Commentary Magazine


Anyone Still Remember Syria?

I don’t believe Hamas began its recent escalation with Israel on orders from Tehran (as I explain here). But I can see why many people do: Intentionally or not, Hamas has undeniably given its former Iranian paymasters and their Syrian client a great boon.

As Jonathan noted yesterday, the Hamas-Israel war has diverted attention from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear program. Even more shocking, however, is the way it has diverted attention from the ongoing–and far more massive–bloodletting in Syria.

On Monday, for instance, the lead headline in the New York Times’s overseas edition, the International Herald Tribune, screamed “Heavy civilian toll from Israeli strikes.” This “heavy toll” consisted of one airstrike on Sunday that killed 11 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and brought the total death toll since the fighting began to “more than 50 people, many of them civilians.”

That same day, the paper relegated Syria to the bottom of page 4. The headline read “Syria criticizes 3 countries for recognizing opposition”; civilian casualties weren’t mentioned at all. Yet according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that weekend (the IHT doesn’t publish on Sunday) saw at least 129 Syrians killed, 47 on Saturday and 82 on Sunday, including 69 civilians. In other words, more civilians were killed in Syria that weekend alone than the total number of fatalities, both combatant and noncombatant, since the latest Hamas-Israel war began. But in the overseas edition of America’s self-proclaimed paper of record, they didn’t even rate a mention. Nor is the coverage less warped in other media outlets.

The total death toll in the Syrian conflict is nearing 40,000, the majority of them civilians. An eye-popping 400,000 refugees have fled into other countries. Anywhere from 1.2 million to 2.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced, most living in appalling conditions that will only worsen as winter progresses. By any standard, it’s a humanitarian crisis of vast proportions. Yet 11 Palestinians slain by Israel are enough to completely erase it from the media map. Syrian lives, it seems, are cheap in the eyes of the international media: Each Palestinian killed by Israel is worth more ink than 4,000 slain Syrians.

Syria’s erasure from the diplomatic map has been equally complete. A flood of high-level visitors, including the UN secretary general, the French foreign minister and the Turkish prime minister, has descended on Jerusalem and/or Cairo in recent days to demand that Israel on no account launch a ground operation. Has anyone noticed any senior diplomat trying to do anything about the Syrian slaughter lately?

Syrians, of course, aren’t the only ones victimized by the international obsession over Palestinian casualties. As Alan Dershowitz eloquently explained, the foremost victims may be Palestinians themselves: As long as Hamas knows that every dead Palestinian will result in international opprobrium for Israel and diplomatic gains for itself, it has every incentive both to continue lobbing rockets at Israel, thereby sparking the retaliation that causes these civilian casualties, and to maximize such casualties by using its own civilian population as human shields.

But the Palestinians made their own bed: They elected Hamas. Syrians just had the bad luck to be caught in the fallout.