The Syrian army operates like an army of occupation

At the New York Review of Books, Max Rodenbeck (who is Chief Middle East Correspondent for The Economist) describes some of the striking parallels between the way in which the Assad regime has dealt with the uprising and Israel’s approach to crushing the Palestinian intifadas. The article is behind the NYRB subscription firewall, but here’s an excerpt:

[T]he Syrian government, uniquely among countries swept up by the Arab Spring, represents not merely a corrupt and oppressive ruling clique. It baldly represents the interests of a small, fearful, well-armed, and organized sectarian minority, set against the wishes of a majority that has remained inchoate, politically divided, and powerless. The fact of this polarization, long elaborately disguised by hollow pageantries, has only become clear to many Syrians now that the underlying nature of the state has been exposed and the violence implicit in the country’s neocolonial power structure has been made dramatically explicit.

The stark estrangement between rulers and ruled struck me during a visit last winter to Douma, a largely Sunni Muslim suburb of Damascus. It is one of a ring of overgrown villages, divided from one another and from the old city center by empty spaces that have now revealed their utility as potential security cordons. Taken together these villages house most of the capital’s four million people. At the time Douma was just emerging from the trauma of a three-week government siege designed to flush out what state television insists on calling “terrorists.” The campaign worked, for a while: the then barely armed local self-defense groups loosely known as the Free Syrian Army briefly pulled out of Douma to spare it further punishment. (As has happened nearly everywhere the government then claimed victory; the rebels simply waited, then filtered back.)

As a proud group of local youths showed me holes blasted by tank fire as a show of force, a mosque donations box pilfered by soldiers, and a cemetery with many fresh graves and more gaping open, ready for urgent use, the thought kept nagging that I had seen this all before. It was when they pointed out that every one of Douma’s rooftop water tanks had been punctured by government gunfire that I realized what seemed familiar. The Israeli army had done the same thing during the first Palestinian intifada. In fact, the entire catalog of collective punishments meted out in Douma suggested the handbook of an army of occupation: cutting power and phone links for days on end, enforcing curfews with snipers, forcing children at gunpoint to paint over graffiti, breaking down doors instead of knocking, administering public beatings, arresting male youths en masse, using masked informants to finger suspects.

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