Saturday, September 16, 2017


On 25 June 2013, I attended an event at the Syrian Orthodox Church in Lidcomble, in honour of the visit of Mother Agnes to Australia. During the event and light dinner, I was approached by Hanadi Assoud, a Syrian activist in Sydney. She whispered to me that the "Syrian Consul" wants to meet me.

I answered in shock "do you have a Consul in Australia?"

"Yes we have an Honorary Consul"

She introduced me to Maher Dabbagh, the Syrian Honorary Consul in Australia, appointed after the closure of Syrian embassy in Canberra.

I asked him why he wanted to meet me.

"Syrian ministry of Foreign Affairs asked me about you and wanted me to contact you".

We exchanged details, contact numbers and vowed to work together in future. I did not know much about him. Even my contacts in Syrian community could not give me any clear answers.

After one week, I contacted Maher by phone. I told him that we have an idea of sending an Australian delegation to Syria for "solidarity and fact-finding". The call was a lengthy one, as he showed a lot of interest.

I concluded the call by letting him know that I am able to organise the delegation, but would welcome cooperation with the representative of Syria in Australia.

The Honorary Consul asked me to come and meet him at the consulate. He asked me to come alone to discuss the idea and decide who to invite and who to involve later.

I went to meet him. As I was still receiving death threats and anti-terrorism agencies advised I should always have a companion if I attend any night activity, I asked a friend (Abu Ali Wazney) to go with me.

Arriving at the Consulate, I got a shock. Maher had invited four other persons to a meeting that was supposed to be discreet. Hanadi Assoud, Ahmad Isa, Tim Anderson and Marlene Obied were invited.
The meeting was unnecessarily tense. Tim Anderson was opposing everything I suggested. I suggested the delegation go during September (cheap flights and perfect weather in Syria). Tim wanted it to be during December. I interjected, as December always had big chance of getting snow in Syria and Lebanon. We decided to leave it to Maher. I also suggested some names to the delegation: John Shipton (Wikileaks), Dave Smith (Anglican church), Muslim religious leaders, businessmen supporters of Syria and some activists. Tim again interjected and suggested that we provide Maher with all names and he will decide.

I stressed that we need to meet at later stage to discuss the progress of the idea, especially as it was my idea from the outset and that I had offered assistance in organising it. Maher agreed and said he will arrange for another meeting soon after he gets some answers from Syria.

For the next two months, I received no notification from Maher. The WikiLeaks party decided to participate and send at least two from its National Council: John Shipton and myself. I contacted Maher and told him that I need to know soon about the delegation and that if he cannot organise it, I will do that. He asked me to come and meet him at the Consulate.

We met at the end of September (2013), he told me that most likely the visit will be during mid November. As I cannot leave my family behind in Australia in case extremists might try to attack them during my visit to Syria, I decided that the best solution was to travel to Jordan and leave them there.

In Jordan, I waited for a whole month for confirmation from Maher. He never answered my phone calls or my emails. I then decided to return to Australia and organise the delegation later.

Suddenly, Maher contacted me and told me that the delegation will arrive in Damascus in early December. John Shipton said he will be in Europe for a conference and he will join from there. Later, Maher confirmed the date to be 18 December 2013, and that he will contact me to let me know the details. John asked to add Gail Malone to the delegation. Maher agreed.

John and Gail arrived in Jordan on 17 December during the worst snow storm in the Middle East. For the next 48 hours Maher and his team were out of contact. Tim Anderson was delegated to coordinate the travel of people. His phone was sometimes responsive, but when asked about how we will arrive to Syria, he did not respond.

We had no alternative left but to seek help from the Syrian Embassy in Jordan. To our shock, the Consul at the Embassy confirmed that their Embassy was not aware of our delegation and that, after contacting the Foreign ministry in Damascus, they too were not aware of our delegation. He tried to help in confirming whether we had been issued a visa, but with no luck. He suggested that we have only one option: to fly to Beirut and head to Syria.

And this is what happened. We booked flights to Beirut and chartered a taxi from Beirut to Damascus. We could not fly on 18 December. We were at the airport in Amman on 19 December when we received a phone call from Maher. He asked us why we did not arrive the day before. We said that we had contacted both Tim and him more than 70 times and that they did not answer at all. He told us that he will send some people to the Lebanese-Syrian border to welcome us.

Arriving at the Dama Rose Hotel in Damascus, the atmosphere was already tense for some reason. To our sheer surprise, we learnt that the delegation arrival was coordinated with the Syrian Ministry for Higher Education. All along I had been informed that this delegation was being organised with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Any rational person would expect that a delegation of politicians and activists arriving in Syria to show solidarity and to fact-find on what is really happening there would have been coordinated with either the Ministry for Foreign Affairs or the Ministry for Information. I was puzzled as why the Ministry for Higher Education was involved, until Maher told us that he chose Tim Anderson to be the head of delegation. The normal protocols applicable were that the head of a political party, in this case WikiLeaks’John Shipton would have been the leader and not have involved the Higher Education Ministry and an academic being the head.

