of them did not sign it. Therefore: no groupthink and no possibility of collective brainwashing of our group by Syrian authorities. And Mairead Maguire’s messages to the media, as the Nobel Peace laureate head of the delegation, remained impeccable and on point. She started all interviews with affirmations to the effect that,

“It is for the Syrian people to decide about their own problems, their own destiny, their own politics, their own leadership and form of government. No one has de right to interfere in their internal affairs and all foreign forces must withdraw and stay away. The flow of arms and armed fighters must be stopped, sanctions must be lifted, and if the arms embargo should remain in place, it ought to all parties involved, not just to the Syrian government that has a right to defend itself from foreign aggression. It is the foreign bands of invaders that is doing the killings and the terrorizing of the population. All parties must follow the rules of international law.”

Ecumenical Service

Ecumenical Service

I find it disgraceful that our Western governments, led by US-EU-Israel and their client states, be full and willing partners in such atrocities perpetrated in name of ‘human rights,” “democracy,” “rule of law,” “freedom,” “liberty,” and other such meaningless, trivialized euphemisms. The present political and economic structures, embedded in the machinery of predatory militarism and capitalism, present us with only one choice, the lesser evil; but that is an artificial construct. Gandhi, Mandela, Luther King, Lula and many others are proof that changes and transformation are envisioned, given form and arise from below, from the ranks of the oppressed and minorities, from a non co-opted periphery, and not from within the belly of an empire of banks and bases seeking unlimited profits and hegemonic powers—for their own sake. Policies must again be made to endeavor the wellbeing of human beings, of life, not the perpetuation of structures and cultures that by necessity have to go. At other times in history piracy, slavery and absolute monarchy, for instance, also represented the status quo, the law; but they are no more. Nonviolent resistance and actions throughout the cultural-structural apparatus are the means to turn this tide, which is taking our planet and all its life to the abyss. We must choose life and peace by peaceful means, resist we must; and we will!

The formula is given by Galtung: Equity, Harmony, Trauma Reconciliation, Conflict Resolution:

                            + Positive Peace              Equity X Harmony

      Peace  =   ________________  =  _________________

                            – Negative Peace              Trauma X Conflict

 “For Syria, what comes to mind is a Swiss solution.  One Syria, federal, with local autonomy, even down to the village level, with Sunnis, Shias and Kurds having relations to their own across the borders.  International peacekeeping, also for the protection of minorities.  And non-aligned, which rules out foreign bases and flows of arms, but does not rule out compulsory arbitration for the Golan Heights (and June 1967 in general), with Israeli UN membership at stake. The search could be for solutions, not for the solution.  Let 1,000 dialogues blossom, in each quarter, each village, enriching the gross national idea product, GNIP.  UN-supported facilitators, with knowledge of mediation, rather than with guns and binoculars.”[iii]

Audience with Prime Minister Mr. Wael Al Halki

Audience with Prime Minister Mr. Wael Al Halki

And some more good news:

“Over the last four months I have been in touch with Dr. Mohja Kahf, who is active in the Syrian Nonviolence Movement.  Dr. Kahf has produced some excellent background material.  It is not unbiased, in my opinion, but very informative nonetheless, and I have great respect for her work.”

Like Saul, of Tarsus (known later as Paul the Apostle) meeting Ananias on his way to Damascus experienced a change of heart, his sight being restored, so have I met many angels on my own Road to Damascus, and reinterpreted and upgraded my own vision of reality—which I now share with you.

**********************

Watch a video from TeleSur here (Spanish); another here (Arabic-French); and another here (English, Australian TV), this one done by a journalist, member of the delegation.

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ENDNOTES:

[i] Johan Galtung, Syria, TRANSCEND Media Service, 29 April, 2013.

[ii] Galtung, Turkey-Cyprus-Kurds-Armenia-SYRIA, 15 Oct, 2012, TRANSCEND Media Service.

[iii] Galtung, Syria, TRANSCEND Media Service, 29 April, 2013.

