Reader’s Comment on “Why Syria Doesn’t Want War”

Why Syria Doesn’t Want War with Israel

Johnny Writes:

Josh, though I agree with your following comment in general:

“Syria has scrupulously avoided direct war with Israel, because it would undermine its hold on power. That is why it must work through militias and non-state actors, which don’t have a return address”

I beg to differ on the return address. The militias and non-state actors may not have a return address inside Syria proper, but ask any residents in the occupied territories and southern Lebanon and we will tell you otherwise. The return address is more often than not on top of our heads.

Joshua Replies:

Johnny, habibi — Allah yukhalli rasak. Kish barra wa ba3iid.

You are absolutely right. Syria’s military weakness has obliged it to fight a non-traditional war. The result is that many Lebanese are held hostage to a larger struggle that they want no part of.

All the more reason for not misinterpreting the war’s causes. If one believes that it is due to “dark Alawite insecurities,” as Baer and others argue, the proper strategy to bring peace to the region is regime change in Syria.

I think such a policy is stupid and misguided, even if it is all too commonly made. It will only lead to increased Lebanese chaos and suffering, not to mention plenty of Syrian chaos and suffering. This is a cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face policy.

It confuses domestic power politics with Syria’s foreign policy. I quote as support a kind note sent to me by a three-time ambassador to the Middle East, who is also a long time Syria hand:

Thank you for correcting the analysis of Robert Baer about the so-called “Alawites’ dark insecurity — and the fact that they will risk war with Israel if they believe their survival requires it.” It is one of those many simplistic examples of incorrectly trying to link internal power politics with foreign policies.

The real solution is to help end the Arab-Israeli conflict and restore the Golan to its legal owners. Once this is accomplished, Syria will not have incentive to destabilize Lebanon. Certainly, Syria’s Lebanon strategy will no longer need to depend on supporting “resistance” and an armed Hizbullah. For Syria to give up support for Hizb before getting the Golan back, is to give up its claim to the Golan.

Syria will continue to work for a “friendly” Lebanon, but that will not be so objectionable – even to right wing Lebanese – so long as Syria is at peace with Israel and supports a Lebanon also at peace with Israel. Everyone will be the richer and everyone’s house will be the safer – everyone but the 20,000 Jewish settlers on the Golan – which is where the real problem lies.

All of this “dark Alawite” hocus-pocus is a diversion from the real problem of occupation and land disputes at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. No matter who rules Syria, they will need to fight for the Golan and they will need allies in their struggle. Gaining the return of the Golan is perhaps the only thing that all Syrians agree on.

I doubt that the Muslim Brothers or the NSF have a better plan than the present Syrian regime has. During the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, they recommended that Assad attack Israel on the Golan in order to support Lebanon and defeat Israel. That would have been a losing strategy for Syria, but, of course, that was the point. They want Syria to be defeated by Israel in order to bring down the present regime that they abhor. This is the quintessential cut-of-your-nose-to-spite-your-face strategy. It was not smart of the these opposition members to advocate it.

Lebanon and Syria are linked by geography, economy, and culture. Only a happy and peaceful Syria will help to foster a happy and peaceful Lebanon. And the same goes for a happy and peaceful Israel. The international community should throw its efforts behind the task of helping the Israeli settlers back to Israel proper and returning the 300,000 Golani refugees in Syria back to their homes and land. This is a much easier task than regime change in Damascus. It is more likely to improve the futures of both Syrians and Israelis. It will also end Syria’s need to hurt Israel through proxies and will protect people like you from becoming Israel’s return address.

But let us turn away from power politics for a moment. Supporting international law is the right thing to do. America should not be seeking to crush Syrian efforts to regain the Golan, which is exactly what Washington’s policy has been for the last eight years. It should be supporting and promoting the peace process that Israel and Syria have begun.

Comments (20)

phil cattar said:

Your premise is wrong and too simple.If Israel gave back the Golan tomorrow,Syria would still try to control and dominate Lebanon for various reasons.Also what about Iran and Hizbollah and they just going to disappear? Israel will NEVER give back the Golan unless Syria breaks ties with Iran,the ball is in Assad’s court.

October 7th, 2008, 2:27 am


Off the Wall said:

Folks, Check this out. Very intersting

Olmert’s Final Divorce
From “All of Eretz Israel”

In colloquial Israeli Hebrew, when someone discovers something that everybody else already knows, we say: “Good morning, Elijahu!”

Why Elijahu? I don’t know. Now one could say: “Good morning, Ehud!”

That’s what I said to myself when I read the sensational interview that Ehud Olmert gave this week, on the eve of the Jewish New Year, to the newspaper “Yediot Aharonot”.

AT THE end of his political career, after resigning from the prime ministership, while waiting for Tzipi Livni to set up a new government, he said some astounding things – not astounding in themselves, but certainly when they come from his mouth.

