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Israelis, Syrian Opposition Representatives Meet Online To Promote Peace

Jamal Sabbagh, president of the Syrian Government in Exile organization: “Nations demand freedom and seek peace, but it is the leaders who are the barrier” | Representatives based in Syria remained anonymous out of fear for their lives

מפגיני אופוזיציה סורים, 2012 (צילום: FREDERIC LAFARGUE/AFP/Getty Images)
A protest against Syrian President Bashir Assad in 2012. (Photo: Getty Images/AFP/Frederic Lafargue)
By Nizzan Zvi Cohen

Earlier this month, over 100 Israelis met online with members of the Syrian opposition to discuss the possibility of peace between Israel and a post-Assad Syria.

“I see in the Abrahamic peace project a true and complete peace, whose purpose is to end the conflict between cultures, so that humanity will leave the world of trenches and injustice for a world of knowledge and understanding,” Jamal Sabbagh, president of the Syrian Government in Exile organization, told the attendees.

The meeting was organized and initiated by the Israeli activist and political strategist Tom Wegner, as part of a series of meetings between Israelis and various leaders and movements in the Middle East. The meeting sought to establish connections between Israel and groups in the Middle East with the intention of promoting diplomatic relations, cooperation, and peace for the benefit of the entire region.

Sabbagh explained his desire for partnership between the Syrian people and the Jewish people, noting that Jews have lived in Syria since the time of King David. “Our grandparents were partners in the past to a respectable history, which is the basis for a good relationship between the Syrian people, in all its parts, and you,” he said.

From right: Jamal Sabbagh, president of the Syrian Government in Exile organization, his niece Liora, and Ahmad Pataq, secretary general of the Syrian Government in Exile. (Screenshot: Nizzan Zvi Cohen)
From right: Jamal Sabbagh, president of the Syrian Government in Exile organization, his niece Liora, and Ahmad Pataq, secretary general of the Syrian Government in Exile. (Screenshot: Nizzan Zvi Cohen)

An estimated 30,000 Jews lived in Syria in 1946. Following the establishment of the state of Israel and growing antisemitic violence in Syria, nearly all Syrian Jews fled the country. Three Jews are believed to live in Syria as of 2024.

Sabbagh accused the dictatorial regime, dating back to the days of Hafez Assad, of expelling Syria’s Jewish communities.

“Let us join hands to build a better future in the region,” he told the audience. “The Syrian Exile Government has set clear and explicit goals for itself to proceed on the path of peace. It’s not just a temporary move or one based on narrow interests. We have all the tools and means to achieve our goals: security, peace, and stability in the region.”

The Syrian Exile Government is a Syrian opposition organization established in 2019 by Sabbagh, alongside a group of Syrian intellectuals and partners from a variety of Syrian ethnic minorities, including several sheikhs of tribes living in Syria, with the aim of promoting a pluralistic and inclusive Syrian democracy.

At the meeting, two representatives of the organization spoke from Syrian territory. They requested to remain anonymous due to the danger of publicly promoting peace with Israel.

“Peace is like a volcano,” one of the representatives still in Syria said. “If it erupts, it’s possible to reach 70% of the population seeking peace and mutual respect. Syria is the cradle of civilizations, and the culture of the Syrian people has always been built on coexistence and peace with all the countries of the world.”

Ahmad Pataq, secretary general and minister of economic rights of the Syrian Exile Government, said that many Middle Easterners are misled by media propaganda, especially from Al Jazeera.

“We need to tell the truth they are hiding: about the citizens, women, and children whom [Syrian President Bashir] Assad’s cruel regime murders within our country,” Pataq said. “Our Zoom meeting is designed to bring our voice through the Israeli media to the people of Israel. We desire peace. I will continue with this until the end and am ready to sacrifice my life for the freedom of the Syrian people in a peace treaty with Israel.”

Pataq said that both the Quran and the New Testament recognize the rights of the Jewish to the land of Israel. He accused the Palestinian nationalist movement of being a tool of the Iranian regime.

“What unites us is larger than what separates us,” Pataq said. “We are all children of Abraham, children of one father. This is something that needs to be spread and explained to both Jews and Arabs.”

At the event, Liora, Sabbagh’s 15-year-old niece, expressed the voice of the youth yearning for peace. She began her speech with a minute of silence in memory of Holocaust victims, Syrian victims of the Assad regime, victims of terror on October 7, and victims of violence worldwide.

“I want to thank my dear father who raised me and showed me the truth in the world, and my family who educated me for education and social awareness,” Liora said. “I was 9 years old when I first learned about the Holocaust and the terrible things that happened to the Jews. In Turkey, people began to be racist towards me and harass me because I wrote things about peace with the Jewish people, and also because of my father’s activism, so he decided to move to Germany. Even here, people sometimes oppress us because I express my opinion and hope for peace with the Jewish people, and peace for those suffering violence in the world.”

Learning about the suffering of the Jewish people in the Holocaust has greatly influenced her worldview. “I think people choose to ignore what happened in the past, and that’s part of the reason why violence still rages in the Middle East and worldwide,” she said. “That’s why I think it’s important to speak the truth out loud, so that we can regain our countries and peace once again.”

Summing up the event, Sabbagh said that the security of the entire world depends on Israel’s security. “We need to speak the truth, that nations demand freedom and seek peace, but it is the leaders who are the barrier,” he said.

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