Mass Rallies Held For Gaza, But Much Larger Death Toll in Syria Ignored

By Patrick Goodenough | July 21, 2014 | 4:34 AM EDT

Thousands of protesters march through Whitehall in central London, to call for an end to Israeli military action in Gaza on Saturday, July 19, 2014. (AP Photo)

( – As hundreds of thousands of people held pro-Palestinian rallies in cities around the world over the weekend, the death toll in Syria continued to mount, with relatively little attention.

As of late Sunday, 436 Palestinians were reported to have been killed during a 12-day Israeli offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Eighteen Israeli soldiers and two civilians were reported to have been killed over the same period.

Last Thursday and Friday alone, more than 700 people were killed in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based group that monitors fatalities on all sides of the Syrian conflict, which began three years and four months ago.

A review of international media outlets found no news reports on public demonstrations around the world this weekend protesting the war in Syria.  Over the past week, the only Syria-related public demonstrations deemed important enough to merit media coverage were a protest against Syrian refugees in south-eastern Turkey, and a protest at a NATO base in Cyprus against the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons in the region.

Most of the deaths in Syria late last week occurred in fighting between forces of President Bashar Assad’s regime and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), as the jihadist group battled for, and eventually seized control of, a gas field in Homs province.

The Observatory said 396 people were killed in Thursday’s fighting, and another 314 on Friday. A further 90 people were not accounted for, but presumed dead.

In one of many protest rallies around the world in recent days, thousands of demonstrators wave banners and Palestinian flags and shout anti-Israel slogans in Madrid, Spain, on July 17. (AP Photo/ Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, more than 171,000 people have been killed, the Observatory reported in mid-July. Among them are some 56,500 civilians, including more than 9,000 children.

On the regime side, the death toll includes 39,000 regime forces, 24,600 regime loyalists and members of pro-government militias; 1,600 foreign pro-regime fighters; and more than 500 members of Hezbollah.

On the opposing side, the death toll includes 28,500 rebels, plus more than 15,000 fighters from ISIS and other radical groups, including foreigners.

The figures do not include more than 20,000 people held by the regime or some 7,000 held by rebels, whose fate is unknown.

‘US imperialism … and apartheid Israel’

In dozens of cities around the world, from Washington to London to Paris to Seoul to Istanbul, activist groups organized large pro-Palestinian protests at the weekend, and many more have been planned in the coming days.

In the U.S., ANSWER (“Act Now to Stop War and End Racism”) and other groups are gearing up for a national “Stop the Massacre in Gaza” demonstration in Washington on August 2.

ANSWER has held protests in the past relating to Syria – but not against the Assad regime. Instead, the focus has been opposing U.S. intervention, particularly when the Obama administration last fall was signaling plans for punitive airstrikes after more than 1,400 people were killed in a chemical weapons attack blamed on the regime.

During an ANSWER rally in Chicago earlier last year, ANSWER activist John Beacham told the gathering, “We know the truth. It’s not about ‘the people vs. the dictator’ in Syria. A majority of the population opposes the anti-government fighters.”

“The heart of the conflict, more so with each passing day, is a struggle of the Syrian people and the people of the Middle East against U.S. imperialism, the former colonizers of the region – Britain and France, the Gulf monarchies, the powers that be in the capital of the former Ottoman Empire, and apartheid Israel.”

ANSWER officials have also complained that calls for Assad to be investigated for war crimes are nothing more than “a tack that the imperialists have used in several countries where the government is targeted for regime change by U.S. policy makers.”

In Britain, the Stop The War Coalition (STWC) is a major organizer of current spate of Gaza-themed rallies.

Over the years since its founding – in response to President Bush’s “war on terror” after 9/11 – the coalition has held scores of protests focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Palestinian issue.

A search of the STWC’s events and activities since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011 finds no public protests against the Assad regime.

After the chemical weapons attack in Damascus last August, however, the STWC came out in strong opposition to “any military attack on Syria.”

Earlier in 2013, the coalition protested Western plans to arm the anti-Assad rebels, demanding in a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron that Britain “abandon its interventionist policies” in Syria.

The STWC took a similar stance in December 2011, opposing “all foreign military intervention in Syria” and even stood against proposals at the time to set up an exiled government of opposition forces.

London’s Daily Telegraph last September quoted STWC’s vice-president as saying a meeting of Britain’s New Communist Party that the Assad family had “a long history of resisting imperialism” and must be supported “because their defeat will pave the way for a pro-Western and pro-U.S. regime.”

Writing in Britain’s The Spectator on Saturday Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society – a London-based think tank – had some critical observations about those who took to the streets of the capital earlier in the day.

“These are the people who stayed at home throughout the Syrian civil war, stayed at home when ISIS rampaged across Iraq, stayed at home when Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab carried out their atrocities across central Africa and showed no concern whatsoever when the Muslim Brotherhood was running Egypt into the ground,” he said. “Yet they pretend to care about Muslims.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow