Saturday, July 01, 2006

Gaza by candlelight

Imagine having to live in a tin hut in stifling temperatures of 45 degrees or more without a fan or a fridge for weeks on end. Your meat stinks and your father's medicines have gone off. You sweat like a pig and lose your temper when a child screams for an ice cream.

You have not had a proper job for years, but it can't all be bad. With no light or TV at night, romance can creep back into your life. In my case, only a thin curtain separates me and my wife from my elderly parents and the children. So I have to pick my moment.

Blowing out the candles at night has become something of a routine. Starlit Gaza nights are a time for reflection, so I do it with a sense of anticipation and excitement.

Who am I? Why was I born in this tortured land? Will my children survive disease, poverty and martydom? I fear for them, so should I surrender my body and soul to the Israelis? Who needs a state when there is no hope? I hear they pay well for spies.

Some of our hotheads are holding a young Israeli soldier. Mr Olmert is blowing our power stations and bridges to smitherines and beating the shit out of our men, women and children. The EU spokeswoman is urging restraint on "all sides" while holding back aid.

Perhaps suicide bombs ARE the answer. The ultimate human sacrifice. But this is just like blowing out candles and I am talking about beautiful, innocent, slender, brown-eyed Palestinian candles.

I have a brilliant idea. Why don't we just give up any claim to Palestinian lands. We could all live in the LAND OF ISRAEL. Mr Olmert will have no reason to pick a fight with us. Everyone knows Israel is a democratic nation. So we will be given 100% equal rights straight away. Just imagine, me and Mr Olmert, equal in the LAND OF ISRAEL. My children will grow up in peace with Israeli children and together they will thrive.

The morning after. More bombs fall onto our heads and the young Israeli soldier is murdered in retaliation. We Palestinians are like ants. We can have a nasty bite but they can spray us with fire and poison, stamp on us with their big army boots and destroy our nests. Perhaps we are not really human. We breed so someone else can enjoy kicking our nests into the ground and squashing our young. Next year, inshallah, will be better. You know, I keep saying to myself, we Arabs, should have listened to Habib Bourguiba in 1965. We just never learn.


Alex said...

Great post Philip1

I hear from Syrians two conflicting strong sentiments:

1) Watching waht is going on to our brothers in "Palestine" really hurts. We must help them

2) We had enough putting our future on hold while we confront Israel, we need to concentrate on building Syria instead.

Which mentality is the more popular one?

Zenobia of the East and West said...

Dear PhilipI,

your account is so poignant, and melancholic...... i appreciate it much...

was this a creative exercise....or are you really there in GAZA? you re always writing about Syria, so i thought you are a syrian..? was a bit surprised.

either way, your writing pulls at the heart; I feel so pained and frustrated at the current development. (only the latest of course)...and feel so much outrage that nobody comes to the rescue of the gazans....

Philip I said...

Zenobia, thank you. I am Syrian through and through. I just wanted to highlight the plight of ordinary people in Gaza. I am sure it is worse than I imagine it to be. They have no access to clean water or medicine, let alone computers and blogs and no one really seems to care. I cannot help but speak up for the weak, oppressed and humiliated and I'm sure you would too.

Alex, our lives have been blighted by the Palestinian problem, for sure. But this is not the fault of ordinary Palestinians. It is their leaders and ours who, since 1948, have proved themselves to be ignorant, unwise and a bunch of demagogues and megalomaniacs.

It is not, and should not, be a straight choice between helping or ignoring the Palestinians. I am sure most people would say that you should help yourself AND your fellow human beings if you can. The important thing to remember is that you should not let yourself be lured into battles that you cannot win.

Alex said...


What you said is quite logical however it seems that the Israelis and Americans would not help you build Syria if you claim or act on your policy of helping the Palestinians

What would you do if you were the leader of Syria? what is the practical policy you would adopt that will both help the Palestinians get their lands back, while being freindly enough to the Israelis and Americna so that they accept to deal with you and not obstruct your projects and plans?

