Demonstrators gather in Homs, Syria, a hotbed center of anti-government protests. Demonstrations were mostly peaceful until President Bashar al-Assad began to shell the crowds indiscriminately. Current number around 7,000 dead in 12 months.
Just a couple of hundred miles from my desk in Tel Aviv, bodies are strewn across city streets and people in makeshift hospitals are dying because there are no medicines, not even bandaids. Residents sneaking out of their homes to just buy bread are cut down by army snipers.
The Syrian regime is one of the most repressive, bloodthirsty dictatorships in the world. For a solid year now, President Bashar al-Assad has been mowing his people down, crushing sections of rebellious cities through his powerful army with tanks, mortars, rockets and sharpshooters.
Ambulance drivers cannot get near the dead and wounded because they too will be shot. Besides, many wounded are afraid to go to a hospital as Syrian security forces often raid the hospitals, shooting the injured and even the doctors.
The Al Arabiya news network reported that families were having great difficulty burying the dead as Syrian soldiers fired on mourners attending the funerals.
Human rights organizations now report that over 7,000 Syrians have been killed with untold thousands injured since the rebellion began a year ago. Some 37,000 are reported in jail where torture is the norm.
At first the protesters were cautiously calling for democracy and greater freedom with an end to the 48-year-old “emergency laws.” However, when Assad began indiscriminately killing masses of peaceful demonstrators, the opposition’s demand changed to nothing less than the ouster of Assad.
As the violence increased, we began to see videos on youtube uploaded secretly by activists showing the utter desperation of the citizens as they videoed their neighborhoods being bombed. On YouTube they were begging, weeping for the world to come to their rescue.
The atrocities were so great that the powerful Arab League lost all patience with Assad and demanded that a team of Arab observers try to bring a halt to the killing, but the whole thing was a fiasco. Syrian minders thwarted the observers, directing them wherever they wanted while the number of killings increased.
THE UN TO THE RESCUE
The Arab League then expelled Syria as a member—a rare act indeed! It also imposed economic sanctions on Assad and appealed to the UN’s Security Council to pass a resolution—carrying the weight of international law—against Assad, demanding he stop the killing and step down as president.
Everyone knew that getting a resolution against Assad through the Security Council would be difficult because of Russia’s resistance to “interfering with Syria’s sovereignty.” During the very time the debate at the UN was proceeding, Assad carried out one of his bloodiest onslaughts on the city of Homs. Ironically, this occurred on the eve of the infamous Hama Massacre carried out exactly 30 years ago by Assad’s father Hafez al-Assad when some 10,000 to 40,000 citizens were slaughtered and most of the old city center of Hama was flattened.
At the UN, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton watered down the resolution as she negotiated with the Russian ambassador until it was basically a slap on the wrist, but in the end Russia and China vetoed even this toothless resolution.
The resolution was in fact regarded by some as so weak that Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs, called on the US government to veto it, saying that the draft resolution “contains no sanctions, no restrictions on weapons transfers, and no calls for Assad to go” and “isn’t worth the paper it is printed on.”
Russia’s and China’s veto was a personal insult to Clinton. She called it a travesty and declared, “We will work to expose those who are still funding the regime and sending it weapons that are used against defenseless Syrians, including women and children.” European leaders referred to it as “appalling” and “outrageous,” and the Arabs fumed.
The US shut down its embassy in Damascus and many European nations recalled their ambassadors. England’s foreign secretary William Hague said the Syrian government is “a doomed regime as well as a murdering regime.” For once the US, Canada, Europe, Turkey and the Arab League are all on the same page!
WHO IS THE OPPOSITION?
Opposing the Syrian army is the Free Syrian Army numbering around 30,000 deserters, including generals and several hundred junior officers. But they have only light weapons and rely on Lebanese smugglers for their supplies with some financing from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They suffer from disunity as the ranks are loyal to various commanders.
And there is another “army” made up of deserters from the city of Homs, one of the hotbeds of opposition. Both are rag-tag militias. Despite desertions and low morale, Assad’s Syrian army is incomparably better organized and armed than the rebels.
