Much of the world press has treated last weekend’s attempt by Palestinians living in Syria to force their way across the border into the Golan Heights as one more manifestation of the “Arab Spring,” the movement of mostly young people to bring a semblance of freedom and democracy to an Arab world that lacks both.
The truth is something less heroic; all evidence suggests the attempted incursion was one more attempt by Syrian strongman Bashar Assad to deflect attention from his brutal repression of protesters in his own country.
Once again, Assad has demonstrated — as did his father for so many years — that Syrian expressions of sympathy for Palestinian refugees are empty, at best, horribly cynical at worst.
We don’t believe for an instant that Palestinians living in this police state — barred from citizenship, with even fewer rights than the long-suffering Syrian people — could have moved to the border area without the active connivance and possibly encouragement of the government in Damascus.
The State Department spokesman got it right when he said “This is clearly an attempt by Syria to incite these kinds of protests. Israel, like any sovereign nation, has a right to defend itself.”
Assad’s regime undoubtedly knew the likely results when it sent thousands of Palestinians to the border crossing. It undoubtedly knew there would be casualties, and hoped that the skewed court of world opinion would be quick to criticize Israel, deflecting attention from its own human rights abuses.
In this case, Assad and company may have miscalculated. The international reaction to the death of some Palestinians participating in the “Naksa Day” border attack has been subdued; while there has been veiled criticism of Israel, even some nations in the “blame Israel first” club grasped the essential fact that these demonstrations were incited by a brutally repressive Syrian regime.
West Bank officials and even the violence-minded leaders of Hamas discouraged similar incursions from their territory over the weekend. Only the cynical Syrian regime seemed eager to send Palestinians into harm’s way.
Periodically officials in Washington and Jerusalem, frustrated with gridlocked Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, cast hopeful eyes toward Damascus and suggest that peace with Syria could be easier to negotiate. As if more proof were needed after weeks of the government’s fatal attacks against brave citizens calling for democracy, Assad’s cruel manipulation of the Palestinians and his reckless willingness to provoke new conflict along the Golan border suggests the futility of those hopes.