Philip I said...


I did not want to tackle this thorny political issue because I knew it would be difficult to answer with two sentences. But since you asked I am sure you will excuse the lengthy reply:

The world has become oblivious to the Palestinian suffering for 3 reasons:

1. The Israeli propaganda machine is extremely effective and deeply-rooted in almost all regions of the world. It is intelligent, well informed, well-organised, subtle, has mastery of the local languages and knows how to influence public opinion. The real war between Israel and the Arabs is not being fought on the ground in Palestine but in winning hearts and minds worldwide, which translates into political influence and effective pressure on foreign policies.

2. Incompetent Arab diplomacy and Islamic extremism. The latter is real and significant and you can attribute its rise to injustice,lack of freedoms..etc but it is also encouraged by Israel through systematic provocation in Palestine and elsewhere, then blown out of all proportion by them in the international media.

3. Despotism and lack of freedoms in the Arab and Islamic world generally. We all become faceless and uncivilised in the eyes of the world. The attitude towards Arabs in general and Palestians in particular is that they deserve what they get through their own stupidty and ignorance. They think of us as ants rather than human, and those who don't think this way have no real desire to connect or empathise with us. The cycle of violence blurs everyone's vision and no one wants to know who started it and why. So injustices get buried under the rubble.

What would I do if I were a leader? Firstly, I would restrict my help to the Palestinians to humanitarian aid, international diplomacy and building cultural bridges between them and the rest of the world (I can hear people sniggering already). Secondly, I would maintain friendly or neutral relations with all nations and open dialogue with Israel (particularly because of the Golan and Palestine) and, thirdly, I would focus on building Syria into a free, democratic and productive nation. Strength comes from productivity because to be productive you have to be organised and to be organised you have to build effective institutions (including private ones)and to build effective institutions you need a good educational system, so you can produce good workers and managers, and to bring sufficient resources (capital and human talent) into these institutions you need political freedom, justice and a fair and transparent legal system.

It is only when you have reached a high level of organisation and productivity that you can begin to negotiate from a position of strength to regain land that you have lost in battle or protect your interests generally.

Hate politics is futile and doing battle when you know the odds are stacked against you is foolish. I am not advocating building a mighty military machine either to get Palestine or the Golan back. That has been the excuse used by successive Arab leaders to hold on to power and steal. Military strength should be sufficient to protect your population against invasion. Any more than that will drain your resources, sap your energy, and put you on a conflict path with other nations.

Ultimately, the Palestinian and Golan issues will be resolved through diplomacy, backed up by successes in the international propaganda war and real economic and political development in Syria. The alternative is to overplay your hand and try to become a nuclear power while you are still in diapers, as Iraq once tried to do!

Alex said...

very reasonable.

How would you deal with the following challenge:

A majority of Syrians today totally dilike and do not trust Israel. Large numbers of Syrians actually hate Israelis.

One would expect, therefore, that if you are a democratically elected leader, chances are, your platform is much more confrontational with Israel than the one you described here.

Another challenge: Syrians want fast results. Bashar has been in office for 6 years and many people already gave up. Will Syrians be patient while a new leader spends years and years re-educating and re-structuring without visible results?

Philip I said...


1) Arabs and Jews are emotional people. They blow hot and cold. When they befriend you they smother you with false love and affection and when they hate you, they practically want to kill you. When Sharaa was negotiating with the Israelis in Spain, Syrians rubbed their hands at the prospect of peace, return of the Golan and increased openness and investment in the country. Syrians have been taught to hate from very early age at schools, in the media, in mosques and at home. They have not been taught to think for themselves, look for facts and balance their arguments and views. Good leaders (be they political, religious or community-based) are never emotional. They are good because they have experience, vision, wisdom and integrity and they know how to stir popular emotions behind clear and legitimate national goals.

