Washington DC, June 17, 2007/Reform Syria Blog – Farid Ghadry/ — By now many who follow the Syrian-Israeli information highway know that we have just visited the Israeli Knesset to address the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this past June 11, the same Committee that received Assad’s envoy on April 12, 2007. This was an extraordinary trip that we have taken advantage of not only to talk about why peace with Assad is not in the best interests of Israel but to also discuss why a free Syria is in the best mutual interests of both countries. The visit was also historic because it comes on the heels of the 40th anniversary of the 6-day war in early June of 1967 when Syria lost the Golan Heights.
As the Syrian opposition, through RPS, pioneered open relationships with the US today, I truly believe that RPS is also pioneering open relationships between the Israeli and the Syrian peoples. Assad can no longer claim, through secret diplomacy, the monopoly on working with and influencing those countries that are most important to gain back our freedom. This is a new era in both of our history as people.
On the way to Israel, I met with Mamoun al-Homsy over in Prague for a conference on Democracy and Security sponsored by the Prague Security Studies Institute with Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José-Maria Aznar (We are told by RPS supporters in Spain that Jose-Marie Aznar’s party is making an impressive comeback in local elections). My short delivery concentrated on Syrian human rights. President George Bush addressed the conference and called himself a “dissident President”. During President Bush speech (Video – Speech), he spoke about human rights in Syria and the plight of Mamoun who was sitting next to me. I watched how Mamoun was moved by the recognition after 20 years of suffering at the hands of the Assad family. Later, all dissidents had a meeting with the President. Mamoun and I spent about ten minutes with President Bush discussing the issues that are dear to our hearts.
What amazed me about Mamoun, as I met him for the first time, is his total commitment for the cause of human rights and the people of Syria. His absorption and unshakable belief in his mission helps Syrians realize how hard dissidents are working for their future. When Mamoun was sentenced to 5 years in jail by Baschar al-Assad in 2001 while still a member of the Syrian parliament (Against Syrian law), over 5,000 people showed-up for his sentencing at the courthouse. Mamoun al-Homsy, Riad Seif, and Riad Turk are the most popular dissidents in Syria. I am honored and humbled to be standing by their side.
In Israel, I was accompanied by Dr. Hussein Saado, a Kurdish dissident. We both spoke at many events held by the most prominent think tanks. Some of my RPS supporters were concerned about my security, especially in light of the threats by Jihad el-Khazen in his weekly columns in al-Hayat newspaper (I am saddened to see al-Hayat’s great impact on Arab journalism come to this. Jamil Mroué must be turning in his grave knowing that his newspaper, which was a symbol of free and untainted press, become a whipping tool to stifle the very freedoms he advocated), but I told them that Israel is one of the safest countries in the world because of their experience with terrorism. In fact, Hussein and I both felt very safe in Israel. Isn’t this ironic? Your enemy is your own repressive government in control of your country and not the country you have been educated to hate.
The media in support of Assad has been vicious. As an example, Al-Jazeera published an article in which the title is so far from what I said that one questions the legitimacy the media in Qatar plays. Al-Jazeera is infiltrated with pro-Assad Syrian operatives and intelligence officers so much so that it plays the role of an intelligence center disseminating misinformation rather than the truth it claims to disseminate.
In the past, any of my overtures towards Israel have been met with accusatory finger-pointing by the Assad regime on front pages of its Ba’ath and Tishrin newspapers. On the day that the Knesset confirmed officially my invitation is the day that two Syrian lawyers suddenly accused of treason Assad’s own envoy who visited Israel publicly. On this trip, the Syrian regime used some of its henchmen representing Arabs in the Knesset to attack our visit. What they did not realize is that the attacks raised the profile of the visit and provided for free media galore. For that, we are eternally thankful to Mr. Muhsin Bilal the Syrian Minister of Information. I believe he did it because the Syrian regime cannot afford a deluge of oppositionists lobbying Israel for how peaceful and moderate the Syrian people are.
Prior to our trip, I received this email from a liberal supporter who lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that I wanted to share with you. The person wrote it in response to the second installment of “Why I Admire Israel”. These are the future leaders of Syria we are counting on to support and implement the movement for change.
BRAVO AND ZILLION BRAVO FOR YOUR COURAGE AND KEEP ON WRITING, AND I HOPE TO GOD THAT THROUGH OUR JOINT EFFORTS THE ASSAD REGIME WILL BE DESTROYED ONCE AND FOR ALL, ALONG WITH THE “FEW” CORRUPT ARAB REGIMES.
When he learned about my trip to Israel, he wrote me this:
I truly believe your appearance in the Knesset will be an added-value to our purpose of liberating Syria (wish If I could be there!). Best of Luck.
Israelis are not aware of the respect they have in some Arab circles for having built a strong nation with limitless potential. The culture of hate beaming by Assad’s media outlets in Syria, or any other Arab dictator for that matter, does not represent the real truth about our admiration for the accomplishments of Israelis. A Syria, free from the tyranny of Assad, will give us a fighting chance to bear the fruits of our own limitless capabilities as Syrians. Only when we are strong and independent can we have real peace with Israel. In Maslow’s Pyramid, Syrians are hovering in the Safety Zone. The moment we are free and our economy is developed, we will earn the confidence for openness and co-existence.
One measurement of excellence a country can showcase is its capacity for invention and innovation. As an example, Israel ranked second in the number of patent applications submitted in Europe in 2005 and ranked fourth in the US for 2006. But what is more important is the fact that in Israel only 22% of patent applications are submitted by Israelis and the remainder 78% are submitted by foreign entities. This is a clear indicator that Israel’s innovation engine triggers a protectionist policy by many countries who fear that their own inventions may be conceived independently by Israelis. I do not know of any foreign entity that filed a patent in the Syrian Proprietary Protection Department because, thanks to Assad, our Syrian Resistance Protection Department is so much more important. Syria could one day compete with Israel in the “innovation” field rather than continue destroying itself in the “resistance” one but not as long as Assad is in power oppressing the majority of Syrians.
A story appeared in Elaph, the widely read Arabic electronic newspaper, of a study done by a Syrian dissident named Mihi Eldine al-Lathkani of the grotesque corruption of the Assad family. The study’s conclusion: The Assads fortune is in the range of $40,000,000,000.00 (FORTY BILLION USD). That is approximately one billion pilfered for each year the Assads ruled Syria. According to Lathkani, the corruption by the Assads and their immediate beneficiaries is unprecedented in scope and damage to Syria. The more money they embezzle, the weaker Syria becomes, the more dangerous Syrian behavior. Al-Lathkani’s web site was hacked two days later by unknown assailants.
In this Blog, I expected to write about the Palestinians but given the invitation, I will leave this subject for later. In my next installment, I intend to write about details of our trip to Israel and what experiences we came away with.