Role of architecture and urban form in the Israel-Palestine Dispute

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An analysis of the role of architecture and urban form in the Israel-Palestine Dispute as intimated in this new edition of Eyal Weizman’s book (cover picture below) is reviewed in a Greater Kashmir post.

The opinions expressed within reflecting the author’s views and position on the issue are shared by more and more greater numbers.  Let us see what’s it all about.

The above-featured image is for illustration and of Architectural Review showing Roads often highly fortified and for use by Israelis only, such as this section known as the Tunnel Road – or also the Apartheid Road – near the settlement of Gilo, under construction last year. Credit:Yonatan Sindel / FLASH90

 

Role of architecture and urban form in the Israel-Palestine Dispute

By Sheikh Muzamil Hussain, Guest Contributor

The relationship between political will and the built environment is conspicuous and stands out most in turmoil-laden geographies. Architecture, beyond its primary function, can be perpetuated as a tool for occupation and dominance. Hollow Land, a book by Eyal Weizman published in 2007, navigates through the later proposition. Weizman has been an outspoken critique of Israel’s policies its occupation of Palestine and has written widely on the geopolitics of the Middle East.

The author’s pedantic observation of Israel-Palestine dynamics puts into the narrative what is otherwise obvious but seldom talked about in the dominant power narratives. Describing architecture from a unique vantage point, the book draws unprecedented insights into the arena of built environment. The text strongly argues and establishes architecture as an instrument to control occupied territories, instill fear among Palestinians and facilitate illegal usurping of natural and physical resources.

The book specifically takes on architecture as an expression of occupation. It explains with precise detail the role of apartheid wall; a 100 km long and 13-meter-high edifice separating the Palestine and Israel, case of illegal settler colonies, constant invigilation of Palestinian lands through panopticon watch towers, in addition to architectural elements like color coding, detail of cladding and other features pertinent to domain of urban structure.

From demographic prism, the book discusses Israel’s intrusion into Palestinian cities and intentional changing of urban population thresholds to declare scarcely populated settlements as ‘towns.’ Wiezman sees geography, apartheid policies, and politics of domination buttressing each other. Each of the physical element on the ground, he argues is ‘there to express something, it’s just that we need to decode it.’
Architecture reverberates beyond its primary function. Weizman quotes from Lahav Harkov, a retired Israeli general about Israel’s becoming of ‘world champions of occupation’ and alluding that occupation is ‘an art form’. Over the years, Israel’s domination of territory in Palestine areas as demarcated by blue line drafted by the United Nations in 1948 has been constantly modulated and abused by Israel.

Palestine as of today is constituted of three areas: East Jerusalem, West Bank, and the south-west Gaza Strip bordering Egypt. First two were part of conflict from the start whereas the Gaza Strip came under the purview of domination lately in 1967 following the Six-day war. Israel not only successfully thwarted the conglomeration of Arab opponents but also won territory more than it originally had before the war.

The idea of Israel as land of Jews is based on idea of ‘people without land’ in first place. Not is that proposition unethical because it was realized at the cost of throwing out the local Palestinian inhabitants from their land, but also it is based on doubtful historical justification. Palestine as a geographical entity with local inhabitants precedes the advent of Judaism as socio-religious unit. Historical references of the region date back to 12th Century BC during the time of Egyptian King Ramesses II. Later figures like Herodotus, Aristotle, Ptolemy also wrote about Palestine. Nur Masalha’s book, Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History documents the topic is methodical detail.

Three-dimensional Apartheid

The art of apartheid, Israel orchestrates in controlling the Palestinian lands is played out at three levels: the subsoil, the surface, and the air. Palestinian territories reserve the compromised sovereignty only at the surface level whereas the subsoil and air are controlled by the Israeli government resulting in a vertical apartheid. Oslo Accords of 1993 argued for the case that Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem should be connected by road, usually by flyovers surpassing the Israel land below. Projects of such nature would directly connect the masses of Palestine and the flyovers itself would act as facilitators. Israel, however rebutted the idea citing security issues. It remains ironical given how the Israel has constructed thousands of kilometers of road network, both above surface and underground disregarding sovereignty of Palestine.