2) The problem with Bashar (the leader rather than the person) is that he fails on all the leadership attributes. Moreover, his appoitment was unconstitutional and an insult to the intelligence of the general population. Bashar the person may be honest, sincere, a determined moderniser..etc so he would probably be very successful in private life as a professional or businessman. In any case, personality cults are a thing of the past. No nation can move forward without a broad political consensus, social justice and the cooperation of the middle class. Bashar "the leader" is irrelevant and the regime that keeps him there as a figurehead is rotten to the core.

3) Until the professional and intellectual middle classes are allowed to flourish in Syria and those abroad encouraged to return, the country will never develop. Some Gulf Arabs with too much petrodollars may invest in the country in partnership with the corrupt elite, give the impression that all is well. The result is further exploitation and concentration of economic and political power.

4) The way out of this quagmire is clear. The Country's constitution has to be changed. The supremacy of the Baath party has to end and emergency laws lifted. There are hundreds of legal,economic and institutional areas that need urgent reforms. Without basic democratic freedoms and a transparent and fair legal system, no decent professional or intellectual will want to lend legitimacy to the regime. Many starry-eyed professionals either wanted to believe or were duped into believing that Syria was going somewhere under the young Bashar. Most now realise it is the political system and the personality cult that must go before the country can move forward. As always, there are exceptions and you, I and others can come up with individual cases that disprove these arguments. The worst excuse that the regime keeps on using to resist change is security. It is like a mad and ignorant cowboy that keeps pulling hard on the reins because he thinks he can see red indians everywhere.

norman said...

For Syria to develop politecaly it has to have midlcass and to do that economic improvment id essencial so people will vote for the better peorson not with the right religous or ethnic affiliation.Syria is the only Arab country standing in the face of Israeli dominent and deffending Arab and Palestenian rights and to expect that Israel will see the light and give the Palestenians part of what is theirs is a fantacy Israel gave Egypt Sinai to get Egypt out of the conflict and signed Oslo accord so to increase the setlment and bring the jewish setlers fro Rusia and that increased their number from about 100000 to more than 250000 which changed the facts on the ground to keep more of the land ,about the Syrians being brainwashed by the goverment propaganda nothing further from the truth ,i do not think you understand how informed the Syrian people about the conflict between the Palesetenians and the Israelis,Syrians understand that the only way for the return of Arab land is war the Lebanese proved that.they are still willing to give the Syrian gov a chance for peacfull return but they are not optomestic.

Philip I said...


I respect your opinion. So why have we not gone to war since 1973? When do you think we will go to war?

Anonymous said...


I appreciate your post so much, and your comments even more. You present your arguments very well and you make perfect sense.

Unfortunately from my past experience Alex and Norman come pretending that they are on your side and they want debate and civility but then little by little their obvious choices and views start becoming clear and end up being very similar to the government and the regime specially when it comes to foreign affairs, internal issues (saying the regime has no other choices), and unlimited support for regime figures (saying they are faking it to stay on, Buthaina Shaaban in Ammar's post or whoever else), justifying corruption and all other regime deficiencies by attacking or comparing other countries in the middle east, they want (or just Alex) just Peace with Israel but support most of the regime actions in terms of inflating the region (saying they are innoncent) ...

Norman mentioned few days ago that he is so happy for his free education on Syria Comment which I am so happy to notice its negative outcome and his way of thinking, he must be still fresh from there, or an important for his idea that women (siters and moms like he said) are very safe there...well I connected with some people and I am hearing very nasty stories about some girls being kidnapped by taxis, or a fresh case of some fundementalistic islamic gangsters (criminal band) succeeding of pursuing some weak christian women in Aleppo who are married and with kids, seducing them to fall in love with one of them, then the rest of the band would contact the husband for a while, threaten him and scare him to death so he stays confused and silent, while someone else succeed in getting loans in the woman's name, then the woman would run away after getting caught by the husband and declares becoming muslim. What kind of safety is that??? and how many lives get destroyed that way! is that how proud you are from Bashar??? keep finding him excuses and soon you'll be the first one to attack him.