For those who missed it, here is what he said:

* “We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the essence of which is that we shall actually withdraw from almost all the territories, if not from all the territories. We shall keep in our hands a percentage of these territories, but we shall be compelled to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace.”

* “… including Jerusalem. With special solutions, that I can visualize, for the Temple Mount and the historical holy places … Anyone who wants to keep all the territory of the city will have to put 270 thousand Arabs behind fences within sovereign Israel. That won’t work.”

* “I was the first who wanted to impose Israeli sovereignty on all the city. I admit … I was not ready to look into all the depths of reality.”

* “Concerning Syria, what we need first of all is a decision. I wonder if there is one single serious person in Israel who believes it is possible to make peace with Syria without giving up the Golan Heights in the end.”

* “The aim is to try and fix for the first time a precise border between us and the Palestinians, a border that all the world [will recognize].”

* “Let’s assume that in the next year or two a regional war will break out and we shall have a military confrontation with Syria. I have no doubt that we shall smite them hip and thigh [an allusion to Judges 15:8] … [But] what will happen when we win? … Why go to war with the Syrians in order to achieve what we can get anyway without paying such a high price?”

* “What was the greatness of Menachem Begin? [He] sent Dayan to meet with Tohami [Sadat’s emissary] in Morocco, before he even met Sadat … and Dayan told Tohami, on behalf of Begin, that we were prepared to withdraw from all of Sinai.”

* “Arik Sharon, Bibi Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Rabin, his memory be blessed …each one of them took a step that led us in the right direction, but at some point in time, at some crossroads, when a decision was needed, the decision did not come.”

* “A few days ago I sat in a discussion with the key people in the decision-making process. At the end [I told them]: listening to you, I understand why we have not made peace with the Palestinians and the Syrians during the last 40 years.”

* ” We can perhaps take a historic step in our relations with the Palestinians, and a historic step in our relations with the Syrians. In both cases the decision we must make is the decision we have refused to face with open eyes for 40 years.”

* ” When you sit on this chair you must ask yourself: where do you direct the effort? To make peace or just to be stronger and stronger and stronger in order to win the war … Our power is great enough to face any danger. Now we must try and see how to use this infrastructure of power in order to make peace and not to win wars.”

* “Iran is a very great power … The assumption that America and Russia and China and Britain and Germany do not know how to handle the Iranians, and we Israelis know and we shall do so, is an example of the loss of all sense of proportion.”

* “I read the statements of our ex-generals and I say: how can it be that they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing?”

My first reaction, as I said, was: Good morning, Ehud.

I am reminded of my late friend, the poet who went by the name of Yebi. Some 32 years ago, after dozens of Arab Israeli citizens were killed demonstrating against the expropriation of their lands, he came to me in utter turmoil and exclaimed: we must do something. So we decided to lay wreaths on the graves of the killed. There were three of us: Yebi, I and the painter Dan Kedar, who died last week. The gesture aroused a storm of hatred against us, the like of which I have not experienced before or since.

Since then, whenever someone in Israel said something in favor of peace, Yebi would burst out: “Where was he when we laid the wreaths?”

That is a natural question, but really quite irrelevant. Olmert, who fought all his life against our views, is apparently adopting them now. That is the main thing. Not “Good morning, Ehud” but “Welcome, Ehud”.

True, we said this 40 years ago. But we were not an incumbent Prime Minister.

True, too, that these things were said and spelled out in detail by many good people, like those who wrote the Gush Shalom Draft Peace Treaty, the Nusseibeh-Ayalon document or the Geneva initiative. But none of them was an incumbent Prime Minister.

And that is the main thing.

IT SHOULD not be forgotten: In the period in which these ideas were crystallizing in Olmert’s mind, he was allowing the settlements to expand, especially in East Jerusalem.

That gives rise to an unavoidable question: Does he really mean what he says? Isn’t he cheating, as is his wont? Isn’t this some sort of manipulation, as usual?

This time I tend to believe him. One can say: the words sound truthful. Not only the words themselves are important, but also the music. The whole thing sounds like the political testament of a person who is resigned to the end of his political career. It has a philosophical ring – the confession of a person who has spent two and a half years in the highest decision-making office in the land, has absorbed the lessons and drawn conclusions.

One can ask: Why do such people reach their conclusions only on finishing their term of office, when they can no longer do much about the wise things they are proposing? Why did Bill Clinton come to formulate his proposals for Israeli-Palestinian peace during his last days in office, after wasting eight years on irresponsible games in this arena? And why, for that matter, did Lyndon Johnson admit that the Vietnam War has been a terrible mistake right from the beginning only after he himself had brought about the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and millions of Vietnamese?

The superficial answer lies in the character of political life. A Prime Minister rushes from problem to problem, from crisis to crisis. He is exposed to temptations and pressures from the outside and stress from the inside, coalition squabbling and inner-party intrigues. He has neither the time nor the detachment to draw conclusions.

The two and a half years of Olmert’s term were full of crises, from the Second Lebanon War, for which he was responsible, to the corruption investigations which dogged him throughout. Only now has he got the time, and perhaps the philosophical composure, to draw conclusions.

That is the importance of this interview: the speaker is a person who stood for two and a half years at the center of national and international decision making, a person who was exposed to the pressures and the calculations, who had personal contact with the leaders of the world and of the Palestinians. A normal person, not brilliant, not a profound thinker by any means, a man of political practice, who “saw things from there that cannot be seen from here”.

He has delivered a kind of State of the Nation report to the public, a summary of the reality of Israel after 60 years of the state and 120 years of the Zionist enterprise.

ONE CAN point out the huge gaps in this summary. There is no criticism of Zionist policy over five generations – but that is something that one cannot really expect from him. There is no empathy with the feelings, the aspirations and the traumas of the Palestinian people. There is no mention of the refugee problem (it is known that he is ready to take back just a few thousand in the framework of “family reunion”). There is no admission of guilt for the disastrous enlargement of the settlements. And the list is long.

The primitive basis of his world view has not changed. That is made clear by the following amazing statement: “Every grain of the area from the Jordan to the sea that we will give up will burn our hearts … When we dig in these areas, what do we find? Speeches by Arafat’s grandfather, or Arafat’s great great great grandfather? We find there the historical memories of the people of Israel!”

That is utter nonsense. It is totally unsupported by historical and archeological research. The man is just repeating things he picked up in his early youth, he is simply expressing his gut feelings. Anyone sticking to this ideology will find it hard to dismantle settlements and make peace.

All the same, what is in this testament?

It is an unequivocal and final divorce from “All of Eretz Israel” from a person who grew up in a home over which hovered the Irgun emblem: the map of Eretz Israel on both sides of the Jordan. For him, the Irgun slogan “Only Thus” has turned into “Anything But Thus”.

It gives unequivocal support to the partition of the country. This time, his adherence to the principle of “Two States for Two Peoples” appears much more genuine, not lip service or sleight of hand. His demand for “fixing the final borders of the State of Israel” represents a revolution in Zionist thought.

Olmert has already said in the past that the State of Israel is “finished” if it does not agree to partition, because of the “demographic danger”. This time he does not invoke that demon. Now he speaks as an Israeli who is thinking about the future of Israel as a progressive, constructive, peaceful state.

All this is put forward not as a vision for the remote future, but as a plan for the present. He demands that a decision be taken now. It almost sounds like: Let me continue for another few months, and I shall do it. The unstated assumption is that the Palestinians are ready for this historic turning point.

And he has fixed an Israeli position from which there can be no going back in any future negotiations.

This is the testament of the Prime Minister, and it is obviously intended for the next Prime Minister.

We don’t know whether Tzipi Livni is ready to implement such a plan, or what she thinks about this testament. True, she has lately voiced rather similar ideas, but she is now entering the cauldron of the Prime Minister’s office. One cannot know what she will do.

I wish her one thing above all: that at the end of her days as Prime Minister she will not have to sit down and give an interview, in which she, too, will apologize for missing the historic opportunity for making peace.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

October 7th, 2008, 4:21 pm


Alex said:

In a further sign of just how low Syrian-Saudi Arabian relations have sunk, Syrian authorities have banned the distribution of al-Hayat, the Saudi-owned mass circulation Arab daily.

The step came nearly two years after al-Sharq al-Awsat, another Saudi daily, was banned from Syria for running articles that were considered critical of the Syrian government during the Israeli war in Lebanon in 2006.

Subsequently, the Syrians hailed Hezbollah in Lebanon as a resistance organization while the Saudis criticized it because of its links to Iran, claiming that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was an \”adventurer.\”

President Bashar al-Assad snapped back in a speech that those who had conspired against Hezbollah in the Arab world (in clear reference to Saudi Arabia) were \”half-men\”.

The cold war between Damascus and Riyadh continued between 2006-2008, over a variety of issues related to influence in Lebanon, Iraq and to a lesser extent, Palestine. The Syrians challenged Saudi Arabia by cementing their relationship with Iran, arguing that while the Iranians were supporting Syria\’s positions with regard to its standoff with the United States, the Saudis were only adding insult to injury by applying pressure on Washington to keep the heat on Damascus and engaging in dirty intelligence tricks with the aim of destabilizing Syria.

Syria challenged the Saudis in Beirut – and won a military confrontation between Hezbollah and the Saudis\’ Hariri bloc last May. Meanwhile, the Saudis started playing the dangerous game of turning a blind eye to jihadis wanting to wage war on Syria. While Saudi Arabia\’s official policy remained critical of Syria, a certain branch in the Saudi royal family still harbored ambitions to topple the Syrian government altogether and replace it with pro-Saudi opposition figures like former vice president Abdul Halim Khaddam.

