Archive for December, 2013

Endings and Beginnings

Posted: December 29, 2013 by StopTheSiege in Uncategorized

1469953_263120097171645_1295208086_nIMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT

QUSAI ENDS HIS HUNGER STRIKE

MOADAMIYA, SYRIA, December 29, 2013: The Food Justice Baton Is Passed to the World by the Hunger Striker of Syria, and We Shall Uphold It

On November 26, Qusai Zakarya began a hunger strike in a nonviolent action to demand that the Assad regime’s armed siege on the Syrian town of Moadamiya be lifted, and that humanitarian agencies be allowed to bring food and medicine to the dozens of besieged towns in Syria.

Due to health issues, Qusai decided to end his personal hunger strike on December 28, his 33rd day. With this, he passes the baton to the International Solidarity Hunger Strike. “Access to food for the populations of dozens of Syrian towns that are still besieged and still starving, remains critical,” Qusai says.

An International Solidarity Hunger Strike launched on December 20, to support these goals. Philosophy luminaries Jurgen Habermas, Seyla Benhabib, Slavoj Zizek, and Hilary Putnam; Bahraini human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja; Syrian media activists Razan Ghazzawi and Raed Fares, poets Marilyn Hacker and Martin Espada and Syria’s Khawla Dunia, joined the Strike.

Our ranks expanded with prominent American public figures such as Bill Fletcher Jr., Naom Chomsky, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Norman Finkelstein, Simon Critchley, and Congressman Keith Ellison. Solidarity hunger strikers include Andrei Codrescu of Romanian origin, as well as Omid Safi, Nader Hashemi, and Leila Zand, who are of Iranian origin, and novelists Robin Yassin-Kassab and Mohja Kahf, who are of Syrian origin. Syrian schoolteacher and protester Soad Nofal, Syrian writer Yassin al-Haj Saleh, and Syrian doctor Mazen Halabi, along with many other Syrians, joined. The response of Huwaids Arraf, Palestinian American co-founder of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement when she was invited to join the International Solidarity Hunger Strike for Syria was, “Yes, without hesitation.”

The International Solidarity Hunger Strike is still growing and will continue until January 22, when the Geneva Conference on Syria convenes.

The team working on Qusai’s Facebook page, including Rasha Othman, Bayan Khatib, and Mohja Kahf, who are Syrian activists in North America, deeply appreciate Qusai’s personal commitment to bringing international focus on the food blockade affecting one and a half million Syrians. “Qusai is a valuable spokesperson for Moadamiya citizens, and for the Syrian revolution for freedom, human rights, and democracy,” says Terry Burke of the Minnesota-based Friends for a NonViolent World, who is also part of the team. She adds, “We are grateful that Qusai ended the strike before suffering permanent damage to his health.”

Despite the recent submission of the Local Council of Moadamiya to humiliating conditions imposed by the Assad regime in exchange for regime promises of allowing food into the town, to date only a small amount of food has been allowed in by the regime: one truck with canned food inadequate even for one meal for the 8,000 civilians in Moadamiya. Local civilians, including Qusai, believe this is a cruel regime ploy to keep the town dependent on arbitrary regime conditions.

The Assad regime is still violating international law and still using food as a weapon of war not only in Moadamiya but in dozens of other Syrian towns that remain under starvation siege. International humanitarian agencies have not yet been allowed unfettered access to Moadamiya to distribute food and medicine, as required by the non-binding Statement of the United Nations’ Security Council last September. We still need a binding UN resolution on this, and it must happen before the Geneva Conference convenes.

Qusai’s act of civil resistance was bravely forged amid surrounding conditions of violence. His nonviolent action motivated many people around the world to join in solidarity with besieged and starving Syrian civilians. This solidarity is even more urgently needed as Qusai now passes the baton to all of us. Email stopthesiege@gmail.com to join the International Solidarity Hunger Strike, and please sign the petition to support its goal of allowing food and medicine to be brought in to starving Syrians:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Member_states_of_UN_Security_Council_Lakhdar_Brahimi_Allow_immediate_humanitarian_access_to_help_Syrians_without_descrim/

Hunger Strike, Day 30: We Will Never Give Up

Posted: December 25, 2013 by StopTheSiege in Uncategorized
Assad's flag. The flag of oppression.

Assad’s flag. The flag of oppression.

During another filthy truce offer from the Assad regime to the civilians of Moadamiya, Assad once again aimed at getting us to give up on the revolution and return to being his loyal servants; and he once again used food as weapon in attempt to make us kneel to his criminal demands.

