Syrian Kurds are being massacred and the world remains silent. Some 700 kilometers north of Jerusalem, the very people who helped the world put an end to the threat of the Islamic State are being bombed from the air and killed on the ground – by a member state of NATO.
The US president blatantly abandoned the most significant fighting forces against ISIS and opened the gates to the war crimes being committed by the Turkish army – with what appears to be the backing of Russia, the silence of the US and the impotency of Europe. Minor, ineffective sanctions by some powers, such as an arms embargo, will do nothing to prevent the raping, killing and destruction that is already happening on the ground.
US President Donald Trump spoke of “redlines” as a warning to the Turks, yet before even trying to define what lines cannot be crossed, they were all crossed. Trump is a direct accomplice to the war crimes being committed on the ground. And all of the bystanders are also accomplices. That includes the countries of Europe and others who participated in the war against ISIS. And it includes us as well – the survivors of the Holocaust.
While Israel is not in the position to send in troops to the frontlines and to force the Turkish army back over its own border, we have a moral obligation to stand with the victims and to demand that the world not allow another genocide to take place. Trump is wrong and he needs to be called out by his best friend – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
We, the Israeli people, need to stand with the Kurds. We need to call on the good people of Turkey to stand against their government. Our voice as Jews must be heard, and our support for the Kurdish people must be clear.
The Syrian Kurds are so desperate in the face of massacres that they have asked the “butcher from Damascus” to come to their defense. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops will gladly fulfill that task in order to retake control of northern Syria, which they lost in the Syrian civil war. All of this falls in line with what appears to be the formulating Trump-Putin axis to replace the US role in the Middle East with a strong and decisive Russian presence.
While Israel is glad that this may bring about a weakening of Turkish presence led by one of Israel’s nemeses, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it leads to the strengthening of the Iranian presence in Syria under Syrian and Russian flags. This is one of those extraordinarily complex Middle East wars with so many bad guys and very few good ones. It is always the civilians, mostly the women, children and the elderly, who pay with their lives. Nothing seems to be out of bounds, including gang rape and even desecrating dead bodies.
It seems that, as in the past, it should once again be in the interest of Israel to support Kurdish aspirations for independence. The Kurds have been promised independence over long periods of history but they have never been able to fulfill their dreams. History has always turned against them: Just when it seemed that they were gaining autonomy, building an economy and strengthening their links to the region, they are betrayed and destroyed.
THE US BETRAYAL by Trump is only the latest in a long line of other historical betrayals. Over the years, there has been deep Israeli-Kurdish cooperation, particularly in the military and security spheres. But, Israel never played a major role politically in the international community advocating Kurdish independence. This would be a natural thing for Israel to support with the Kurdish populations spreading over the border areas of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. A Kurdish state carved out from those four countries with strong links to Israel would serve Israel’s interests very strongly.
In 2014, I had the privilege to be hosted at the University of Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan. I flew from Amman Jordan to Erbil in Iraq and spent a week there – in and out of the Kurdish Regional autonomous government area. I was invited to a conference to speak about peace education in Israel and Palestine and to provide some insights into how the Kurdish people could implement peace education in their curricula. A Kurdish professor took me to visit the Tomb of the Prophet Nahum inside a destroyed synagogue that he wanted to help renovate – located in an Iraqi army controlled area. I spent a whole day with Kurdish colleagues in a refugee camp housing thousands of Syrian Kurdish refugees. So much of what I saw reminded me very much of the stories of our people and of our Palestinian neighbors.
Despite deep, past links between Israel and the Kurds, Israel has refrained from supporting Kurdish independence. The main reason is that Kurdish rights for independence would join together logically and internationally with Palestinian rights for independence. How could Israel support the Kurdish people’s right for self-determination and independence and continue to deny the Palestinian people the same right?
This makes Ayelet Shaked’s recent call amazing that Israel should respond to Turkish aggression against the Kurds by supporting Kurdish rights for independence. Shaked – who is committed to opposing the creation of a Palestinian state – would never see and understand the contradiction and the absurdity of not making the connection between the Kurds and the Palestinians.
But there is a connection: Just as the Kurds should attain independence, so should the Palestinians.
These are very different cases, and the geopolitics around these issues are very different. The main similarity is that there are these two peoples in the Middle East who have suffered greatly at the hands of their neighbors for too long. The Kurds will never give up their hope for freedom and independence, and neither will the Palestinians. The aggression against both of these peoples – by Turkey against the Kurds and by Israel against the Palestinians – only strengthens the will of each of these proud peoples for their freedom.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.