____________________________

Antonio Carlos Silva Rosa is the editor of the pioneering Peace Journalism website, TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS, an assistant to Prof. Johan Galtung, and Secretary of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment. He has a Ph.D. (completed coursework) in Political Science-Peace Studies and a Masters in Political Science-International Relations from the University of Hawai’i. He is originally from Brazil and presently lives in Porto, Portugal. He was educated in the USA where he lived for 20 years; in Europe/India since.

Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgment and link to the source, TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS, is included. Thank you.

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24 Responses to “On the Road to Damascus”

  1. Dear Antonio,

    Great to meet you (I’d never seen a photograph of you before now)and thank you for this immensely interesting report of your visit to Syria and Lebanon.

    I hope those Westerns who like you, watch and read the corporate media, (something I stopped doing long ago) will also like you, wake up to the “real” reality.

    What sums up your piece is the last of Johan’s points in “An image of the goals of some outside parties”: “the UN, Johan says, wants to emerge as the conflict manager.”

    This is exactly what I’ve been saying for half a century!!
    This is why I call them “United Necrologists” or Specialists in Death”. The last thing they are interested in is “Peace Management”. This is why the permanent In-Security Council is formed by the most war-experienced and bellicose countries on Earth. This is the main reason why the world is in the mess it is.

  2. Alan says:

    A wonderful article full of first hand insight. A revelation that cuts through the myth, propaganda and false narrative on many reports in the main stream media regarding Syria. Thank you for bringing a light in to a dark corner and illuminating our understanding with your words.

  3. mark says:

    for your historical information it is calumny to state Sharron committed a massacre. It was Lebanese Christians who murdered Lebanese Muslims who previously had been butchering them. The Israeli army culpability is that they did not intervene.

  4. Yes, Sharron committed massacres, but unconnected to the Lebanese Christian-Muslim conflict.

    • I acknowledge the qualification: Lebanese Christian militias did the active killing. That, nevertheless, does not eliminate Sharon’s guilt and culpability in the massacre. He was there, an active partner, the enabler, ready to kill those Palestinians who tried to flee the refugee camp as his troops were at the gates, sealing them; without his agency the Sabra-Shatilla massacre could not possibly have happened. Semantics apart, I stand by my text.

      • Thank you for this insightful report, Antonio. To those who have commented about Sabra and Shatila, I recommend you watch the Lebanese/Swiss/German documentary called “Massaker”, featuring six of the Christian phalangist perpetrators of the Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in 1982. The men were interviewed separately 20 years after the massacre and all of them confirmed that they had been trained, equipped, enabled and encouraged by the Israeli army.

        Though they had been granted amnesty in 1991,the men interviewed in the film are still visibly affected by what happened. You can see it in their hands as they talk; one says he is still boiling inside whenever he thinks about it; another can’t forgive himself for being more disturbed by a dead horse than dead people; and one recalls storming into a house prepared to kill the inhabitants, seeing that someone else had got there first, and being haunted to this day by the image of dead parents lying on the floor holding each other and their dead children.

        The point is, we’ve seen this syndrome played out in too many other venues. In the case of Syria, it appears that the oil-greedy CIA and its allies are implicated in training, equipping, enabling and encouraging foreign mercenaries to commit atrocities, while covering up the truth with media distortions. Only by shining a light on what is really happening can people be empowered to stop the violence and begin healing. Thank you again, Antonio and others on this delegation for your witness.

  5. mark says:

    His statement that Sharon committed the Sabra Shatilla massacres is an outright falsehood. He undermines his credibility on anything else he writes by such patent untruths. Additionally he is further misinformed in that Sharon was general of the army at the time and not prime minister.

  6. [...] I participated, May 1-11, 2013 in the Mussalaha International Peace Delegation to Lebanon-Syria alongside fellow TRANSCEND member Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire, from Ireland, and 15 others from eight countries. Keenly aware of my responsibility, especially to my newly made Syrian and Lebanese friends left behind, I shall try to report, describe, make sense of what I saw, heard and experienced; also offer views and insights based on interviews – On the Road to Damascus….  [...]