Assad has been starving the besieged people of Moadamiya for over a year, trying to make us desperate enough to resort to any means to feed our families and children. And so our local council has now approved an agreement to raise the regime flag high in our town, as a first step in a bigger deal. In return, the regime promises to deliver daily meals to the town. This tactic will keep incoming food under regime control. We will continue to be under their mercy for every meal on a daily basis.

What we need is for the regime to break the siege and allow the people Moadamiya open and free access to the get the food and medicine they need.

I cried like a five year-old who lost his mom when I saw the regime flag over the building. I remembered all of my friends who died for the sake of the revolution and the others who continue to struggle in the name of freedom and dignity. Dear God, what a feeling…

It’s Christmas day, and for the first time in my life, I truly wish that Santa was real so I could ask him for food and medicine for all the besieged towns so we can be saved from this humiliation and suffering. I don’t know about Santa, but I do know that I will keep going with my work, supporting the struggle for freedom and human rights in Syria. We will never ever give up.

Hunger Strike, Day 29: Starving on Christmas

Posted: December 24, 2013 by StopTheSiege in Uncategorized

1476320_189878571208346_558819883_n“Starving on Christmas” was the name of the report I wanted to shoot for the U.S. news network NBC in the besieged city of Daraya, which is separated from our beloved Moadamiya by a huge regime checkpoint manned by Assad mercenaries.

I went there yesterday afternoon to shoot the destroyed churches by the Assad shelling and bombardment and to try to talk to some Christian families and how they will spend this Christmas under siege , with empty stomachs and frozen bodies, no trees to decorate and no presents to give to their poor kids.

I got shot on my way there—just a graze, nothing worth mentioning—and could not get the footage, so I am going to have to try again today, inshallah.

After being treated at the local hospital, I went home, and managed to set a fire using some plastic and wood which my friend had gathered from the rubble of destroyed Moadamiya houses. I was humming George Michael’s song “Last Christmas,” which I can never keep out of my head at Christmastime. For me, it rings bells of familiar joy about spending Christmastime in the traditionally Christian section of the old city of Damascus, Bab Touma (Thomas Gate), where I used to go with my Christian and Muslim friends to hang out late. Good times—once, my friends challenged me to talk to this beautiful girl and in return they’d buy me dinner, and I was broke like the Great Depression, plus she was really cute. So I put on a Santa hat and I went near where she was standing with her friends and started to do my happy dance in the middle of Bab Touma Square. Now, I am an awful dancer, but believe it or not she and her friends started to dance with me, laughing. Within seconds a bunch of guys and girls came along and joined us, but my friends chickened out and stood there like icemen. I won the dinner fair and square, and got the girl’s number.

Ever since the exposure of Bashar’s flirty emails correspondence with his female aid who called him her “duckie,” we call him “the Duck” just to make fun, and duck-heads is a nickname for his supporters. Some duck-heads, such as the notorious Mother Agnes-Mariam, talk about Assad’s protection for Christians and other minorities. But in Syria Christians and Muslims have been living as brothers and sisters hundreds of years before Assad, and he is not the force protecting Syrians of any religion—our human values are. And having an accountable government in future Syria, one that guarantees human rights equally for all Syrians will be the best protection for Christians, not a dictator’s whim. Lots of Christian Syrians are with the revolution and want to see Assad behind bars as a war criminal. One of them was a citizen journalist like me, trying to get footage of Assad crimes out to the world; his name was Basel Shehadeh, and he got killed by regime fire while filming.

And guess what—like all the other townsfolk, Christian Syrians in besieged rebel towns are starving for Christmas.

Hunger Strike, Day 27: General Hummel’s Pants

Posted: December 22, 2013 by StopTheSiege in Uncategorized
General Hummel...and his pants.

General Hummel…and his pants.

Today the weather was a little warmer than usual, so I decided to wash my pants. I know this sounds like a mundane event, but its actually quite complicated.

We don’t have heating at home. Because of the siege we haven’t had electricity or gas in over a year. So, I had to wait for warm weather to wash my pants. I’ve only got this one pair, so while I wash it, I wear my pajamas but pajamas alone aren’t much protection against the cold.

When I turned on the tap and ran my fingers through the freezing water, I changed my mind. It’s been a couple of weeks since I washed them last and they’re caked with dirt and mud. But with the water that cold, I just couldn’t imagine having to do any hand washing of clothes, or anything else for that matter.

I’ve been through a lot with these pants. I’ve been wearing them for many months now. Every other pair of pants I owned have been destroyed in bombings or stolen.

It’s no coincidence that these are my last pair of pants. I’m wearing them somewhat reluctantly, as they belong to my eldest brother, who’s fled the country now, and I didn’t want to ruin them for him.

My brother used to be thinner than me and his pants would have never fit me before. Now that I’ve lost so much weight, they fit just about right.

