A Syrian Military Officer And Houla

This is a compelling account:

“Raslan served until last Saturday in the Syrian Air Force in the strategically vital port city of Tartous. He had been in Houla on leave when the town was shelled just after 1pm last Friday, then invaded by a civilian militia, known as the Shabiha, in the worst single atrocity of the Syrian uprising.

The officer’s account to the Observer of what took place is among the most important of the testimonies to have emerged since the massacre, the aftermath of which appears to be causing fresh turmoil inside Syria 16 months after the first stirrings of revolt inspired by the Arab spring.

Raslan said he was in his house, around 300 metres from the site of the first massacre in the village of Taldous, when several hundred men whom he knew to be Shabiha members rode into town in cars and army trucks and on motorbikes.

“A lot of them were bald and many had beards,” he said. “Many wore white sports shoes and army pants. They were shouting: ‘Shabiha forever, for your eyes, Assad.’ It was very obvious who they were.

“We used to be told that armed groups killed people and the Free Syria Army burned down houses,” he said. “They lied to us. Now I saw what they did with my own eyes.”

He said the killings in his area were over in around 15 minutes. However, the rampage in other parts of Houla continued until the early hours of Saturday, according to eye-witnesses and survivors.

“Those victims who were slaughtered are people that I knew well,” Raslan said. “These children I knew well, personally. I ate with their families. I had social ties with them. The regime cannot lie about these people, who they were and what they did to them. It was a brutal act by the regime against people who were with the revolution,” he said.

Raslan said that he served on a missile base in Tartous, removed from the grinding everyday savagery of Syria’s uprising. “I knew they had been lying, but I had not been exposed to the effects of it. This was the first time I had seen anything like this.”

He said defections had increased sharply in the days following the massacre and he claimed to know of five defectors who were shot dead as they tried to flee through olive groves not far from Houla the day after the killings.”

The Shabiha In Syria

Fifteen months on, some 13,000+ killed, 100,000s injured and about half a million people displaced in Syria and finally, the role of the Shabiha is being questioned in the Western media.

Ghosts of Syria: diehard militias who kill in the name of Assad:

“”Women, children and old men were shot dead,” Syria’s foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, told reporters this week. “This is not the response of the heroic Syrian army.”

Then who did kill 108 people in Houla, including 49 children, in cold blood? The answer appears to lie with the armed civilian militias from nearby Alawite villages, who are known to Syrians as shabiha, from the Arabic word for ghosts.

The term initially referred to shadowy gangs of smugglers who grew up around the coastal city of Latakia in the 1970s, and whose immunity from law seemed to come from their tribal and village connections to the ruling Assad family.

These early shabiha thrived under the wary eye of President Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, and for good reason. In 1980s, with Syrian troops occupying Lebanon and its economy crippled by goods shortages, smuggling goods across the Lebanese border became one of the best ways for well-connected Syrians to make money.

One result of this illicit economy was a reserve army of loosely employed, poor young men from the Alawite offshoot of Shia Islam that has proved very useful to a regime that has made paranoia about enemies, real and imagined, the cornerstone of its survival.”

Continue reading

David Hirsh On The Merchant Of Venice And Habima

Over at Engage, David Hirsh has scrutinized, picked apart and provided informed cultural analysis on Shakespeare’s Merchant Of Venice within the context of Habima, and some decidedly non-Shakespearean bigots

“When I see a production of the Merchant of Venice, it is always the audience which unsettles me. The play tells two stories which relate to each other. One is the story of Shylock, a Jewish money lender who is spat on, excluded, beaten up, and in the end mercilessly defeated and humiliated. The other is an apparently light-hearted story about an arrogant, rich, self-absorbed young woman, clever but not wise, pretty but not beautiful, and her antisemitic friends. Shakespeare inter-cuts the grueling detailed scenes of the bullying of Shylock, with the comedic story of Portia’s love-match with a loser who has already frittered away his large inheritance.

Shakespeare offers us an intimately observed depiction of antisemitic abuse, and each time the story reaches a new climax of horribleness, he then offers hackneyed and clichéd gags, to see if he can make us laugh. It is as if he is interested in finding out how quickly the audience forgets Shylock, off stage, and his tragedy. And the answer, in every production I’ve ever seen, is that the audience is happy and laughing at second rate clowning, within seconds. And I suspect that Shakespeare means the clowning and the love story to be second rate. He is doing something more interesting than entertaining us. He is playing with our emotions in order to show us something, to make us feel something.”

The Habima Theatre Of Israel, For Want Of Rational Discussion

At the moment I am not much of a theatre goer but I thought this guest post at False Dichotomies asked relevant questions of those who support BDS:

“I tried to talk to the group making their brave stand next to me. I pointed some of the above out, by way of introduction. The women to my immediate left stared vacantly past me, possessed of her own righteousness. “What of the 5 million Palestinians who don’t have a voice”, she said to herself, as I attempted to find out what she knew of the siege of Nahr El-Bared by the Lebanese army in 2007 as compared with the Battle of Jenin in 2002 – whether, as people often wonder, Palestinian suffering counts when it is inflicted by the Lebanese, or Syrians, or Jordanians, or themselves – by anyone, in fact, but the Jews.