Then there is the umbrella organization, the Syrian Nation Council, based in Turkey that has attempted to unify most opposition factions. Its goal according to its website is to create “a new Syria that will be inclusive of men and women from all ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds. The new Syria stands for equal treatment in front of the law and a transparent state that represents the aspirations and interests of the Syrian people.”
These aspirations sound identical to those of the idealistic youth who began the revolution in Egypt. These dreams are sure to be dashed, however, because of the incompatibility of Islam’s belief system with democracy and freedom.
WILL ASSAD BE OUSTED?
Hackers Anonymous exposed President Assad’s emails revealing that Iran has given the Syrian regime more than $1,000,000,000 (yes, that is one billion) to help it overcome the oil embargo and sanctions imposed by the West and the Arab League.
The documents also show that Russia and China are providing Syria and Iran with banking transfers since they are not participating in the international sanctions against Syria and Iran.
Yet Israel’s military analysts believe Assad is on his way out as do most who are close to the situation. “Assad’s fall is inevitable—there’s no way this tyrant can survive,” said Iranian-born journalist and blogger Saba Farzan. Syria’s highest-level army defector, Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh agrees: “The military’s unity is severely undermined, and could collapse in a matter of weeks and the army is only partially combat-ready due to a shortage of spare parts.”
THE ALAWITE FACTOR
It is obvious to the Free World that Assad must go. But there is another enormously complicated matter of which the Western media barely seems aware. But this issue explains why President Assad and his men will fight on literally to the death.
Of its 23,000,000 citizens, 65% are Sunni Muslims—the predominant Islamic sect in most Arab nations—while 10% are Syriac Christian (conservative, traditional, eastern), 10% Alawites, another 10% Sunni Kurds and the rest are Druze and Shi’ites.
Assad and his family are Alawites—originally a poor minority, mostly living in mountain villages. The origins of the Alawite faith began as an offshoot of Islam, mixed with transmigration of the soul, reincarnation, the divinity of Ali ibn Abi Talib—the fourth Caliph and a cousin of Prophet Mohammed, etc. But its most distinctive feature is that its articles of faith are shrouded in mystery with only its highest religious leaders possessing its secrets.
Even during the rule of the Ottoman Empire, Alawites were reviled and their women and children were often sold as slaves. During the French Mandate after World War I, they begged the French to give them their own country, to no avail.
When Syria became a sovereign state, the Sunnis continued to look down on the Alawites as not being real Muslims. That all changed when the father of the present President Assad, Hafez al-Assad, took over in a military coup in 1970. Many Alawites left their villages and moved into the cities and started climbing the ladder of success.
The elder Assad began appointing Alawites, often close friends and relatives, to many government positions. Alawites in the army were promptly promoted. The government came to be seen as an Alawite entity, although many rich Sunnis also became allies of Assad and were rewarded with high offices.
Over the years, the Assad family began to downplay the religion of the Alawite community. The word “Alawite” is not even mentioned in Syrian schoolbooks! As a secular ruler, Bashar continued his father’s path and made it a primary objective to merge his religious brethren into mainstream Islam. However that caused the rudiments of the ill-defined religion of the Alawites to all but disappear.
As religious doctrine faded from the collective memory of the Alawites, the Assad family became the focal point of their identity. Today the identity of the 2,000,000-plus Alawites and the Assad family are inseparable.
Assad’s other allies are the 2,000,000 strong Christian minority. For whatever reason, Assad protected their rights—not a small achievement in a sea of Sunni Muslims.
When in the early 1980’s the Muslim Brotherhood began to mount a rebellion against the Alawite dictator Hafez with a goal of establishing a Sharia-run state, the elder Assad slaughtered many thousands in the city of Hama and completely outlawed the existence of the Brotherhood in Syria.
Bashar, who became the Alawite leader in the year 2000 left the “emergency law” in place and continued the ban on the Brotherhood. Now the Brotherhood is loose and the Alawites know they are marked for revenge.
LIFE WITHOUT BASHAR
The prospect of life without the Assads—a prospect many world and Arab leaders see as all but inevitable—is driving many Alawites to desperate extremes. There is real anger, passion and fear on the streets where Alawites live, with some crowds howling, “Get on with it, Maher! Finish them off!” They are shouting their angst to the president’s younger brother Maher, commander of a military unit in the vanguard of the crackdown on opposition bastions.
The Alawites and their allies are convinced that if their leader is disposed, there will be a bloodbath. The Sunnis with a six-to-one advantage, will simply slaughter the Alawites—and probably the Christians will not escape as they too have stuck with Assad because of their fear of an Islamic extremist takeover.
Furthermore, the current leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has publicly called for the ouster of Syria’s “pernicious, cancerous regime,” increasing the U.S. concerns that al-Qaeda operatives are already infiltrating the opposition ranks.
The Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda will certainly exploit this uprising against Assad that began with peaceful calls for democratic change but is morphing into a bloody, armed insurgency.
As if Israel didn’t have enough troubles, the Israeli army’s chief of staff warned that the potential fall of Syrian President Assad’s regime might lead thousands of Syrian refugees to seek shelter in Israel.
“The Alawite sect and its allies are expected to flee en masse the day the Assad regime crumbles. The Israeli army is preparing to take in a flood of refugees on the Golan Heights in case it happens,” Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz told the Knesset foreign policy and defense committee.
The Alawites, as are virtually all Syrians, are fierce enemies of Israel. But when there’s no where else to go, the bloodbath may force them to seek shelter over Israel’s borders.
But after the fall, what about Syria’s weapons? What will happen to Syria’s hordes of advanced armament platforms such as sophisticated air defense systems and advanced missiles, high-trajectory long-range rockets and missiles, and biological and chemical weapons?
Israel has been warning for several years that Syria may provide Hezbollah with these advanced weapons systems. Already there are a mind-boggling 200,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel, according to Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. Thousands of these carry heavy explosive warheads, and some chemical and biological ones are aimed at Tel Aviv.
Most are in the hands of extremist Islamists. Arab media has recently reported Hezbollah has moved Scud missiles and tons of advanced armaments to their camps in Lebanon and that advanced SA missiles have been set up in the mountains of Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s fear is that all that weaponry will be lost if Assad falls. One wonders, lost to whom? The Muslim Brotherhood? Al-Qaeda operatives in Syria? Since both the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda are reported moving quickly into the mayhem and becoming part of the opposition mix, this strategic weaponry, including stockpiles of chemical weapons and long-range missiles, could fall into the hands of any of these terrorist groups, as the Syrian regime disintegrates.
Certainly the burden that so many Christians feel to continually intercede for Israel is for real. It is God Himself, through His Holy Spirit, urging people to pray. Through the prayers of the saints, notwithstanding the tremendous odds, God will yet save this nation. But nothing short of the miraculous will ultimately rescue Israel from obliteration.
And let us not forget to pray for the Syrian people, that in their distress, the mighty God of Israel will reveal Himself to these sons of Ishmael—even through dreams and visions. And pray that in this spiritual desert, the Lord will raise up laborers—to deliver the Syrians from the culture of death and show them the path to Truth and Life.
A last comment: It is to this tyrant Bashar Assad that the UN, Europe and the US have been pressuring Israel for years to yield the Golan Heights—strategic assets vital to Israel’s survival. Can you imagine anything that would stop Assad from raining down fire onto northern Galilee villages and kibbutzim as his army sat perched on the mountains overlooking Israel’s northern citizens?
The Alawite section of this article is drawn from author Nir Rosen, www.aljazeera.com 10 October 2011
First of all, the teenage worship team began leading the congregation in our Sabbath time of praise to our Redeemer on a beautiful winter Saturday morning in Tel Aviv.
Then three young men each preached a 10-minute sermon.