Tim Anderson, with his controversial past and lack of prior knowledge or connection to Syria, was definitely the wrong person to head the first Australian solidarity delegation of politicians and activists aimed to force the Australian media to report truthfully about Syria.

Every day of our stay in Damascus was both a struggle and marred with intense arguments. The delegation was divided into two sections that never interacted: the Hands Off Syria and the Wikileaks party people. All Wikileaks members were treated badly, kept in dark about activities and never consulted about any aspect of the visit. Maher coordinated with Hands Off Syria every aspect of the visit: meetings, activities and even gifts to Syrian officials. On different occasions John Shipton became very angry and vocal with Maher, highlighting what he saw as deception, among other things.

I had information that the Syrian president had agreed to meet the delegation because of the Wikileaks party officials' participation in the delegation. At that stage of the war, the president did not have the habit of meeting amateur activists or even academics. He only met politicians and well-known journalists in arranged interviews.

It was very clear that Tim Anderson and Maher Dabbagh designed the delegation to suite their agendas and interests, not the agendas and interests of supporting Syria. This was evident in the secrecy with which the delegation was formed, despite the fact that the whole idea was mine and, despite the fact that we, the Wikileaks party officials were the most important members of the delegation. We were kept in dark about all aspects of the delegation and its program.

Tim Anderson whispered to me during our stay in Damascus that prior to 2012, he had no idea where Syria is located on the map. Despite this, he was appointed for no apparent reason or consultation with us, to head the delegation. You can imagine the embarrassment of the Syrian President when Australian media started attacking Tim for his controversial past as spokesperson for an organisation that had been identified as an organisation conducting during his time, over a period of at least a decade, a minimum of 60 terrorist acts around the world, and for being in jail for years because of this association.

The embarrassment of the Syrian President was not merely felt when the Australian media began its attack on us and Tim. The embarrassment in fact, occurred much earlier. At the beginning of the meeting with the President, the President asked John Shipton to sit next to him. After being seated by the President himself, Maher and in clear embarrassment for the Syrian President asked John to vacate the seat and asked Tim to sit in it.

As if that wasn’t enough. Prior to the meeting with the President, Maher told us that the protocol guys at the President's office asked the delegation to limit the questions to the President to just two. Maher decided, again without any consultation, that Tim and John will deliver these two questions. After Tim and John asked their questions, the President asked if any of us had any comment or question. We were in limbo and we did not know what to do. We were told by Maher that there should be only 2 questions. But the President was willing to hear more than 2 questions and a couple of comments. Only Gail dared to break our promise to Maher of asking no questions. The President was very happy to hear the question and answer it. Just prior and after the meeting, the President spoke to me in Arabic, asking me questions about Australia and the WikiLeaks Party and, during the meeting, he asked me to translate a phrase that he forgot in English and also asked me to explain a few things to the delegates. Years later, Tim complained to the Kadis that I had been rude by speaking with the President in Arabic.

The whole visit was a nightmare to the point that John Shipton felt he needed to argue with Maher on a daily basis, several times. Several times he was shouting at Maher and telling him to “piss off”.

We came to understanding that Maher and Tim were happy to borrow our names and representation as officials of a registered Australian political party to secure the visit and the meetings with high profile Syrian officials. But at the same time, they did not want to give us any role in the visit and its success.

Maher and Tim knew very well that [at that time] the President, the PM and many important ministers would not agree to meet an academic and few irrelevant "activists". In following visits Maher organised for Tim and few of his "activists", they struggled to secure meetings with any important political official.

Tim until now is still irrelevant when it comes to the topic of Syria in the Australian mainstream media and public life. He gained some popularity among pro-Syrian activists and supporters. Instead of promoting the Syrian cause with this limited popularity, Tim used this popularity, built upon the suffering of Syrians and allegedly upon Syrian’s tax-payers money, to attack what he sees as rivals rather than colleagues and to discredit their campaigns.

To date, while the popularity of Tim on social media among Syria supporters developed because of his visit to Syria and the promotion of his book by Syrian media, he did not use this popularity to return the favour. To date, it appears that all he does to Syria is to visit Syria on possibly Syria-state sponsored holidays. It is possible that he spends no one cent. And, if this is correct then this is at the cost of needy Syrian people.

Recently, he joined the Christian Zionists campaign to discredit genuine Syria supporters. He is using his childish illustration charts (the charts remind me of my early primary studies and of those in schools in third world countries mid last century) to attack genuine Syria activists. And he uses these childish charts to try to convince people of twisted “facts” about a "leading war journalist" that was never on the frontline, or "independent journalists that deflated the mainstream media" when in fact these "journalists" were never heard of before by any non-Syrian supporters.

At all times, Tim, in my opinion, was liability for any cause. Thank God he was never near the Palestine cause. Now, media and politicians are easily attacking Syria and the movement that defends Syria is taunted by the media for having among its ranks a “prominent Syria supporter” such a person of a controversial background. The involvement of Tim with the Syria campaign has had a negative impact on Syria and its people. It benefited only Tim and his allies of Christian Zionist background and recently neo-Nazis.

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