February 18, 2005 - End the occupation now!
It is time for an end to the oppressive occupation of a proud Middle Eastern people yearning for their independence and freedom.
Syria's occupation of Lebanon - one of the most under-reported stories in the Middle East - has lasted close to thirty years. It has managed to stay below the radar of popular consciousness. It's getting just a little attention now because of the recent assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese Prime Minister and strong advocate of Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.
Lebanon has been preparing for parliamentary elections to be held in the spring. Hariri was hoping to use these elections to encourage the expression of opposition to the Syrian occupation. Syria certainly had the motive to kill him - so no wonder Iranian commentators immediately accused Israel! (Iran and Syria have just agreed on a formal alliance.)
According to Lebanese newspapers, on the day of Hariri's funeral more than 150,000 mourners crowded the streets of Beirut protesting the Syrian occupation. Political protest is risky in the Arab world, but the Lebanese people had the incentive to overcome their fears.
The Syrian occupation has been harsh. Syrian domination has turned Lebanon into a police state. There is no freedom of speech or of the press. Dissident journalists are subjected to blackmail, legal harassment, and even violence. Protest is dangerous. One student reports having been arrested and beaten several times simply for distributing a flyer containing an anti-government speech. Thousands of protesters have been kidnapped by Syrian intelligence, and many still languish in Syrian jails. Syria uses illegal wiretapping to track dissenters, and its methods of torture are notorious throughout the region.
Syria exploits Lebanon economically as well as politically. It has let thousands of Syrian workers into Lebanon and inundated Lebanon's markets with surplus Syrian goods. It has tapped Lebanon's limited water supply.
Syrian control and tampering with the electoral process have all but destroyed Lebanon's democratic institutions. Not only the media but also the country's judiciary, schools, and labor unions have been corrupted by Syrian influence. Syria's domination of Lebanon is a military occupation in the true sense of the word.
So why, when one hears the word "occupation" in the context of the Middle East, does one think only of Israel?
Let's briefly compare the two:
Concerning this last point, Syria has acted as both a sanctuary and a source for Iraqi insurgents. Syria also supports Hezbollah terrorists and permits them to act freely along Lebanon's border with Israel.
So why aren't those so concerned about occupations not protesting Syria's occupation of Lebanon as loudly as they are condemning Israel? Surely they would not want to give Israel's supporters any reason to suspect that anti-Semitism might be a factor. Then why the double standard?
I would like to propose the following Non-Hypocrisy Test for all those who criticize Israel's presence in the territories as the most important issue in the Middle East: Are you willing to devote at least as much words and energy to condemning Syria's oppressive military occupation of Lebanon? If not, why not?
These are good questions to ask especially now, when the anti-Israel divestment campaign seems to be gathering momentum. I would like to hear the answer of the Presbyterian Church. I would like to hear the answer of the United Church of Christ. I would especially like to hear the answer of all those who style themselves as "peacemakers."
Chicago Tribune Editorial Staff. "The Other Occupation." February 15, 2005.
Friedman, Thomas L. "Hama Rules." New York Times, February 17, 2005.
Morley, Jefferson. "Who Killed Rafiq Hariri?" Washington Post, February 16, 2005.
Pipes, Daniel and Ziad Abdelnour. "Ending Syria's Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role." Middle East Forum, May 2000.
Reuters News Staff. "Hariri Funeral Puts Heat on Syria, Lebanese Allies." February 17, 2005.
Rosett, Claudia. "Pining for Freedom: Syrian Occupation Suffocates Lebanon, and the World Shrugs." Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2003.
Thorne, John. "Lebanese chafe under Syria's quiet occupation." Christian Science Monitor, January 8, 2004.
Wilson, Scott. "Blast Kills Ex-Premier In Lebanon." Washington Post, February 15, 2005.
Peace with Realism