It was amazing! Fresh! Young! And full of the Spirit of God in these earnest and talented young people.
We are videoing these services which presently can be heard each week on our congregational Hebrew language website, and will in the future be seen on our Hebrew outreach website which we are now building.
Each month now, the youth will be in charge of one of the month’s Sabbath services at Congregation Tiferet Yeshua.
They are not only the leaders of tomorrow; they are leading today!
As a little girl, I used to dream the same awful dream at night—a dream I still remember. In my dream I was on top of a very large hill. I was very afraid because I knew something was after me constantly, and I did not want it to get me. On this hill (it was very green and beautiful) there was a spiral path that I could see laid out ahead of me. The path was narrow—just enough for me to step on, and it led to the center of the hill where a gorgeous red flower—a kind I’ve never seen before—was blooming. I knew I had to get to it, but I could not cross over on the grass, and it seemed that the faster I ran from what was chasing me, the farther away from the flower I got. Because of this dream I often thought about God’s existence (even though I was specifically told He was a matter of fiction) and how I would like to know Him if He was actually real.
I was born in Siberia, and grew up in Lithuania when it was still a Republic of the USSR. When in 1989 Jews were again allowed to escape the communist regime by immigrating to Israel, my parents quickly jumped at the opportunity and in August of 1990 we arrived in Israel.
Apart from the heat, the language barrier, the incredible culture shock and the fact that I had just left everything I knew and came to a place where, supposedly, my family belonged all along, as a twelve-and-a-half-year-old girl I had to face the pressure of teenage life in a country which (it seemed) had no rules, barriers or limitations.
SEEING A BIBLE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE
After learning Hebrew fairly quickly, I was put in a regular Israeli class, where I studied Tanach—The Old Testament—among other things.
For the first time I read the incredible stories and learned about the amazing miracles God performed for Israel thousands of years ago. The Hebrew language of the Tanach was very hard for me to understand, however I did receive a wonderful gift from the state of Israel—the entire Tanach in Hebrew with the Russian alongside. That made things much easier, but, unfortunately, while we learned about the stories, no one spoke about God Himself.
It actually took a tragedy for me to realize the power of God existed today just as much as back in the days of the Bible.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery one day when I was at school. She then continued radiation treatments which left her faint, sick and tired almost all the time.
LOOKING FOR A HEALER
Through a relative we found out about a woman who called herself a “healer” and we went to see her. The woman said she was a Christian, and that she was cleansing and healing people through prayer, setting them free from the oppressing spirits.
She covered us with a white sheet while she waved candles around in the air and whispered some prayers.
We let her perform “healing” ceremonies on us multiple times. My mom still wasn’t getting better. Finally, the woman said that since nothing else was working, she would pray for her in the name of Jesus—since that always worked in the harder cases.
Lo and behold, my mom started getting better immediately! Whoever this lady was, and whatever was in her chants, God in His mercy touched my mom. So we gladly started believing in Jesus.
Of course, we had heard about Jesus before—even in Russia, but since communism hated religion and faith in God, we didn’t even think about these things. We also knew what was done to our Jewish people for centuries in the name of Jesus, so believing in Him always seemed taboo. But now that my mother was healed, and since we weren’t in Russia anymore, we had no problem!
A CHURCH IN NAZARETH
We somehow heard about a Russian Orthodox Church in Nazareth, and looking for a community that believed in Jesus, we started going there once a month on Saturdays. As a 17-year-old, I was much more interested in boys than in listening to boring (though beautiful) chantings of a priest. I also did not want to tell him all my sins to obtain forgiveness, so I would always confess lying and get it over with.
After a few months I was baptized in water and learned a few prayers I could recite on cue. I had no idea what I was baptized for, or why I should say prayers written centuries ago, but I did what I thought I was supposed to do. Though I sincerely desired to know God, no one told me how to do it (or that I could do it!), and I thought a relationship with Him through a priest was the best I could hope for.
Within a few months I almost completely lost interest in my dead religion.