  7. Dear Antonio, now that you mention Sabra-Shatilla, I withdraw last night’s comment. I thought you were referring to the the Lebanese Civil War, between Muslims and Christians (I knew at the time people who became very wealthy thanks to those long tragic years. People in England, France, Belgium, Switzerland and USA. Of course some Lebanese leaders, both Muslims and Christians, also made lots of money. The usual “Business of War”.

    I even had a Lebanese friend in London who was “sorry” for the death of his brother in Beyrouth, but he wouldn’t stop his money-making from the opportunity the Civil War afforded him.

    Now Sabra-Shatilla is an altogether different story. And yes, here we can say with all confidence, the Israeli troops carried out the massacre. However, Sharon or not Sharon, we cannot blame him personally. It doesn’t also matter what position he occupied at the time of the massacre. World War II would have happened even if Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill had never existed.

    Politicians are only the pawns in the “Game of War”, played by Bankers, gold, oil and Media barons, weapon manufacturers, makers of Apaches, drones, air-fighters, gunships, bombs, mortars, landmines, etc. They all have to sell their products, but cannot advertise them the way we advertise furniture, cars, shoes, cigarettes, drinks, bookshops, Restaurants, cruises, etc, etc.

    Their ONLY valid, effective advertising is WAR. I repeat, once again, my “leitmotiv”: rid the world of militarism; dismantle all Armed Forces; close all DEATH Factories” (weapons, missiles, torture instruments, military vehicles – for land, sea and air – etc, etc.). This will automatically stop the multi-billion Refugee Trade. This will give work, money, food and medical care to the 3 million Africans whom, at present, we FORCE to die early deaths.

  8. Dear Antonio;

    Many thanks for your sharing of experiences. How country effects to the people in general we Nepali can assume from the decade old armed conflict in Nepal. It is obvious that “Syrian people are suffering, they are sad, stuck, against the wall, being victimized for which they bear no responsibility”.

    On such situation, not only ordinary people, even the senior government authorities scare a lot in the absence of human security. However, they do try not to reflect on their faces and daily works, but extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, involuntary disappearances, torture other cruel and inhumane degrading treatments, etc. are the examples of how much fear do they have on their mind and how much cowardness hide clandestinely on their heart.

    “…I had psyched myself to find a country in ruins, people fleeing for their lives from bombs, tanks on the streets, a police state massacring its own citizens,….”

    The history has been a witness of that ordinary people are victimized by both conflicting parties in the name of their victory as they can easily pray, retaliate and show their bravery against the innocent people. The photos themselves speak how much important works you have done there.

    You ask very good questions, “What is the source of this conflict? What are the solutions?” Unless the authority-holders do not rationalize unbiasely, the resolution of any conflict is impossible.

    Humanitarian intervention including freedom from fear, freedom from want and freedom to live in dignity is needed.

    Thank you again.
    Bishnu

  9. Dear Bishnu,

    Thank for your contribution. You say “Unless the authority-holders do not rationalize unbiasely, the resolution of any conflict is impossible.”

    This suggests you speak from the position of the public and not of the politician. We have wars, precisely BECAUSE the authority-holders have rationalized unbiasely. They work long hours and hard to come to the agreement that “we must have war”. It is all rationalized to the last detail. 1) how much do we want to spend on this war (they don’t
    actually call them “wars” but “military campaigns”
    2) how long can we make it last? This discussion often
    takes a long time, because partners in wars are of
    different financial means and one side may wish for a
    3 month conflict but the other wants the conflict to
    last 3 years. They need to negotiate a compromise. Very
    often the richer side helps find Banks or brokers
    who’ll help the poorer side, so that the Game can be
    of a length beneficial to all sides.

    You say “Humanitarian intervention including freedom from fear, freedom from want and freedom to live in dignity is needed.”

    This is exactly how powerful politicians, top military personnel, Bankers, weapon manufacturers,oil barons, etc, live. Now, to protect their life style, they organise wars. What you call “Humanitarian intervention” I call “Human Stupidity”. That is the majority, who passively accept war, soldiers and also civilians who kill and die because those are the marching orders.

