Gideon Levy
Haaretz (Opinion)
June 9, 2011 - 12:00am

Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime is slaughtering dozens of unarmed Syrian demonstrators every day. In Israel we cluck our tongues in shock and say he is "slaughtering his own people," but when the Israel Defense Forces killed 23 unarmed Syrian demonstrators in one day, we boasted that the IDF "acted with restraint."

Demonstrators in the Syrian city of Hama and protesters on the Golan border are similar not only in their nonlethal means, but also in their aims. Both are trying to change the established order. And the authorities' response in both places - live fire on demonstrators - is amazingly similar.

In Israel people will immediately explain that the IDF makes every effort not to kill the demonstrators, and indeed the number of fatalities in Syria is much higher, but the means are similar - live fire on unarmed demonstrators. And the fatality count might even prove to be comparable if, God forbid, the Golan demonstrators persist in their rebellion - and Israeli public opinion wouldn't have any problem with that, of course. Even if we resemble Syria, we don't appear that way to ourselves.

Along the border fence on the Golan Heights, Israel has set up an additional, even more sturdy security fence to protect itself, particularly to block its own awareness of the demonstrators' presence on the border. Through this fence, we have created our own world, the world of our dreams, the illusory contrarian lie we tell ourselves.

In Hama, they are freedom fighters. On the border with the Golan Heights, they are demonstrators for hire, incited mobs and terrorists. Crossing the border into the Golan Heights involves a threat to Israel's sovereignty, even if not one country in the world recognizes such sovereignty over the Golan. The demonstrators on the Golan border are young people lacking any political consciousness who have been goaded into it, while their counterparts demonstrating against the Syrian regime are educated young people with a sense of democracy, people of the enlightened Facebook and Twitter revolution.

In the Golan Heights, Assad leads them by bus to their deaths, and the fault is entirely their own. The IDF has found a way to prove that most of the victims have been responsible for their own deaths or injuries. The thought that those determined young people in the Golan are risking their lives due to precisely the same political and democratic consciousness, identical to what is motivating their colleagues in the Syrian cities in rebellion against Assad's regime, simply doesn't occur to us.

On our border they're rioters. In the Syrian towns, they're demonstrators. There it's admirable nonviolent protest, while that same battle when it's waged on our border is considered violent, its perpetrators having death coming to them.

We have invented a world for ourselves: Assad has trundled out these young Palestinians to distract attention. But truth be told, we're being distracted to no less an extent, distracted from the aims of those same young people we're not even willing to listen to.

Has anyone here thought about the Israeli heritage tour one Palestinian-Syrian young man took in crossing the border and making it to Jaffa to visit his family's ancestral home? Maybe we can try to remind the Israeli reader that these are children of refugees, some of whose ancestors fled or were expelled from Israel in 1948 and who were not allowed to return. And others were expelled or fled from the Golan Heights in 1967 and have also been deprived of the right to go back.

Maybe it's possible to mention that, to a great extent, Israel conquered the Golan in 1967 as a result of an Israeli initiative. Maybe it's possible to mention that for three generations these families of refugees have been living in inhumane conditions in their refugee camps. It's true that this is the Syrian regime's fault, but Israel, too, bears responsibility for their fate. Maybe it's also possible to say there is a degree of legitimacy in their struggle, just as their counterparts' struggle against the Syrian regime is legitimate. Both want a life of freedom and dignity. Neither has it.

In the new Arab world taking shape in front of our eyes, at some point these young people in both Syria and on the Golan border will have to be heard, and some of their demands will have to be addressed, particularly if they persist in their unarmed struggle.

But we have gotten beyond that. We will hide our heads in the sand. We'll build another border fence, and another. We'll call day night and night day, forever telling ourselves that we're acting with restraint - killing 23 young people who didn't fire a single shot, with live fire. We'll accuse them and their leaders of responsibility for their deaths. The important thing is that our hands are clean, our ears closed and our eyes shut.


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