No reply.

Perhaps the best one of the night – and this is not saying much – came when a man stood up and pompously intoned “do the Palestinians not have eyes” and “if you prick us, do we not bleed” as he was taken out. Someone told him to piss off, to gales of laughter. As Shylock hesitated on stage, a voice cried out for him to carry on, “we’re all with you”. And, bar a lone woman shouting out that Israel was an apartheid state built on stolen Palestinian land in the street outside, that was it. To her, and all the others I saw in action tonight, I would ask the following questions.

Why are you unable, for the most part, to engage in rational discussion with people about the issues you protest? Why does the BDS movement appear to reject a solution that reflects the aspirations of both peoples for independence and self-determination?

Why is your “justice” so partial, so one-sided?

Why are you so palpably consumed by hatred?

Why do you never, ever, address the appalling treatment of the Palestinians by the countries in which they are left to rot in refugee camps? Why do you not recognise that it is impossible to turn the clock back to 1948? Why are you so obsessed with the need to self-aggrandize yourself in actions which merely make you look foolish and ignorant and do nothing to contribute to a better future for the people you purport to represent? ” [my emphasis.]

Syrian Government: Was The Martians What Did It

No, they didn’t say that, but they could have.

If you took the trouble to listen to the early reports of the massacre in Houla, Syria then you could be forgiven for wondering how the Syrian government would respond.

Instead of admitting that they have tanks and heavy artillery, and that the Syrian opposition none.

Instead of admitting that they have slaughtered more and more civilians, and done so in the last 15 months, the Syrian government is blaming someone else.

They might as well have blamed Martians, such is the cynical obscenity of their excuses.

There is no logic, no reason, no plausible denial, no humanity, nothing, just the daily murder of Syrian civilians by the Assad regime.

Yet this farce goes on in the West, where instead of admitting that the Syrian government have consciously slaughtered more than 13,000 people in the past 15 months, the Western media sometimes leave the culpability open.

Martin Chulov describes the terrible killing at Houla:

“In a few short hours, the town of Houla joined the sorry list of localities whose names have become synonymous with the merciless slaughter of civilians. Srebrenica. Nyarubuye. My Lai. Up to now, the Syrian conflict has killed 13,000 people. But until this weekend, it had yet to include the mass slaughter of nursery-age infants.

“The shelling started around 3pm,” said Abu Jaffour. “I was in the fields at the time and we tried to reach the area being bombed. It took us three hours to get there. When I reached the houses it was dreadful. I was carrying babies’ bodies that had parts of their heads hanging out.”

A second Houla resident, Imm Mowafik, said that nightfall brought more brutality. “The Shabiha [pro-regime civilian militias] came into town from the direction of the Allawite villages. They entered from five to seven checkpoints and were killing people in their homes. We could hear the shots and nobody could help them.” Abu Jaffour said: “We have buried around 110 martyrs and there are still some people under the rubble. Twenty-two of the children are nursery age.”

Last night, the UN security council convened an emergency session to discuss what the White House called a “vile testament to an illegitimate regime”. The foreign secretary, William Hague, will arrive in Moscow on Monday to take up the matter with Assad’s closest security council ally, Russia. The UN special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, whose tattered peace plan remains in effect on paper alone, will head for Damascus on an emergency mission to stop the crisis from unravelling even further. “

Update 1: The Guardian gives space to an Assad apologist, Patrick Searle. He argues this nonsense:

“Major-General Robert Mood, the Norwegian head of the UN observer mission, has been cautious in pointing the finger of blame for Friday’s Houla killings: “Whatever I learned on the ground in Syria … is that I should not jump to conclusions.” Probably, the truth is that the two sides share the responsibility.

Which is flatly contradicted by this piece from Reuters:

“The letter from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which was obtained by Reuters, said the observers “viewed the bodies of the dead and confirmed from an examination of ordnance that artillery and tank shells were fired at a residential neighbourhood.” “

Patrick Searle doesn’t even think on as to who has artillery and tanks? Oh, yes, the Syrian government.

Update 2: I haven’t follow Searle before, but he has form, Patrick Seale, Assad Apologist, Welcomes the New Cold War.

Update 3: I remember Asa Winstanley doing an appalling piece for RT which minimalised the Syrian government’s culpability, but this article explains their role in greater detail:

“While it’s unsurprising that the network’s coverage of the Syrian uprising would track closely with positions staked out by the Kremlin—for example, when Russia vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the regime, an RT correspondent stressed that the resolution “could have sent an unbalanced signal to all sides of the conflict”—RT hasn’t simply promoted an anti-interventionist or anti-NATO viewpoint. Instead, it has frequently parroted Assad’s narrative by providing a platform for paranoiacs and conspiracy theorists to dispute that civilians are being killed by the regime, accuse America and Israel of being behind the deaths of Syrian civilians, and argue that the government in Damascus is a beacon of tolerance in the region. “