War on Gaza: Syrians fluctuate between emotional attachment and political position
Enab Baladi – Yamen Moghrabi
Thousands of posts on social media, photos, videos, and demonstrators. At first glance, the picture appears to date back to 2011, when popular revolutions broke out calling for freedom and the overthrow of dictatorial regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
The situation is completely different in 2023, and the manifestations of electronic mourning came as a result of the battles in the Palestinian Gaza Strip and the fall of thousands of civilian casualties as a result of the Israeli air strikes on the Strip.
Despite the pictures published from Gaza, which show the scale of the tragedy and the great interaction of a wide segment of Syrians, the connection of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) to the battles, the entry of the Lebanese Hezbollah into the clashes line, albeit intermittently, and doubts about a direct Iranian role in the Operation Al-Aqsa Flood that was launched on October 7, made the interaction and sympathy of another segment of Syrians absent.
Many dispute Hamas’ relationship with the Syrian regime, as well as Iran, and thus, the matter turns from a completely Palestinian issue that can be sympathized with and supported to supporting the movement that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007.
The Syrian regime raised slogans of liberating Palestine and played on this issue for decades, exploiting its penetration into the conscience of Syrians and their school curricula.
In addition to the historical factors that brought together the Syrians and Palestinians, joint wars and open borders, at least until the implementation of the Sykes-Picot Agreement after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, and the division of the Levant and Iraq between France and England.
Between 1982 and 2023, what has changed?
Israel carried out a military operation against Lebanon in 1982, and its forces reached as far as the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
In isolation from the Syrian regime forces that have been present in Lebanon since 1976, Syrians went to Lebanon to fight the Israeli forces alongside Palestinians and Lebanese, and some of them were killed in the battles, according to what the former Secretary General of the Lebanese Communist Party, George Hawi, said in a documentary for the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel.
Syrian sympathy continued in subsequent wars and appeared clearly in the July 2006 war and the Gaza war in 2008.
With the Syrian regime choosing the security solution to confront the Syrian demonstrators and the peaceful revolution in Syria turning into armed battles, committing massacres against civilians and destroying schools and hospitals, the situation of a segment of Syrians began to change, and the form of sympathy, interaction, and attitudes toward the events taking place in other countries changed despite the geographic and historical and humanitarian connection.
The change in perception of political and humanitarian issues is linked to several factors, including political awareness and the extent of its connection with the person himself and its impact on him.
Social researcher Hossam al-Saad told Enab Baladi that a person’s presence in a specific geographical area requires him to communicate with those affected by political and humanitarian issues.
Al-Saad gave an example of the relationship between the Syrian revolution and what is happening in Gaza in the current period and explained that the behavior of sympathy is based on what these events represent for the individual in terms of its closeness to his political, humanitarian, or religious principles and orientations, and from here differences arise in the positions of some individuals.
Considering that the current circumstances push a segment of Syrians to build their sympathy according to political principles or biases towards one party rather than another, the concept of sympathy appears in a different way.
Social researcher Aisha Abdul-Malik told Enab Baladi that there is a difference between empathy and compassion, and while the first concept goes towards a feeling of compassion, the second pushes its owner to move, help, and try to create solutions to the existing problem.
Abdul-Malik added that most of people’s current feelings revolve around the concept of empathy and feeling pain towards those affected by disasters.
National disasters: Less compassion
The number of civilian victims in Syria who were killed at the hands of various parties to the conflict reached 230,465 people, including 201,63 victims at the hands of the Syrian regime, since March 2011, according to data from the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), in addition to the economic crisis and the spread of millions of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and the world.
This disaster surrounding Syria pushes Syrians to give priority to their own crises and to try to emerge from successive disasters with the least possible damage, and this is an additional reason for the change in the form of compassion for the surrounding issues.
According to al-Saad, the impact of disasters, especially those related to politics, may lead to not seeing the full political scene, and a kind of confusion occurs between political positions and humanitarian situations, and a failure to understand that politicians are constantly looking for their interests according to the issues they adopt.
He added that the existence of a state of aversion or rejection of a particular political faction should not be directed at an entire people.
Over the years, Palestinian factions, including the Hamas movement, enjoyed support from the Syrian regime and had their camps, training, and offices in the capital, Damascus, before their positions towards the regime and the Syrian revolution varied.
Some of them participated in battles against the Syrians. On the other hand, there are 3,076 Palestinians detained in Syria, and 333 missing, and the number of victims reached 4,214 people, according to the statistics of the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria (AGPS).
In October 2022, a delegation from the Hamas movement visited the Syrian regime, and relations between the two parties were restored. This led to Syrians taking a position against the movement and affected the view of some of them towards the Palestinian issue, especially with the image that Israel paints of itself through social media as a “democratic, militarily, economically and technologically advanced country.”
Israel is trying to exploit the social media platforms to influence Arab youth through accounts and pages on Facebook and Twitter that were created specifically for this purpose.
Social researcher Abdul-Malik told Enab Baladi that sympathy for clear humanitarian issues pushes a person to feel better, for standing with truth and justice and moving from empathy to compassion.
She added that the current circumstances have divided people into two groups. The first group believes that what is happening in Gaza at long intervals used to happen daily in Syria.
The second team speaks that the issue is right and just as well and builds its point of view on this basis, even if disaster surrounds it.
When pictures or video clips spread related to sympathy for Palestine, an association occurs in the minds of the second group of people with Idlib, given that the pain is the same and the bombing is simultaneous, according to Abdul-Malik.
Balance between politics and compassion
In the midst of successive political events and major international changes that the world is witnessing, the process of creating a balance between politics and sympathy becomes difficult, especially when there are major crises.
This is not limited to a specific segment but extends to all segments, with their various financial, cultural, and social classes as well.
This balance, in al-Saad’s opinion, is linked to political awareness, reading the scene and the map of the political reality in the region in which a person lives and his position in relation to all of these events, and thus forming clear positions (positive or negative) towards the issues that affect his political situation, and even his human conscience.
Abdel Malik told Enab Baladi that creating balance is very difficult, especially if it is related to belonging. In general, people sympathize with situations far from politics from a humanitarian principle, and when they are linked to a political aspect, the matter begins to differ radically.
Television channels and social media play a major role in determining people’s compass in the field of empathy and adopting issues, according to Abdel Malik, who believes that the media has turned into a first authority and not a fourth authority as it is called.
Over 5,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 15,000 others wounded in Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip since October 7, according to data from the Palestinian Health Ministry released on Wednesday.
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