Thursday, November 16, 2006

Unresolved Resolutions

During the course of my trip I've developed a rather morbid obsession for the less dignified episodes in recent history: the secret jails of Argentina's Dirty War, Bangladesh's war of independence from Pakistan, Nagorny Karabakh, and the treatment of Kurds (pretty much everywhere) to name but a few. Not because I find them exciting or sexy, but because my generation in the West has no experience or contact with such events. Instead we are fed glamourised films where handsome heroes cut down battalions of faceless baddies before getting the girl, or 8 page newspaper supplements with maps and troop movements shown in big red arrows and sensitised 3-minute news slots. That's not real, it's just numbers on paper, and if the TV story upsets you there's no need to worry as the next story is about David Beckham's foot. When we hear about casualties and conflicts in far away lands our minds might perhaps react, but not our hearts, because we do not know these people, we cannot see these people, we don't understand these people. They are nameless, faceless, voiceless. And that's dangerous, as, when conflicts do arise, we end up regarding them as soap operas to be avidly followed, rather than tragedies of endless suffering that they are.

And that is why, whilst here in Damascus, I went to visit the Golan Heights. Well, more like the Golan Lows really. The area, which belongs to Syria, was captured by the Israelis during the Six-Day War of '67 due to its strategic importance as the Heights overlook all of northern Israel. Most of the area captured then is still occupied, although a thin sliver of land was returned and is under UN administration, although a couple of Security council resolutions explicitly call for the handing back of the Heights, which everyone seems to agree belong to Syria. (It almost happened though there were niggling differences over borders and so the deal fell through, and since then the Israeli stance has become less accomodating for a compromise. Technically the two sides are still at war.) Before handing back the little piece of land, the Israelis drove out the inhabitants, gutted the buildings of anything useful, and then sent in bulldozers to flatten them all (please note, however, that I have found articles suggesting that the town was ruined during Arab-Israeli fighting, aminly through Arab bombardment, but like many facts relating to the situation it's difficult to get objective and reliable facts). Since then the UN controlled ruins of Quneitra have become an icon for the hard-nosed, merciless attitude of the Israeli army. The destruction is pretty complete as you wander the streets (only the streets, mind you, as there are many UXOs around the site) under the watchful gaze of a Syrian intelligence officer, who shows you where you can walk and what you are allowed to photograph, and an Israeli military post on the opposite hilltop, bristling with antennae to listen in on their neighbours. The Golan has also become a symbol for the hypocrisy and double-standards of the West, as Israel openly flouts UN Security Council resolution 242 that stipulates that Israel must withdraw from the Golan (with Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's PM in the early 90's, going so far as to say: "withdrawal from the Golan is unthinkable, even in times of peace") without a peep from Western diplomats, whilst Syria gets scathing criticism for its support for Hezbollah, which the vast majority of Syrians see as a legitimate resistance movement. Such demonistaion of countries can only lead to their further radicalisation and is ultimately counter-productive.

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