Dozen tunnels cut through hollow lands of what was once Palestinian farmlands. The roads cut across Palestinian territories and decrease the commute time of Israeli citizens. The constructions are usually aimed to proselytize into Palestinian lands and at the same time to connect mainland Israel with illegal settlements. Israel under the policy of ‘Metropolitan Jerusalem’, enshrined in policies of government mandates Israeli authorities to expand the capital territory far and beyond and in the process engulfing Palestinian lands into its jurisdiction fold.

Settlements are the most aggressive tool used by Israel to induce control to grass root level in West Bank and Gaza Strip, where they permeate almost every tract of land, and the way they are planned in midst of Palestinian towns makes the local Palestinians vulnerable in many ways and at the same time enabling Israel to control more effectively. Ariel Sharon in 1998 remarked what could be attested as the policy of Israel since then; ‘to move, run, and grab as many hilltops as we can.’ It usually starts with the placement of few mobile containers on hilltop until it is captured in its entirety.

Language and Form of Design

It’s surprising how a building material can convey the language of occupation. Throughout its glorious as well as confrontational history, Jerusalem houses architectural sites of importance to Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions. Although the style may differ for each but there is a common denominator: the Jerusalem stone. The yellow tinted stone is available in abundance in and around the region.
When British colonized the Palestine in 1918, the aesthetically sensitive British builders saw the neglected plight of its cities. To them, the built form was mix of congested and haphazardly built houses lacking any sort of unifying appeal.

Determined to find a solution to the Jerusalem’s ‘overcrowding and unsightliness’, the British colonel Ronald Storrs invited influential British engineer, William Mclean to draw a development plan. He instructed to dismantle shackles and old torn out buildings. In the process, the British designers designated Jerusalem stone as mandatory cladding stone in order to achieve the ‘biblical outlook’. For Storrs, stone embodied biblical tradition and ‘Jerusalem literally a city build on rock’. Decades later the same archeological tradition and Jerusalem stone was invoked by the Zionist regime for propagandist purposes.

The 1968 Master plan of Jerusalem, keeping up with the earlier development plans singled out Jerusalem stone’s ability to render a ‘holy city image’ to occupied areas of extended metropolitan areas of Jerusalem. In course of time, certain planners and architects did stand up to challenge this notion due to the emergence of high rise and rising prices of stone but the Israeli government subdued all such voices. In last few decades, Israel’s builders have come up with affordable ways to just put 6-centimeter slates of stone instead of wholesome masonry but nonetheless the stone on the exterior remains the standard.

Topography has also had a huge influence on the occupation. Israel usually places its settlement colonies on the apex of hills. It helps the IDF to patrol the surrounding areas with three sixty degrees vigil. This principle is vividly explicated by the settlements. Apart from stone cladding, the law mandates the settlement buildings to have red colored roofs to help differentiate in case of air raids.
Israel has induced a sort of gentrification effect in Arab neighborhoods which eventually increases the property rates causing Palestinians to retreat to areas beyond ‘metropolitan Jerusalem’ which by law is a condition for Palestinians to acquire citizenship.

Once out of Jerusalem, these people are vulnerable to various kinds of human rights violations.
There are also efforts to constrict physical expansion of Palestinian urban areas. For example, the neighborhoods of Ramat Eshkol and the French Hill north of the old city were laid out to form an elongated arc that cut the Palestinian neighborhood of Shuafat from the Palestinian old city and the neighborhood of Seikh Jarah, which previously comprised a continuous urban area.

Appropriating the Archeology

Archeology possesses the power to dismantle whatever is seen as ‘non-original’. The Maghariba quarters and African quarters were razed overnight by Israel just after the 1967 war ended. David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel claimed in his memoirs that the Jewish right over Palestine is based on digging soil with our own hands. What he said referred to two practices that would establish and demonstrate Zionist right to the land.

Wherever the Zionists found traces of Hebraic past, they first reverted the names of places followed by demolition of whatever stood on it. Thousands of houses belonging to Palestinians were razed on the same principle. A year later after the 1967 war, Israeli government invited elite planners and architects from across the world for the cause. In one such project to revive the Hebrew past, Architect Louis I. Kahn was commissioned to construct Hurva synagogue on the same design it had existed before going into ruins. Somehow the project couldn’t find the light of the day, but several other projects returned to liveliness.

Resources and Amenities

Land presently under Israel lacks the natural reserves to sufficiently supply water to its residents. The mountain aquifer’s that supply 80% of the water into Israel are in West Bank. Israel cites Hebraic past disputing any authority of Palestine over the resources. Ironically the water, as well as the stone, is extracted from Palestinian lands and for compensation the Palestinians are returned with sewerage that Israel flows downslope to valleys around the West Bank hills. This has resulted in a health crisis for Palestinian people.
Over these years the number of settlers sit at a staggering number of around 7,50,000. The official policy asserts the ratio of Jews to Muslims kept at 78:22 but the actual numbers have always remained more than 22 percent for the Muslim population because of reasons like birthrate and dense neighborhoods.

The Palestinian neighborhoods like Muslim Quarters house at least twice the people of its capacity. The reason for over densification of the Muslim neighborhoods can be reasonably attributed to Israel’s vindictive razing policy which specifically target Muslim houses.
Unemployment is rampant and healthcare infrastructure in the state of no-existence. Palestinians have not only been snatched of their rights but they have also been made dependent at every conjecture.

Palestinians are queued like herds to enter premises which belong to them. In Palestine, violence is perpetuated with the help of architecture. The crime began on drawing board itself and as Weizman remarks, ‘It is architecture only that can rise above this.’

The author is an Urban and Regional Planner and alumnus of CEPT Ahmedabad.

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Good omens hard to find as global climate talks open

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By Mark John and Katy Daigle, REUTERS. it is about how Good omens are hard to find as global climate talks open.

Summary

  • COP26 aims to secure tougher measures to cut CO2 emissions
  • Conference set to begin with afternoon speeches
  • Weekend G20 summit failed to set positive tone for COP26
  • Thunberg urges leaders: ‘Face up to climate emergency now’

GLASGOW, Nov 1 (Reuters) – World leaders began arriving on Monday at a U.N. conference critical to averting the most disastrous effects of climate change, their challenge made even more daunting by the failure of major industrial nations to agree ambitious new commitments.

The COP26 conference in the Scottish city of Glasgow opens a day after the G20 economies failed to commit to a 2050 target to halt net carbon emissions – a deadline widely cited as necessary to prevent the most extreme global warming.

Instead, their talks in Rome only recognised “the key relevance” of halting net emissions “by or around mid-century”, set no timetable for phasing out coal at home and watered down promises to cut emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg asked her millions of supporters to sign an open letter accusing leaders of betrayal.Report ad

“As citizens across the planet, we urge you to face up to the climate emergency,” she tweeted. “Not next year. Not next month. Now.”

Many of those leaders take to the stage in Glasgow on Monday to defend their records and in some cases make new pledges at the start of two weeks of negotiations that conference host Britain is billing as make-or-break.Report ad

“Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change. It’s one minute to midnight and we need to act now,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell the opening ceremony, according to advance excerpts of his speech.

“If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow.”

DISCORD

Discord among some of the world’s biggest emitters about how to cut back on coal, oil and gas, and help poorer countries to adapt to global warming, will not make the task easier.

At the G20, U.S. President Joe Biden singled out China and Russia, neither of which is sending its leader to Glasgow, for not bringing proposals to the table.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, on board Air Force One with Biden, said Glasgow could put pressure on those who had not yet stepped up, but that it would not end the global effort.

“It is also critical for us to recognise that the work is going to have to continue after everyone goes home,” he told reporters.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country is by far the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and ahead of the United States, will address the conference on Monday in a written statement, according to an official schedule.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia, one of the world’s top three oil producers along with the United States and Saudi Arabia, has dropped plans to participate in any talks live by video link, the Kremlin said. read more

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will also stay away. Two Turkish officials said Britain had failed to meet Ankara’s demands on security arrangements and protocol. read more

PROMISES, PROMISES

Delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, COP26 aims to keep alive a target of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels – a level scientists say would avoid its most destructive consequences.

To do that, it needs to secure more ambitious pledges to reduce emissions, lock in billions in climate-related financing for developing countries, and finish the rules for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries.

Existing pledges to cut emissions would allow the planet’s average surface temperature to rise 2.7C this century, which the United Nations says would supercharge the destruction that climate change is already causing by intensifying storms, exposing more people to deadly heat and floods, raising sea levels and destroying natural habitats.

Developed countries confirmed last week that they would be three years late in meeting a promise made in 2009 to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance to developing countries by 2020. read more

“Africa is responsible for only 3% of global emissions, but Africans are suffering the most violent consequences of the climate crisis,” Ugandan activist Evelyn Acham told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

“They are not responsible for the crisis, but they are still paying the price of colonialism, which exploited Africa’s wealth for centuries,” she said. “We have to share responsibilities fairly.”

