How to Understand the Golan Heights Demonstrations

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Palestinian demonstrators, marking the date of the largely self-inflicted dispossession in 1948 called "the nakba" (largely self-inflicted" because the Arabs rejected the U.N. partition plan for Palestine, attacked the just-born Jewish state and then managed to lose on the battlefield) have tried to cross into Israel on the Golan Heights and across the Lebanese border. As many as 16 demonstrators, as I write, have been killed. Ethan Bronner, writing in the Times, states:

(T)his is the first year that Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon tried to breach the Israeli military border in marches inspired by recent popular protests around the Arab world. Here too, word about the rallies was spread on social media sites. "The Palestinians are not less rebellious than other Arab peoples," said Ali Baraka, a Hamas representative in Lebanon.

Ethan Bronner is a very smart person, so I'm not sure why he's accepting the Hamas/Assad/Iran line on these protests. Consider: These borders, in particular the Syria-Israel border, have seldom, if ever, seen demonstrations like this. The Syria-Israel border is a notably quiet place; Hafez al-Assad, the late dictator, and his son, Bashar, the current dictator, have kept the border quiet for decades. But now there is widespread revolt in Syria, which threatens not only the Syrian regime, but its ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. So far, Bashar's security forces have slaughtered almost a thousand Syrian citizens. So what would you do if you were a cynical Syrian dictator, or a cynical ally of the cynical Syrian dictator? Change the subject. To what, you might ask? Well, Israel, of course. Here is Andrew Exum, who has a much better understanding of the situation:

This will shock all some none of you, but Arab regimes have often cynically used the Palestinian cause to shift the focus away from their own failures and abuses. The clashes today are the best of news for Bashar al-Asad, and only the Lord knows how many brave Syrians will now be gunned down or thrown into prison in Homs, Douma, Hama, Baniyas, etc. while everyone's eyes are on the Lebanese, Syrian and Gazan borders with Israel. Just yesterday, we were all talking about terrified Syrians fleeing into northern Lebanon. Now Syria and its allies have either engineered or have been presented with the mother of all distractions from their own wretched and criminal behavior.

Read his whole post on the subject.

Syria is one of the least-free nations on the planet. Demonstrations are not allowed to take place unless the government orders them to take place. Such is the situation on the Golan Heights today. Iran, too, needs a diversion, both for its Syrian client, and for itself. Of course it has a self-interest in igniting anti-Israel fervor.

Here, by the way, is what happens to people who demonstrate in Syria without government permission:
 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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