Syrians speak in Israel
From left to right, at Hebrew University’s Truman Institute Jan. 17: Issam Zeitoun, Sirwan Kajjo and Ksenia Svetlova. (photo by Reuven Remez/Truman Institute)
“You are living in a paradise in comparison to the Syrian people. Shame on you. We are being killed,” said Issam Zeitoun, who lives in the Syrian portion of the Golan Heights, in response to Arab-Israeli students who accused him of being a traitor because he was speaking in Israel.
Zeitoun was one of two Syrian opposition figures who addressed Israelis Jan. 17 at Hebrew University’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace in Jerusalem. The Syrians shared their plight and vision, and overcame an attempt to disrupt their message. A third Syrian opposition member gave remarks in a video message.
Moderated by Member of Knesset Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union), the event featured Sirwan Kajjo, a Syrian-Kurdish author and journalist from the city of Qamishili in northeastern Syria, where his family still resides, and Zeitoun, who is from the village of Bet Jan, which is situated minutes from the border with Israel.
Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war about six years ago, Zeitoun has served as a liaison between rebel groups (such as the Free Syrian Army) and international players, including Israel. He maintains daily contact with rebel commanders in southern Syria.
Zeitoun’s address was interrupted by four Arab-Israeli students who were sitting in the audience and began protesting the willingness of the Syrians to visit Israel and address the public here. They heckled Zeitoun and shouted slogans against “the Israeli occupation” of the Golan Heights.
Svetlova attempted to restore order, telling the hecklers, “You are welcome to protest outside the event. If you wish to remain, you are welcome to do so if you are silent and let our guests finish the session.”
Kajjo, a refugee living in the United States who regularly visits Syria illegally, is wanted by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. He was in Syria as recently as last July, and maintains contact with Kurdish armed groups such as the YPG, which is on the frontline in the war against Islamic State.
Speaking to JNS.org after the event, Kajjo said he is in touch with a network of activists in the northeast Kurdish area of Syria, and that he is keen to tell the Israeli people about what is happening in his homeland.
The Kurds have succeeded in securing most of their areas and ridding them of Islamic State, he said, and are currently trying to push into the de facto Islamic State capital of Al-Raqqah. “This is important strategically, to capture Raqqah with Arab partners and to ensure that there is no threat to the Kurdish areas,” he said. Kurdish fighters, backed by the United States and the international coalition against Islamic State, have been extremely effective in beating back the jihadist terror group, Kajjo said.
“This fight will only continue, because the Kurds are determined to eliminate ISIS…. It’s true that the Kurds are Muslims, but moderate Muslims. This is a different form of Islam – completely different from what exists in other parts of Syria. It is very important to keep ISIS and its ideology out of Kurdish areas,” he stated.
Read more at jns.org.