Tension was further elevated when terror struck in the heart of Damascus on September 27. A suicide bomber loaded with 200 kilograms of explosives killed 17 Syrians and injured between 15 to 40 civilians. Saudi Arabia was the only country in the Arab world that refused to condemn the attack, although it was harshly criticized by France, Russia and even the US.

The Saudi press continued to write negatively about Syria, explaining why the Syrians decided to ban the distribution of al-Hayat, the only surviving Saudi daily on Syrian newsstands. Coinciding with Syria\’s decision came the resignation of Ibrahim Hamidi, the newspaper\’s bureau chief and senior correspondent in Syria.

Hamidi, who had served as al-Hayat\’s man in Damascus since the early 1990s, was quoted saying, \”I couldn\’t take it anymore. I terminated my work with al-Hayat because I cannot be a part of a newspaper that is engaged in a systematic campaign against Syria.\”

Although it became clear to everybody – France being first on the list – that the Saudis were not getting the upper hand in Beirut politics, Lebanon remained closely allied to Riyadh, due to the personal and financial bond between Saad Hariri, the parliamentary majority leader, and the House of Saud.

One of the first to realize that the Syrians are overpowering the Saudis in Lebanon was Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a strongman of the March 14 Coalition. He realized that the US-imposed isolation of Syria has crumbled, after Bashar Al Assad\’s visit to Paris in July 2008. The Turks and the Qataris are firmly behind Syria in its indirect peace talks with Israel, a strong counterbalance to the Saudis, which might result in a peace treaty as of mid-2009. If that happens, the Hariri Tribunal (on which the Saudis had placed high hopes) will be consigned to history.

The US administration, wrapped in controversy in Iraq, is clearly uninterested in regime change in Syria, as was the case several years ago. Their ally, Abdul-Halim Khaddam, has by all accounts ruined himself by betting on the wrong horse in 2005. What\’s worse, the Saudi-trained and funded March 14 forces were defeated on the streets of Beirut in May, when they tried to confront Hezbollah.

Within hours, Hezbollah rounded up all militiamen on the payroll of Saudi Arabia and forced the cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora to back down on legislation taken earlier against Hezbollah. It was clear: the US and Saudi Arabia lost the war for Beirut, and Syria and Iran won.

When fighting shifted to the Druze villages on Mount Lebanon, Hezbollah fighters encircled Jumblatt\’s home – despite all the backing he had from the Saudis – but did not invade it. He got on the telephone with speaker Nabih Berri (who is pro-Syrian and strongly allied to Iran) and said, \”Tell Sayed Hassan Nasrallah I lost the battle and he wins. So let\’s sit and talk to reach a compromise.\”

Last month, Jumblatt went further, accusing Hariri in the Beirut daily al-Akhbar of building a militia and allying himself with Islamic hardliners. Speaking about the arms of the Hariri team, Jumblatt said, \”To form a militia today? To face whom? Hezbollah? This is crazy.\”

More recently, what worried both the Saudis and Jumblatt was the semi-rapprochement that started developing between Syria and the US. Last month, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, at her request, and discussed a variety of issues related to the Middle East.

That was the second meeting between both ministers since May 2007. According to the Syrian minister, Rice showed willingness to support Syrian-Israeli peace, a u-turn in the American position, which until now, has been uninterested in the indirect talks taking place in Turkey.

This week, the Doha-based al-Jazeera news agency quoted American \”sources\” saying that they were reconsidering their policies towards Syria during what remains of the George W Bush administration. A \”senior US official\” was quoted repeating exactly that on Israeli radio, adding that this would lead to the lifting of sanctions imposed on Syria by the Bush administration since 2003.

The Syrians believe, although they have not said it bluntly, that the Saudis are furious at Syria\’s repeated diplomatic successes. Eager for vengeance, they are now financing Islamic fundamentalism in Lebanon to strike at both Hezbollah and Syria and have not yet digested the outcomes of May 2008.

Assad said that the sectarian violence taking place in northern Lebanon was dangerous to Syria. Many believe that the suicide bomber who detonated a bomb in Damascus was a product of a fanatical group trained and created in Lebanon. That might explain why the Syrians amassed thousands of troops on their border with Lebanon, to prevent the influx of jihadi fighters to Syria.

If Saudi Arabia was not guilty of the September 27 attack, it certainly looked and acted guilty by refusing to say anything about it.

Meanwhile, the Saudis, frantic to save their positions in Lebanon, had already started pumping money to build a Sunni armed movement to confront Hezbollah if matters escalated once again. Earlier in May 2007, veteran US journalist Seymour Hersh claimed that they had co-created Fatah al-Islam, a fundamentalist group to fight the Shi\’ites in Lebanon.