Two days of speeches by world leaders starting Monday will be followed by technical negotiations. Any deal may not be struck until close to or even after the event’s Nov. 12 finish date.

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Jeff Mason; writing by Mark John and Kevin Liffey; editing by Barbara Lewis

Palestinian Rights Advocates Refuse to Applaud

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Published on Thursday, August 13, 2020, by Common Dreams is an article on how Palestinian Rights Advocates Refuse to Applaud Israel-Trump-UAE Deal That Upholds ‘Ongoing, Devastating Apartheid‘. Here it is republished for apparent reasons if only of peace, progress and prosperity for each and everyone around unfolding however awkwardly before our very eyes. It would be a good opportunity to remind that resolving millennia problematics could start with the unequal impact of heatwaves without of course overlooking all those transboundary aquifers. 


“The Trump administration hit upon the Nobel Peace Prize-winning idea that you can supposedly solve the Israel-Palestine conflict by pretending Palestinians don’t exist.”

Julia Conley, staff writer

In front of the EU Council, covered by 4,500 empty pairs of shoes to represent every life killed in the Israel since 2008, is seen in Brussels, Belgium, on 28 May 2018. European Foreign Ministers greeted by the installation as they entered a meeting. (Photo: Olivier Matthys/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Advocates for Palestinian rights vehemently rejected claims by the Trump administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Thursday marked a “historic day” in the fight for peace in the Middle East, after Israel and the United Arab Emirates forged a deal normalizing relations between the two countries.

The newly-official diplomatic relationship reportedly came after Israel told UAE officials that it would suspend plans to annex parts of the West Bank in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

Rights advocates promptly pointed out that Israel already occupies the West Bank and will continue to do so regardless of any promise to the UAE, and that the Israeli to expand annexation—though on hold at least for now—would have been a violation of international law.

“We won’t celebrate Netanyahu for not stealing land he already controls in exchange for a sweetheart business deal,” tweeted Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a Palestinian-American.

As President Donald Trump, Netanyahu, and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed released a joint statement celebrating the so-called “historic diplomatic breakthrough”—and U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said the deal should solidify a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Trump—CodePink pointed out that Netanyahu stated publicly after the deal was brokered that annexation is “still on the table” and something he is still “committed to.”

“The Trump administration hit upon the Nobel Peace Prize-winning idea that you can supposedly solve the Israel-Palestine conflict by pretending Palestinians don’t exist,” tweeted Intercept journalist Murtaza Hussain.

The deal is primarily an attempt to bolster “the Israel-US-Gulf alliance against Iran…while maintaining Israel’s status quo of occupation and apartheid,” said CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin. 

In Gaza, the Popular Resistance Committees called the deal “a treacherous and poisonous stab in the back of the nation and its history” which “reveals the size of the conspiracy against our people and our cause.” 

CodePink accused UAE leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, of abandoning their previous stance that the UAE would only normalize diplomatic relations with Israel if and when the country acted in accordance with international law.

“We are not fooled by this fake diplomacy, which is nothing more than a way to maintain Israel’s status quo of land theft, home demolitions, arbitrary extrajudicial killings, apartheid laws, and other abuses of Palestinian rights,” said CodePink national co-director Ariel Gold. “Annexation is a daily reality on the ground. By normalizing relations with Israel without any gains for Palestinians, the UAE is pledging complicity with Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.”

The group said the purpose of the Trump-brokered deal was entirely unrelated to moving closer to peace and solidarity between Palestinians and Israelis, and was instead an attempt to shore up the power of Trump, Netanyahu, and bin Zayed. 

“The UAE’s change from supporting Palestinian dignity and freedom to supporting Israel’s never-ending occupation cements the UAE’s alliance with the Trump administration, which allows the country to purchase weapons that are used against civilians in Yemen,” said CodePink.

The Israeli and UAE delegations are set to meet in the coming weeks about cooperative agreements regarding telecommunications, investments, tourism, and other aspects of a normalized diplomatic relationship. But as the Middle East Eye reported, the new deal is simply a formalization of relations that had already been ongoing; last month, for example, two Israeli defense companies signed a deal with an artificial intelligence firm in the UAE. 

