The colonization and ethnic cleansing of Palestine is not a historical incident. It is, instead, a historical process, ratified by the ongoing Israeli occupation and reflected in the lives of Palestinians who continue to suffer its effects through each passing generation.
This is the essence of the Palestinian Nakba—or “catastrophe.” Like the memory of the Holocaust, the Nakba is not merely a recollection of death, torture, and expulsion. It is an immutable, spiritual trauma that will endure beyond any future political solution ending the occupation of Palestine.
By the same token, Syrians are currently experiencing a Nakba of their own, the effects of which will linger over them for decades to come. With the popular struggle against President Bashar Al-Assad now edging closer to its sixth year, nearly half a million Syrians have died and approximately five million others have become refugees. 13.5 million Syrians inside the country are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, while nearly 6.5 million are internally displaced.
Like the Palestinians who have subsisted for seven decades despite global apathy toward (and complicity in) their suffering, Syrians are boldly persisting in the face of numerous foreign interventions, starvation sieges, and incessant bombardments, among other tragedies. Even though there are countless domestic and international pressures on their revolution, the Syrian people have refused to concede loss—constantly insisting they will never stop fighting for a free Syria.
As the popular mantra goes: existence is resistance. Fighting for freedom and justice and resisting tyranny are not restricted to the battlefield. Indeed, the intellectual, artistic, social, and political accomplishments of Palestinians and Syrians represent their refusal to give into or accept their ongoing Nakbas.
During the First Intifada, for example, Palestinians mobilized themselves in incredibly inspiring and creative ways in order to combat Israeli tyranny. Without any form of coherent leadership, Palestinians were forced to take a grassroots approach to resistance. This occurred in a number of ways, including, by organizing ad-hoc political committees, spreading leaflets with information about plans of action and protest locations, and integrating the colors of the Palestinian flag into almost everything they did. Women were largely at the forefront of these initiatives. Not only were they responsible for the creation of much of the embroidery and artwork that symbolized the Intifada’s essence, but they also helped build a number of makeshift medical facilities, all in the face of ceaseless aggression.
In these ways, Palestinians preserved the integrity of their identity and demonstrated that physical force was not the only path toward emancipation. Since the beginning of the revolution in 2011, Syrians have also displayed highly innovative forms of resistance that echo the First Intifada. Known as the “heart of the revolution,” the town of Daraya is perhaps the best example—and for good reason. The town was one of the first to rise up in protest against Assad, and has experienced collective punishment, at the regime’s hands, as a result. Civilians were regularly targeted and all the town’s hospitals were destroyed. The Assad regime also enforced a siege on the town, which resulted in the starvation of the entire population.
In the midst of all this suffering, the townsfolk of Daraya organized a local democratic council, built an underground library, and operated soup kitchens, field hospitals, and schools. Among their most ambitious accomplishments, the residents of Daraya created Enab Baladi, an online and print, Arabic and English newspaper chronicling the uprising. Founded in January 2012, the newspaper was launched largely by the women of Daraya, and has been in continuous production.
Even though Daraya fell to the regime in August 2016, Enab Baladi continues to be published, a testament to the foundational principles that sparked the uprising. In much the same way that Palestinians continue to incorporate the overall tactics of the First Intifada into their protests today, Syrians are holding onto the integrity of their own uprising. They are, in fact, facing even greater difficulties in this regard. Not only do they have to fight their oppressors head-on, but they are also battling against deeply entrenched stereotypes that have reduced their revolution to a series of proxy wars and “jihadist infighting”—especially in the eyes of many Westerners.
In Palestine, activists and demonstrators have recognized and honored the Syrian revolution in their chants from 2011 until the present. Amazingly, Syrians have also protested in solidarity with Gaza in the midst of their own suffering. No matter what kind of tribulations they face, Palestinians and Syrians have chosen to remain allies in the struggle for freedom, as they should always be.