It grew out of control, just as the case with al-Qaeda (which was created with the aim of fighting the Soviets) and turned its arms against the Lebanese state, resulting in grinding battles in the Naher al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon.

Earlier last year, the UN prosecutor in the Hariri affair, Serge Brammertz, noted that the suicide bomber who killed Rafik al-Hariri in February 2005 was neither Lebanese, nor Syrian. Rather, he came from a \”hot district\” which was believed by many to be a clear reference to one of the Gulf countries, possibly Saudi Arabia.

The bomber, according to Brammertz, had spent only about four months of his life in Lebanon and nearly 10 years in a \”rural area\”, possibly the mountains of Afghanistan. After all, hundreds of Saudis lived there when working with the United States to combat the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. That shed light once more on Saudi jihadis in Lebanon.

The Syrians realize just how dangerous it is for the Saudis to be flirting with radical fundamentalists, because this can set the entire region ablaze. After all, it has already been revealed (by a US source in the Los Angeles Times) that 45% of all foreign fighters in Iraq were coming from Saudi Arabia, 50% of them arriving in Baghdad, \”ready-to-explode\”.

Sami Askari, a senior advisor to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, confirmed the accusations, saying, \”The fact of the matter is that Saudi Arabia has strong intelligence resources, and it would be hard to think that they are not aware of what is going on [in Iraq].\”

Saudi journalist Faris bin Khuzam, writing for the Saudi daily al-Riyadh, put the number of Saudi jihadis in Lebanon operating from Naher al-Bared at 300. He claims they were \”lured\” into a battlefield \”other than the one they wanted\”, saying that they had plans to fight the Americans in Iraq, and ended up in Tripoli.

The reason, he explained, is tight security on the Syrian border (in addition to the Saudi border) preventing them from making a breakthrough into war-torn Iraq. Instead, they found their way into Lebanon and stayed for what initially seemed to be a temporary transit period. \”Gradually the pendulum shifted,\” Khuzam wrote, adding that \”they were told that the road to Jerusalem runs through here [Naher al-Bared]\”. He concluded, \”They chose the Saudi dream that Osama bin Laden could not fulfill.\”

When the battle of Naher al-Bared ended in 2007, it was revealed that 43 Saudi jihadis had been rounded up from Fatah al-Islam in Tripoli, while others could be found in the Ain al-Hilweh camp near Sidon. According to Hersh, \”The idea [is] that the Saudis promised they could control the jihadis, so we [US] spent a lot of money and time … using and supporting the jihadis to help us beat the Russians in Afghanistan, and they turned on us. And we have the same pattern, not as if there\’s any lessons learned. The same pattern, using the Saudis again to support jihadis.\”

The Saudis, Hersh said, were telling the Americans, \”It\’s not that we don\’t want the Salafis to throw bombs, it\’s who they throw them at – Hezbollah, [Iraqi Shi\’ite cleric] Muqtada al-Sadr and the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.\” In a famous CNN interview, Hersh added, \”The enemy of our enemy is our friend, just as the jihadi groups in Lebanon were also there to go after [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah. We\’re in the business of creating in some places, Lebanon in particular, sectarian violence.\”

October 7th, 2008, 5:21 pm


Apollodorus said:

[SYRIAN ACTOR GHASSAN MASSOUD] ‘I’d rather act in Turkish productions than Hollywood’
Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud, famed for his role as Salahaddin Ayubi in Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven,” has won the hearts of movie buffs with his impressive performances.

More recently, he also acted in the Turkish crime thriller “Kurtlar Vadisi Iraq” in 2006 and in “Pirates of the Caribbean” last year. Massoud arrived in İstanbul last week to perform in the upcoming Turkish movie “Kelebek” (Butterfly), directed by Cihan Taşkın. Massoud, who plays a modern Mevlevi cleric in “Butterfly,” attended shooting sessions in the district of Kuzguncuk and at a glass-blowing workshop constructed in Yenikapı Mevlevihanesi (Mevlevi lodge). We followed the sessions and interviewed him during the breaks.

Massoud has received a lot of offers since his first Hollywood experience, including a part in George Clooney’s Oscar-winner “Syriana.” But Massoud notes that he would no way accept these offers, saying: “They would ask me to enact either an evil Arab sheik or a Muslim terrorist. I had to turn these offers down. These were offers not consistent to my culture and to my character as a Syrian actor. I was asked to betray my homeland and religion. If I had accepted these offers, a negative stance would have been taken against me. I am an artist whose mission is Islam. I am working for the Islamic faith.” Massoud adds that this was the primary reason for him to accept the role in “Butterfly.” He took the offer after reading the script. The screenplay is based on an attempt to change the general perception after Sept. 11 that “all Muslims are terrorists.” You all know the story of the butterfly effect; even a small butterfly may create giant tornadoes through a set of consecutive waves. But this “Butterfly” does not lead to a tornado; quite the contrary, it smoothes down the reactions against Muslims.