I graduated from high school and was getting ready to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). After my 18th birthday I started having doubts about believing in Jesus. Besides, my mother and I didn’t know any other Jews who believed in Him, and my reasoning was a Jew cannot believe in Jesus and remain a Jew.
I was afraid to talk about my beliefs because I didn’t want my friends to think I was crazy for believing in God. Also, my lifestyle by that time was not reflecting that of the only example I knew of people who believed in God—the ultra-Orthodox—and I was ashamed to admit that I believed in His existence.
I was brewing in this conflict for a few weeks, and then, one day, I decided that I no longer wished to battle myself on this issue. So, as funny (and horrible) as this now sounds, I decided to give God an ultimatum.
I GAVE GOD A SEVEN-DAY DEADLINE
“God,” I said, “If this Jesus thing is real… if He’s really your Son… then within seven days you will show me other Jews who believe in Him. Otherwise, I’m just going to go back to being a normal Jew and have nothing more to do with Jesus. You can just forget about me!”
Naturally, I would never dream about doing the same thing today, but at eighteen, after over five years in Israel, I acquired enough of the Israeli hutzpah to do it. I wanted answers from God and this was the only way I could think of getting them.
I started counting the days. One… two… five days passed and nothing happened. But on the sixth day my mother came home with the biggest and best news I’d ever heard.
She said she had a customer that day who started talking to her about God and His Son, and who was really surprised to know that my mother believed in Jesus. Only she called Him Yeshua, saying it was His Hebrew name. Mother also said the woman invited us to her house on Saturday (Shabbat) where they had a congregation with other Jews who believed in Yeshua.
I was excited. And then I thought to myself, “If God cared enough to do this for me, He’s so much better than I have ever imagined!”
I FOUND A HOME
The next morning we came to the Ramat HaSharon Congregation (which a few years later became Tiferet Yeshua) where we met Ari, Shira (my mom’s client) and dozens of other Jewish believers in Yeshua.
My parents tell me that I started singing when I was three. I personally don’t remember a time when I did not sing. So, when the music started on that Saturday morning, my heart was instantly drawn to God and all I could do was cry. Though I didn’t realize it back then, the Holy Spirit was moving upon me and I heard Him speak to me for the first time.
This was something I had never experienced before, and looking at the smiling faces of people around me I knew I was at home, where I belonged. I accepted Yeshua and invited Him into my heart that same day. This was also the day I stopped having my dream, even though I continue thinking about it until this day.
My transformation wasn’t immediate. In 1996 there were not many believers (especially my age) in Israel, and the fact that I joined the IDF soon after we came to the congregation didn’t contribute to my maturing as a believer either.
COLLEGE DAYS WERE SPIRITUALLY DARK
After the army came college and though for the first two years I maintained a good relationship with the Lord, my third and fourth years were harder, and I found myself with one foot in the Kingdom of God and the other in the kingdom of darkness.
Because I lived on campus, I had little contact with believers from my congregation at home. I didn’t know of other believers who attended the same university. I stopped reading my Bible. The only time I worshipped was when I would go home every other weekend and go to the congregation where I sang on the worship team. I did still pray every night, because I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I had no weapons to fight my sin.
I surrounded myself with friends who didn’t know God and had no desire to know God.
At night, especially after going to the congregation, I would lay in my bed crying and asking the Lord to help me overcome this backslidden state. I was thirsting for God, but I’d given up the fight with the enemy. I felt that the ground underneath me was splitting and time was running out for me to make a decision which way I wanted to go—to God or to the world.
After college I moved back home. Within a month I finally realized what I was doing, and this time I cried out to the Lord one more time, asking for His intervention and surrendering my life and my desires to Him. I repented of my sin, and asked His forgiveness.
I also asked Him to remove me from Israel for a time, because I knew that if I stayed, people who I called friends back then would continue bringing me down and my chances of surviving as a believer would be close to zero.