“There is nothing ‘historic’ or ‘groundbreaking’ about this agreement: Israel and the UAE have been strong allies under the table for many years!” tweeted Omar Baddar, director of the Arab American Institute. “This is merely making that friendship public.”

“Israel may be able to normalize with these dictatorial governments without treating [Palestinians] like human beings who deserve basic rights, but Israel will never be truly accepted by the PEOPLE of the region so long as Palestinians live without freedom under the boot of occupation,” Baddar wrote.

The agreement, journalist Mehdi Hasan tweeted, represented a “classic” deal by two countries regarding Palestinian people’s lives, security, and future.

https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=commondreams&creatorUserId=14296273&dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-5&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1293952073495646211&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.commondreams.org%2Fnews%2F2020%2F08%2F13%2Fpalestinian-rights-advocates-refuse-applaud-israel-trump-uae-deal-upholds-ongoing&siteScreenName=commondreams&siteUserId=14296273&theme=light&widgetsVersion=223fc1c4%3A1596143124634&width=550px

IfNotNow, a Palestinian rights group led by Jewish Americans, condemned the deal, which was made without the involvement of Palestinians.

“The focus needs to be on promoting solidarity between Palestinians and Israelis who are joining together in struggle to end an apartheid system,” said Congresswoman Tlaib. “We must stand with the people. This Trump/Netanyahu deal will not alleviate Palestinian suffering—it will further normalize it.”Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons A

Specter of Threats on all MENA’s countries

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There is a specter of threats on all MENA’s countries, starting with those that are oil-exporters. The risk of dislocation of social cohesion and that of amputation of territorial integrity are perhaps at the forefront.

What are then the scenarios for the future situation in all the countries of the MENA region? Here are some:


New wave of protest expected to hit MENA region say analysts

New waves of protest are expected to hit the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region when lockdowns are lifted, and the global coronavirus pandemic is brought under control.

For many regimes in the region, the spread of COVID-19 has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Protests were stopped in Iraq, Algeria and Lebanon. But the impact of the virus is likely to fuel more instability in the region as governments struggle to deal with the economic crash, job losses, and boiling public anger.

According to Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East programme at Chatham House: “The coronavirus has exposed the fragility of the social safety-net systems across the region,” and the “Covid-19 has postponed the inevitable unrest to come.”

Her comments fuelled speculation in the Financial Times about the coming unrest in the MENA region, which many would say has barely recovered from the 2011 uprising that became popularly known as the “Arab Spring”.

With governments lacking legitimacy, restless populations, high youth population and rampant unemployment, the region was already under severe stress. Their lack of financial resources to be able to deal with the virus in the way wealthy nations have been able to, by providing large-scale rescue packages to support businesses and protect jobs, is expected to make their position even more untenable.

While trust between people and the regimes is said to be dangerously low, authoritarian measures adopted during the spread of the pandemic has exacerbated this endemic problem. The shuttering of news agencies and expulsion of foreign journalists that contradicted government handling of the pandemic were cited as just two of the ways in which mistrust has been deepened.

In states like Algeria activists are even accusing authorities of exploiting the crisis by cracking down on political opponents and detaining opposition politicians as well as journalists.

States like Iraq have suffered a double blow of the spread of the coronavirus and the collapse of the global oil market which resulted from a major drop in global supply and a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Baghdad is unlikely to be able to pay as much as half of its staff in the public sector, by far the largest employer, while Algeria, another country exposed to the oil price plunge, is said to be cutting state spending by 30 per cent.

Countries heavily reliant on tourism are also being hit hard. Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco have seen this key sector completely freeze over the past months. As revenues plummet, remittances, which is a major source of income for many countries in the region, have dried up. Lebanon, one of the countries already at breaking point due to economic meltdown, will face major challenges.

This weekend, two banks in southern, and two in northern Lebanon were damaged in separate attacks over the weekend, as public anger grows over the country’s economic crisis.

The real test, according to the FT report, will come after the pandemic begins to ease and the economic consequences of the global crisis are truly felt, particularly for the region’s most vulnerable.

Read more:

Regional Powers’ Attempts to co-opt the Syrian tribes

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The regional powers’ attempts to co-opt the Syrian tribes will only deepen the war-torn country’s divisions by creating rivalries between them sustains Haian Dukhan of University of Leicester per the following article.

