Weaning Syria from Hatred
The first heavy rains of winter, which always tend to lift the mood of the country, soaked the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport where Ehud Barak stood one evening in mid-December. The Israeli Prime Minister was addressing a small band of partisans huddled beneath umbrellas, determined to give him a proper send-off. He was on his way to Washington to attend the highest-level talks ever with the Syria Arab Republic, leaving behind a nation suddenly rent by the abrupt renewal of negotiations over the strategic and enchanting Golan Heights.
As a last act before embarking, Barak told well-wishers gathered in the driving rain that he was setting out on a "difficult" but potentially beneficial mission, and would represent all Israelis at the historic summit - including Golan residents opposed to abandoning their homes, farms and wineries. He carried with him a sheaf of letters from Israeli children in the Galilee appealing to Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad to reach a peace deal with Israel. Some of those children were brought along to the premier’s cold and drenched departure.
Whoever suggested Barak approach the ruthless Assad armed with notes from innocent youths was a bit naïve themselves. And obviously they also had missed, just weeks prior, the salvo of criticism which followed the storming of the Maon Farm encampment in the Hebron Hills. Pro-peace elements had been appalled by the sight of several Jewish mothers holding fast to their young in the thick of the rough-and-tumble IDF roundup of settler activists. Ignoring the fact it is not easy to find a baby-sitter when your home is raided at dawn, many on the left lectured the right to keep the kids out of the nation’s heated political struggles. Was Barak’s use of them any less suspect?
Few know exactly how and when Barak planned to hand those letters over to the Syrian delegation for delivery to Assad’s palace overlooking Damascus. Perhaps he dropped a hint hours later at the summit’s opening ceremony in the foggy White House Rose Garden. In a brief greeting, Barak said that Israel was determined to do whatever it can "to bring about the dreams of children and mothers all around the region to see a better future for the Middle East at the entrance to the new Millennium."
If ever there was a wrong moment, that was it. Because as Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk a-Shara stepped to the podium to respond, any notion of a place for those unsullied little letters in this bitter dogfight was immediately shattered. Reading from prepared text, Shara spewed forth a long litany of national grievances and accusations against Israel that lowered the outdoor temperature several degrees.
THE DAPPER Syrian Foreign Minister actually was representing his country well. His views and spirit that chilly morning genuinely reflect the prevailing mindset of the Syrian motherland, which has raised it people, from the womb, on a steady diet of some of the most poisonous anti-Israel, anti-Semitic fare known to mankind. The Assad regime (most Syrians know no other) airs its opinions daily through government-controlled media (Syria has no other) that is regularly filled with anti-Israel incitement and anti-Semitic articles and caricatures, including classical anti-Semitic stereotypes, comparisons of Israel with the Nazis and Holocaust denial.
Promptly spoiling Barak’s hope "to see a better future for the Middle East at the entrance to the new Millennium," an article appeared in a Syrian weekly on the 1st day of January stating: "Surely, any reader remembers... the spreading of AIDS in Egypt through pretty, HIV positive, Jewish girls who came from Israel in order to sell themselves to Egyptian youngsters seeking pleasure... Egyptian authorities also discovered Zionist gifts for children made of animal-shaped chewing gum. An examination of this [gum] discovered that it causes sterility. For university students [the Zionists] dispensed chewing gum that arouses sexual lust..."
The Syrian state press blames Israel for the downing of EgyptAir flight 990 off Long Island last fall, explaining it as a Mossad operation out to kill 33 Egyptian military officers on board, since most of them were skilled fighter pilots. "The Zionists" also are denounced for importing "a new religion called Satan worship that rejects the Koran and the New Testament and sanctifies Satan," which is corrupting Egyptian youth and even "the elite of Egyptian celebrities."
The Syrian press accepts as established fact that "the Zionist lobby" controls the US Government, and spent more than a year citing US President Bill Clinton’s troubles in the Monica Lewinsky affair as a prime example of the "international Jewish conspiracy." This was confirmed by no less than Assad’s own Defense Minister, Mustafa Tlass, who concluded "it is a plot fabricated by worldwide Zionism." This is the same high-ranking official who authored the widely available book, The Matza of Zion, which attempts to prove the Jews of Damascus in 1840 used Syrian Arab blood in their Passover matzot.
Despite the fact Assad has given refuge to Adolf Eichmann’s deputy, Alois Brunner, a war criminal responsible for killing at least 150,000 Jews, his regime routinely compares Israel with Nazi Germany. Former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was singled out for special loathing for "following in Hitler’s path." (Al-Ba’ath, March 19, 1998) In particular, under Netanyahu, Israeli pharmaceutical companies were charged with conducting medical tests "on Arab prisoners in Israeli jails... reminiscent of Nazi crimes against humanity." (Syria Times, November 4, 1997)
The Holocaust officially has been branded "the myth of the Nazi ovens" and legal attempts to seek compensation for losses a "campaign of Jewish blackmail." Notorious French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy was invited to Damascus by the Ministry of Information, and afterwards the government-owned newspaper Tishrin praised him for "exposing the lies of the Zionist movement which exaggerated what happened to Jews during the Second World War for political purposes."
In an opinion column in the Jerusalem Post on January 26, David Bar-Illan noted: "It is in Syria, whose leaders are now warmly embraced by the whole civilized world for making 'a strategic decision for peace,' that first-graders read in their first primer 'The Jews are criminal villains.'"
Such is the mother’s milk of Syria’s youth, and Israel’s search for peace with the Assad dictatorship certainly is no place for her children.David R. Parsons