At this point, Massoud says that Muslims have made some mistakes. “Yes, Sept. 11 was used against Muslims. It inflicted a great harm upon Islam. Remarks by some Muslims also contributed to this because they declared Sept. 11 as a victory against New York. These unfortunate remarks made the world opposed to Islam. Americans were given an excuse by these actions to denigrate Islam.” According to Massoud, “Butterfly” is a movie produced for Muslims rather than for Americans or Europeans.

Massoud invites all to see the movie because it represents real Islam, stressing that viewers will get a sense of contemporary Islam with a firm stance in terms of traditions and customs in the movie.

‘Hollywood is a trap’

Even though he has received many offers not only from Hollywood but also from Europe, Russia and Egypt, Massoud does not consider himself as an international actor. To him, playing an act in a Turkish movie is what matters most because he thinks that Hollywood is a trap. “I would rather act in a Turkish movie than playing a part in a Hollywood production. Turkey is close to me by all means. This is not just a geographical proximity; but also is a cultural and religious affinity. A lot of people are not aware of this: Hollywood is a trap because they want you to detach from a lot of things; what makes you a person, your personality, society, environment and life. It wants you to become materialistic so that you get exhausted. I do not think that anybody with slightly nationalistic sentiments would comply with the demands of Hollywood. Almost all actors in the world dream of being part of Hollywood. But what matters here is what Hollywood means — and not Hollywood itself. Before having dreams about it, you should inquire into what Hollywood actually is. Certainly it has some sort of appeal; but the price of this appeal is too much. This is not a price that an ordinary person could pay.”
Cihan Taşkın’s ‘Butterfly’ a movie with many firsts

* The movie is being shot in Şanlıurfa. The team will move back to İstanbul in three weeks. Caner Cindoruk, Deniz Bolışık, Şahin Çelik, Serhat Yiğit and Hasan Mesut act the lead roles in the movie, which will be screened in early March. This is the first professional movie by Sanayi-i Nefise Productions, founded by Mahmut Bengi, Oktay Berber and Serhat Aktaş.

* Mahmut Bengi wrote the script; Bengi who previously wrote scripts for TV serials wrote his first ever cinema screenplay.

* This is the first movie of Caner Cindoruk, who is a junior actor in the TV and cinema world. Caner was born in 1980 and has been on stage since age 16. He graduated from the Drama department at Çukurova University and headed to Istanbul last year. Cindoruk, who plays Yusuf in the movie, says: “Yusuf grew up next to the Mevlevi cleric. All of his friends go to Afghanistan to help the people out; but he cannot because his wife is pregnant. Terrible things happen in Afghanistan; but if he had gone, he could have saved the lives of many. The movie bears important messages of humanity. I believe that Butterfly is a good project and a successful endeavor.”

* Cihan Taşkın is a graduate from the faculty of communications at İstanbul University; he is a young director at age 35. Taşkın feels excitement and nervousness shooting the move because he says that it is not easy to carry the burden of doing an exact and meaningful job. He says: “In Turkey, nobody is aware of what Sept. 11 means. But Muslims living abroad have difficult times with this. I believe we will change this perception.”

* The movie’s visual art director is Demian Barba, a Mexican who teaches at New York Film Academy; he says he accepted the offer without even discussing the amount of payment he would receive because he thought that he had to play a part in this project.

08 October 2008, Wednesday

October 8th, 2008, 6:38 pm


Leila Abu-Saba said:

Hey guys – typing from a cafe across from Elissar in Bab Touma, Damascus. Had a great day trying to find a camera battery in Martyrs’ Square, shopping for textiles, walking around Qanawat and a little in Bab Touma. I could stay here for months. Would have to bring hubby & kids over, though, I miss them!

Weird how the new streets in the center or old city, for instance around Muskiyeh square, remind me of my childhood in Saida and Beirut – and a bit of downtown Cairo – I have a big sentimental feeling for mid-century Arab international architecture, the buildings of our fathers…

I feel utterly at home in Damascus even though I have never been here before.

October 8th, 2008, 7:00 pm


Nour said:

This is a question for any Halabis here. Do you know of any good bookstore in Halab? My parents were in Halab over the weekend and no one was able to direct them to a good bookstore.

October 8th, 2008, 7:09 pm


ugarit said:

I had to post this :-).