Syria: attempts by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to co-opt Arab tribes in Syria will deepen the country’s divisions

Saudi Arabia is putting renewed pressure on its ties with tribal groups in Syria as it continues to support those trying to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

In a visit in late June to Syrian territories controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance fighting against the Assad regime, the Saudi minister for Gulf affairs, Thamer Al-Sabhan, met with representatives of Arab tribes in Deir Ezzor, one of Syria’s most heavily tribal areas. He asked them to help the SDF maintain stability and security in their territories.

Arab tribes represent 20% of Syrian society and are particularly focused in the east of the country. But this area is currently divided: territory east of the Euphrates river is controlled by the SDF, which includes the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, while much of the territory west of the river is governed by the Syrian regime.

Saudi Arabia’s rivals in the region are also trying to use their ties with Syrian tribes for their own ends. Although Iran and Turkey don’t have the same kinship ties that Saudi tribes do with the Syrian tribes, both countries have been working since the beginning of the Syrian conflict to create new ties with them. Their aim is to use the tribes to further their interests in Syria – toppling the Assad regime in the case of Turkey and propping it up in the case of Iran.

But these attempts to co-opt the Syrian tribes will only deepen the war-torn country’s divisions by creating rivalries between them.

Shifting allegiances

In the Syrian context, tribes refer to local groups of people that live geographically close to each other. They are distinct from other segments of Syrian society by having extended kinship ties, tribal customs and tribal leaders, or sheikhs. Some of Syria’s most prominent tribes are Aqaydate, Baggara and Busha’ban.

During the rule of Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, between 1970 and 2000, tribes were part of the rural coalition that enabled the regime to preserve power. But Bashar al-Assad’s neo-liberal policies, such as lifting subsidies on livestock fodder and other agricultural products, accompanied by severe drought in 2003 changed the power dynamic and the tribes revolted against the regime in 2011.

The 2011 uprising in Syria was a golden opportunity for Saudi Arabia to use its links with the Syrian tribes to destroy the Assad regime and so eliminate growing Iranian influence in the country, which it considers its sphere of influence.

The Euphrates river in Deir Ezzor, Syria. Marcel Holyoak via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Since the uprising, Saudi Arabia has used tribal networks to provide financial and military support to the armed opposition against Assad. It also encouraged tribal sheikhs to defect from the Syrian regime, promising to provide them with refuge and financial aid. This led to the defection of more than 20 Syrian tribal leaders, who took refuge in Saudi Arabia.

Iran tried its own tactics to woo Syria’s Arab tribes. Iranian officials continue to invite Syrian tribal leaders to visit Tehran for talks in an effort to persuade them to remain loyal to Assad. These visits are covered by Iranian and Syrian state media, which portray the visiting sheikhs as important national figures.

Iran has spent large amounts of money and expertise on training militias of the Tay and the Sheitat tribes to fight alongside the Syrian regime forces. Iranian missionary groups have also been working to convert people from the Baggara tribe in Deir Ezzor from the Sunni to the Shia branch of Islam, in order to counterbalance the power of the Sunni Aqaydate tribe that has strong kinship ties to Saudi Arabia.

A counter balance to Turkey and Qatar

The rift between Saudi Arabia and Turkey took place after the Arab Spring and intensified after Turkey decided to back Qatar, offering it economic and military aid to help overcome a blockade by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Since around 2013, the competition between these two regional hegemons moved to Syria.

Turkey aims to use the Arab tribes in Turkey to legitimise its intervention against the SDF, and in particular its Kurdish forces, in the area to east of the Euphrates. Ultimately, it wants to have Arab fighters alongside its own army on Syrian soil. In a February 2018 visit to Urfa, a town close to the Turkish-Syrian border, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, met with Syrian tribal leaders who praised Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch against SDF forces in the Afrin district.

But Saudi Arabia considers the area to the east of the Euphrates river in Syria to be within its sphere of influence and will do whatever is possible to prevent it from falling under Turkish control. The Saudis are using financial aid to stabilise the SDF’s rule and decrease some of the tension between the SDF and Arab tribes.

But these attempts to co-opt the tribes by regional powers will only deepen Syria’s divisions. Many tribes have been split into competing clans that are fighting each other just because they find themselves to the east or west of the Euphrates.

Instead of trying to look for tribes who can serve their interests in Syria, Saudia Arabia, Iran and Turkey should support initiatives that foster a shared national identity for all Syrians.

Haian Dukhan, Teaching Fellow in International Relations, University of Leicester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.