Fuck the ASSADS

Alex said...


All good, except one point that needs some more clarity:

You hold the first national democratic elections when the majority of Syrian people are genuinely in this current state of mind where they hate the Israelis and Americans (and some hate “the crusaders”) … you would expect the first elected leader to reflect their wishes when it comes to the path Syria should take with regard to conflict with Israel.

Are you suggesting that this same leader would pretend he is an Israel/America fighter while in secret he will have his other plans .. to slowly change the mentality of those who elected him?

Or, did I understand you correctly in that you believe that Syrians who currently “hate” will change their mind rather easily?

I am not critical to what ever you are saying, I am just asking for more detailed description of the transition period to see how feasible you feel it can be.

You know Farid Ghadry claims he has excellent connections with the Americans and Israelis (which he does) and therefore his approach could be the most successful to regaining the Golan .. Syrians, however, totally distrusted and boycotted him.

And “anonymous” … Syrians’ opinions are spread all over the political spectrum. I hope you learn how to respect and accept diversity a bit better. Don’t think you can change the world to your liking overnight.

Philip I said...


Once again, it is not possible for me to give short and glib answers to your "challenging" questions. I am happy that "Anonymous" has enjoyed the post and the comments and thank him for his concerns.

A healthy debate can reveal motives, misunderstandings, a geniune need to find answers or a real desire to connect with like-minded people. This is cyber democracy in action. Now I will answer Alex's question directly.

As you know, no political system is perfect because people are not perfect. However, human falability should never be used as an excuse to exploit others or abuse one's position of trust. In a proper democracy, a diversity of views and interests feed into national policies. The policies benefit from collective wisdom. Foreign policy would not be left in the hands of a self-appointed elite and faceless security advisors to formulate and exercise.

When people are free to form associations, when voting is fair and without intimidation, when there is open debate among the various parties and civil groups and when the media can expose failures and corrupt practices and express peoples' thoughts, fears, disappointments and hopes, the nation, and its policies, become more realistic and mature.

In a proper democracy the learder is not the centre of the universe. He (or she) is a servant with a clear and limited and mandate. His job is to represent the collective will of the people and can be thrown out of office for exceeding his powers. Real power lies with a fully representative parliament. Parliament makes laws and approves policies, including, in particular, foreign policies. The judiciary and the media keep a close watch on government and government officials, and punish them for incompetence or abuse of power.

If parliament decides it is in Syria's interest to keep an open dialog with Israel, parliament will in this case be representing the majority view among the Syrian population. The elected government can propose policies and parliamentarians, representing their voters, can vote on them.

Syria, like other Arab countries, has sufferred a great deal from the personality cult. Syria, therefore, should no longer have an executive president. The president's role should be purely ceremonial, cultural and ambassadorial. The elected prime minister should be the political leader of the country and his job would be to works with talented and effective ministers to implement policies that have been voted on by the population and parliament.

The "transition" , as you put it Alex, can take up to 10 years. But no transition will take place until the Baath party has ceded its exclusive constitutional powers. Its legitimacy should derive from honest votes rather than the constitution and the army. If the party gets 99.99% of the honest Syrian votes, I'll be happy for it.

As to Mr Ghadry, his so called "good contacts" with Israelis and US neocons are, in my view, misguided and their purpose less than honourable. I would talk to any Israeli or neocon any time, anywhere, but I am not going to bend down on all four and offer them a free ride all the way to Damascus!

Reem said...

My eyes were strongly distracted by the adress of this post "Gaza by candlelight" ,its so ironic to associate "candlelights" as symbol of warmth of feelings of humanity with the poor rough harsh unhumane reality of Gaza
Am very touched that someone can describe the life in Gaza as strong as bold as true as you did here , Gaza the forgotten land which everyone has abandoned....Thanks