Who invented Hummus? Joseph–irate as always–sent me this: “As’ad, you must say something about the audacity of the Lebanese to claim Hummus and tabouleh and fattoush and all of these pan-Syrian dishes, which came from Damascus and Aleppo, as Lebanese. The attempt by the Lebanese (and this is initially a Christian Lebanee project) to appropriate Syrian food is quite horrific even if it is not as horrific as the Israeli attempt. All the Lebanese can claim is to have a restaurant industry but not a cuisine or a kitchen which they have never had. Nonetheless, you cannot pretend as you did in your post that Hummus is indeed a Lebanese dish (since you did not question the Lebanese claim of possession of it). There are no such thing as Lebanese dishes except in the lexicon and ideology of Lebanese chauvinists.”

October 8th, 2008, 7:46 pm


ugarit said:


You have to define “good bookstore” first. Sometimes “natives” ignore dusty jewels because they don’t look new. I have found great books in bookstores that a “native” would not have even considered. What I mean by all this is that people have different perspectives and your parents must take recommendations or lack there of with a grain of salt and explore on their own.

I loved the bookstore at the University of Aleppo, but that was over 20 years ago. I was able to find a textbook to learn Hebrew and the book is in Arabic.

What’s interesting about majoring in Arabic in Syria is that the student must minor in another semitic language and usually hebrew is selected.

October 8th, 2008, 7:51 pm


ugarit said:

This is too juicy.

“One of our economists was telling us that Bush has just implemented communism for the rich,” Castro said.

October 8th, 2008, 8:05 pm


Off the Wall said:

I asked my niece, her answer: depends on what kind of books. In general, some stores can order books from Lebanon as some Aleppan bookstores do not keep large inventories. So it is “low-tech” amazon.

years ago, i used to go the “Dar Al-Sharq”, who had a printing house in the free zone, and did some publishing of translated series. It is in the old “3abbara”. But that was a quarter century ago.

Sorry I could not be more helpful

October 8th, 2008, 8:38 pm


Nour said:

Sorry Ugarit,

Let me qualify my statement above. Family members in Halab could not direct my parents to a “good bookstore” and they literally said to them “there are no good bookstores here because nobody likes to read.” Now obviously I don’t buy their contention that “nobody likes to read,” but I know that they definitely don’t like to read and probably therefore are not aware of any bookstores in Halab. That’s why I wanted to ask Halabis here.

October 8th, 2008, 8:40 pm


Nour said:

Thanks OTW,

What do you know about Tlass Publishing Company in Halab? I remember in Damascus the streets were filled with bookstores, but I don’t remember how it was in Halab. I’m hoping someone would know, as I’m planning to go there next summer and would like to check out different bookstores across Syria.

October 8th, 2008, 8:44 pm


Akbar Palace said:

phil cattar –

You’re right!!

Keep posting on this website….we’re outnumbered!

October 8th, 2008, 8:50 pm


Zenobia said:

Iran Resolution Shelved in Rare Defeat for ‘Israel Lobby’
Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, 26 Sep (IPS) – In a significant and highly unusual defeat for the so-called ‘Israel Lobby’, the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives has decided to shelve a long-pending, albeit non-binding, resolution that called for President George W. Bush to launch what critics called a blockade against Iran.

House Congressional Resolution (HR) 362, whose passage the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had made its top legislative priority this year, had been poised to pass virtually by acclamation last summer.

But an unexpectedly strong lobbying effort by a number of grassroots Iranian-American, Jewish-American, peace, and church groups effectively derailed the initiative, although AIPAC and its supporters said they would try to revive it next year or if Congress returns to Washington for a ‘lame-duck’ session after the November elections.

Congress, which may still adopt a package of new unilateral economic sanctions against Iran — some of which the administration has already imposed — over the weekend, is expected to adjourn over the next several days.

”We’ll resubmit it when Congress comes back, and we’ll have even more signatures,” the resolution’s main author, New York Democrat Rep. Gary Ackerman, told the Washington Times, adding that the resolution currently has 270 co-sponsors, or some two-thirds of the House’s entire membership.

Still, the decision by the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard Berman, to shelve HR 362 marked an unusual defeat for AIPAC, according to its critics who charged that the resolution was designed to lay the groundwork for the Bush administration or any successor administration to take military action against Iran.

‘This was a joint effort by several groups to really put the focus on the dangers presented by such a resolution over the opposition of one of the most powerful lobbies in the country,’ said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).

Among other provisions, the resolution declared that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capacity was ‘vital to the national security interests of the United States’ — language that is normally used to justify military action — and ‘demand(ed) that the President initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities…’

Among the means it called for were ‘prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran’s nuclear programme.’

Although the resolution’s sponsors explicitly denied it — indeed, one clause stated that ‘nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorisation of the use of force against Iran’ — the resolution’s critics charged that the latter passage could be used to justify a blockade against Iran, an act of war under international law.