OFF TO THE UNITED STATES
Not even two weeks passed from the time I made my request, and Shira asked whether I would like to go and study the Bible and worship in the U.S. I didn’t need to think about the answer. I knew my love for the Lord was real, and there was nothing more I wanted than to please Him, know Him and dedicate my life to Him.
In August of 2003 I started the fall semester at Christ For the Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas. My life has not been the same since then. For practically the first time in my life I had literally hundreds of peers who knew the Lord. I was taught each day how to maintain a relationship with Him. I studied the Word of God and I was getting to know my Savior personally at last.
While in school I met my husband, Bron, and we married soon after my graduation. During and after school, for three years I lead worship at a local Messianic Congregation and at the end of 2005 I began working for Maoz at the Grand Prairie office. When Bron finishes his studies, we plan to move back to Israel.
THE WEBMASTER FOR MAOZ
Today I am the webmaster of the Maoz English website. I am also responsible for all official online communications with our partners, as well as online donor relations.
Working for Maoz has been a privilege, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities the Lord is opening to me to bless Israel using my talents. Though my first passion is still worship, my second passion is doing what I do for Maoz, and I’m not sure that too many people get to live their lives doing two things they are most passionate about on a daily basis.
Fifteen months ago I received another blessing from the Lord. I became a mother to our daughter in addition to being a stepmother to our wonderful eight-year-old son. When I look at my children and think back to where I came from, I can’t help but praise God for His faithfulness, mercy and love.
INTERPRETATION OF MY DREAM
Just recently, as I was preparing to write this testimony, I believe the Lord finally let me understand the interpretation of my childhood dream. The red flower, of course, was Yeshua, whose blood paid the price for my atonement and salvation. What was chasing me was, of course, Satan—who was lurking around like the roaring lion seeking to devour me. The path I was on (and still am on) is the life God gave me, and the reason I could not cross on the grass was because everything on the path of our lives is carefully planned by Him, and every step is ordered and ordained by Him.
I’m thankful that He softened my heart so that I could hear His call and choose to follow Him. I pray and believe that His promise that all Israel shall be saved is closer to fulfillment than ever. And I’m looking forward to the day when all Israel shall say, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!”
I do not have an easy life. I’ve had days I would like to forget but which are still very vivid in my mind. But it is through these experiences that my faith in God grew and so did my love for Him. If I started to believe in Yeshua because He healed my mother, today I believe in Him and love Him because of what He took me out of. I would not change anything on my way because everything that happened made me the woman I am today.
At a time when Israel seems more vulnerable than ever to surrounding enemies who want to annihilate the Jewish state, our news media is full of reports of very substantial slashes in our armed forces’ budget.
Over the last few months, masses of middle classes have been protesting the high costs of rentals, food and poor education. Add to that current union strikes. The government, stretched to the max with payments to non-working ultra-Orthodox sees the only area the government can cut—without grave political ramifications—is the military.
This week the commander of an Israel Defense Forces reserve division told troops their training had to be curtailed for lack of funding due to last summer’s social protests. “Because of the demonstrations, they cut the defense budget, and now we can’t fire missiles in training,” Brig. Gen. (res.) Aharon Haliva told hundreds of reserve soldiers, according to the website Israeldefense.com.
Knowing that many units are already lacking basic equipment, last year Maoz gave a modest donation to Company 890 to purchase special water canteens that can be used when in active duty. This month Company 890 turned to us again, presenting some very basic needs that their budget simply cannot supply.
For example, their current pack vests are so old that they “flop around” and often act as an impediment to the soldiers carrying out their orders.
The company commander sent us this list of immediate needs—the first two being the most pressing:
100 full pack vests
(for carrying equipment and supplies)
100 knee pad protectors
100 helmet camouflage covers
80 polar coats
Total for ONE soldier
Total amount for entire company 890
Whatever gift you, our Maoz partners, give to this company of Israeli soldiers, we will transfer 100% of the funds to them. If more than $30,180 is received, the rest will be sent to fire stations in the north that have asked for help to install equipment to keep the exhaust of the fire trucks from constantly flowing into the living quarters of the firemen.