  10. Marilyn Langlois recommends the excellent film Massaker. I’d like to add one more “film to watch”; the animated film ‘Dancing with Bashir’, with some real scenes from the Sabra & Shatila massacre. A film to be seen, without fail.

    Marilyn mentions the Christian phalangists trained by the Jewish Army. It is usually not the Army itself, but former Israeli soldiers who make a living training people. They also train Irish, South American and African. And the train both official and rebel armies. Of course, former soldiers from USA< UK and other countries do the same.

    Marilyn talks of the "oil-greedy CIA", but CIA are not the direct or main beneficiaries of oil USA gets hold of.

    As to the use of foreign mercenaries" to commit atrocities, this has always been practiced, by many countries. It is good business for the soldiers; this is why so many prefer to join mercenary armies. At least, if they get killed, they leave more money to their families.

    I'm happy to see Marilyn's optimism "….by shining a light on what is really happening can people be empowered to stop the violence and begin healing". Sadly, I cannot share the feeling. I cannot forget that we allow spies to work, who "also" shine a light on what is happening. This is why Governments are empowered to make wars, initiating as many as they've planned.

    Once militarism is abolished (this is where I place my optimism!) nobody will be greedy for oil any longer.

  11. Thank you all my friends for your comments. I will take your advices and criticisms to heart. This did not endeavor to be an academic piece of writing but rather a description and a superficial analysis as people have no idea of what goes on in, around and in relation to Syria. Our corporate media does an excellent job of misinforming, to use a polite term.

    Stay well,
    Antonio

  12. Dear Antonio,

    In your last short message, you accuse or criticize the “our corporate media”. I hope you are aware of these facts:

    1) the corporate media is as divided as rulers, politicians
    and Churches are. People tend to be brainwashed by
    often contradicting concepts.
    2) there are hundreds of “non-corporate” media concerns,
    sometimes very small, ALL with their own agenda. They
    also contradict each other and they also brainwash
    the reader or listener.

    We have to learn to NEVER believe something simply because we read or heard it somewhere, but to use our brains to read between lines, to read what is not written or said.

    Take the Corporate Church (from where corporate politicians and corporate press emanated). The latter two, in a way,influence less people than the first one. Religious Corporations brainwash people from the moment they are born. This is why countries where Religion is VERY influential have far more wars than countries where people take Religion with a pinch of salt or in a more relaxed manner.

    Best wishes,
    Alberto

  13. [...] weeks there have been articles on Syria, first by TRANSCEND Media Service editor Antonio C. S. Rosa [Here] and then by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire [Here]. Both excellent articles, where we learnt a [...]

  14. [...] 3)      “It is for the Syrian people to decide about their own problems, their own destiny, their own politics, their own leadership and form of government. No one has de right to interfere in their internal affairs and all foreign forces must withdraw and stay away. The flow of arms and armed fighters must be stopped, sanctions must be lifted, and if the arms embargo should remain in place, it ought to all parties involved, not just to the Syrian government that has a right to defend itself from foreign aggression. Are the foreign bands of invaders that are killing and terrorizing the population. All parties must follow the rules of international law.”(http://www.transcend.org/tms/2013/05/on-the-road-to-damascus/) [...]

  15. […] Mairead Maguire, of the Peace Mission to Beirut and Damascus in which I participated in May 2013 [my report here] – Antonio C. S. […]

  16. […] Mairead Maguire, of the Peace Mission to Beirut and Damascus in which I participated in May 2013 [my report here] – Antonio C. S. […]

  17. […] Mairead Maguire, of the Peace Mission to Beirut and Damascus in which I participated in May 2013 [my report here] – Antonio C. S. […]

  18. […] Mairead Maguire, of the Peace Mission to Beirut and Damascus in which I participated in May 2013 [my report here] – Antonio C. S. […]

  19. […] Mairead Maguire, of the Peace Mission to Beirut and Damascus in which I participated in May 2013 [my report here] – Antonio C. S. […]

  20. […] Mairead Maguire, of the Peace Mission to Beirut and Damascus in which I participated in May 2013 [my report here] – Antonio C. S. […]

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