‘Ambiguity in the text of the resolution — whether intended by its drafters or not — has led some to see it as a de-facto approval for a land, air and sea blockade of Iran, any of which could be considered an act of war,’ according to Deborah DeLee, president of Americans for Peace Now (APN), a Zionist group that has long urged the administration to engage in direct talks with Tehran and that lobbied against the resolution.

Two key Democratic congressmen, who had initially co-sponsored the resolution, Reps. Robert Wexler and Barney Frank, unexpectedly defected in July, insisting that its language be changed to exclude any possibility that it could be used to justify war against Iran and to include new provisions urging Washington to directly engage Tehran.

The resolution was introduced last May, shortly after AIPAC’s annual meeting during which then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly told the House Democratic leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Berman, and Ackerman that economic sanctions against Iran had run their course and that stronger action, including a possible naval quarantine, was needed to increase pressure on Tehran to halt its nuclear programme.

The meeting also followed talks between Olmert and Bush who, despite an strongly hawkish speech before Israel’s Knesset, privately told his hosts that Washington would almost certainly not attack on Iranian nuclear facilities nor give a green light Israel to launch an attack of its own before he leaves office in January 2009, according to a recent account by London’s Guardian newspaper. The administration itself never took a position on the resolution.

At the time, the price of oil was skyrocketing, and the military brass in the Pentagon, increasingly concerned about the deteriorating situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was expressing its opposition to military action against Iran in unusually blunt terms.

Nonetheless, AIPAC pushed hard for adoption of the resolution, even as it, like its Congressional sponsors, insisted that it was not designed to justify military action.

Just last week, in a final push for the resolution’s passage, AIPAC drafted a letter that was circulated to House members who had not yet co-sponsored the resolution. While it denounced as ‘utter nonsense’ suggestions that the resolution could be used to justify military action, the text also stressed that Tehran’s ‘pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony’ posed ‘real and growing’ threats to ‘the vital national security interests of the United States’.

AIPAC’s failure was particularly notable given the presence at the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose repeated and predictably provocative predictions about the demise of Israel and ‘the American empire’ have been used routinely by AIPAC to rally public and elite opinion against Tehran and underline the threat it allegedly poses.

In announcing that the resolution has been shelved, Berman said he shared critics’ concerns about the resolution’s working and will not bring it before his committee until his concerns were addressed. ‘If Congress is to make a statement of policy, it should encompass a strategy on how to gain consensus on multilateral sanctions to change Iran’s behaviour,” his spokesperson told the Times.

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy, and particularly the neo-conservative influence in the Bush administration, can be read at


October 8th, 2008, 9:26 pm


Apollodorus said:

Dear Nour,
The only remaining bookstore in Aleppo in which you can find interesting non arabic books is “le phare” ,along the axis of the street that join the Maronite church across tilal street.
If you are looking for books in arabic ,there is an other one near alsiyahi hotel,which is “dar qalam al arabi”.

October 8th, 2008, 10:41 pm


ugarit said:

phil cattar said: “Also what about Iran and Hizbollah and they just going to disappear? Israel will NEVER give back the Golan unless Syria breaks ties with Iran,the ball is in Assad’s court.”

Your premise is false. When Israel had invaded Syria and occupied the Golan, Iran was pro-American and aligned with Israel and also at that time there was no Hizballah.

Therefore, the question should be, why didn’t Israel vacate the Golan prior to Syria aligning itself with a new Iran and Hizballah?

October 9th, 2008, 12:34 am


Nour said:

Thanks Apollodorus.

October 9th, 2008, 2:06 am


Seeking the Truth said:

the question should be, why didn’t Israel vacate the Golan prior to Syria aligning itself with a new Iran and Hizballah?

Was Syria seeking a peace treaty with Israel back then in the seventies?

October 9th, 2008, 6:06 pm


jad said:

“Was Syria seeking a peace treaty with Israel back then in the seventies?”

Was Israel?

October 9th, 2008, 6:16 pm


alle said:

j landisI doubt that the Muslim Brothers or the NSF have a better plan [for liberating the Golan] than the present Syrian regime has. During the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, they recommended that Assad attack Israel on the Golan in order to support Lebanon and defeat Israel. That would have been a losing strategy for Syria, but, of course, that was the point. They want Syria to be defeated by Israel in order to bring down the present regime that they abhor.

No, that’s not at all the point. They simply want to outdo the regime in nationalist rhetoric, both because it’s popular, and because it makes it harder to paint them as traitors. They know the gov. can’t oblige and actually attack Israel, and they also know that it can’t respond and say as much openly without admitting that it is weak, and that the opposition is more hardline. It’s a win-win situation. It’s what opposition groups all over the planet do, all the time, without that implying that they seek the destruction of their country…

But, that said, I also doubt they have a better strategy for liberating the Golan. Actually, I doubt either side has any strategy, except perhaps “wait and see”.

October 10th, 2008, 2:07 am


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