I sewed these pants about four times times and stitched up tiny tears dozens of times. Mom taught me how to sew a long time ago. With so many kids in the house, we all had to pitch in to help her. I learned to cook, wash dishes, and sew.

These pants have quite a history, even long before they became my one and only pair. “The Rock” is one of my brother and I’s favorite movies ever. We have watched it about 200 times and my brother became completely obsessed with getting a pair of pants just like General Hummel’s (General Hummel is played by the actor Ed Harris in the movie.) So, he searched far and wide until finally, in Lebanon, he found a fabric that seemed just right. He brought it home and had a seamstress make him a pair of pants just like General Hummel’s.

I don’t know how many more stitch jobs my General Hummel pants can take, or how I will manage if anything happens to them. I know that I’m better off than some of the Syrian refugees that fled their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Or those who fled in the summer and must survive the harsh winter with only their flimsy summer clothes.

Hunger Strike, Day 24: A Visit To Our Family Home

Posted: December 19, 2013 by StopTheSiege in Uncategorized
Qusai in Moadamiya, Nov 2013

Qusai in Moadamiya, Nov 2013

There are no warmer memories than the ones made in the home where you grew up with your brothers and sisters, enveloped in your parents’ love. And so while weak with hunger and shivering from cold, I felt drawn to pay our family home a visit. I walked alone to the edge of town, where our home once stood on the third floor of an apartment building.

I knew what I would find, but it still hurt like hell.

Our home is near the mountains where Assad’s Fourth Division is based. These parts of town don’t usually get shelled. They are too close to the frontlines and often the regime accidentally harms their own troops while trying to shell these areas. The regime only targets the front lines when they’re trying to invade the town and they do it using tanks so they can hit more precise targets. They save the random shelling for the densely populated center of town.

Our home was damaged during a regime invasion attempt eight months ago.

One third of our home is now in ruins. Much of the furniture is buried in rubble. Our television is shattered. We spent a lot of family time sitting around that thing. Tuesday was our movie night. My family would gather around with bowls of popcorn and roasted watermelon seeds. Sometimes we invited friends over. Sometimes mom watched with us. Dad died a long time ago, may God have mercy on his soul, and mom took care of us but she was also a friend, and we kept her company.

In the living room, I found my brother’s sweater, a white Armani knock-off, but it was still a good looking sweater. We bought it during a trip to Aleppo. More than once, I waited for my brother to go to school and borrowed that sweater without telling him.

It hurt to see that sweater torn and tattered, like our family.

We’re a really big family but everyone is off trying to survive on their own in a different city, a different country. Palestinians are used to that—but so are Syrians now. It’s too dangerous to stay in close touch with my brothers, so I don’t speak to them much. As for my mom, she feels she needs to check on me every day. But I don’t let her hear my voice. I prefer to type messages to her. If I speak to her, she will hear my sadness and I cannot bear to make her suffer more.

Once in a while, when mom insists on hearing my voice, I speak to her on the phone, and suddenly I don’t feel like a grown man or a brave revolutionary, but like a little boy who wants nothing more than the comfort of his mother, and it’s useless to try to hold the tears back.

But I am just one of the millions of Syrians who’ve been separated from their homes, families, and friends, and left trying to survive in refugee camps or slums for the internally displaced, or living under brutal siege.

I stopped by the kitchen. The empty fridge lay on the floor in bits. The dinner table where our family gathered every day was under rubble.

There’s nothing in the world like mom’s cooking, but I was one of those picky kids. Lots of times, I’d tell mom that dinner sucked, especially when she cooked okra in tomato sauce, a popular Syrian dish. On those days, I went out and grabbed a sandwich with my friends. Mom never really got mad. She was a good sport about it.

For me, a free Syria means freedom and dignity for the people, and also having my family back together under one roof, our roof, in the town we all love, Moadamiya.

Hunger Strike, Day 23: Even the Trees are Their Enemies

Posted: December 18, 2013 by StopTheSiege in Uncategorized
A beautiful orchard grove in Moadamiya

A beautiful orchard grove in Moadamiya

The trees help us. The olive orchards and lemon trees of Moadamiya are more than just a livelihood. They are friends and allies. More—they are the living legacy of my townsfolk. We love each tree. We know them from childhood, each knot. They put their arms around us. They shade our first love, our family picnics. Some are four hundred years old.

Think about that. What have these trees seen? What tyrants come and go while they stay, patient and wise? While they draw water from deep in the ground and put out their green and yellow fruit with generosity, year after year.

So of course, of course, the Assad regime has been deliberately targeting our beautiful olive groves, on the west and southwest sides of Moadamiya, with its shelling, from the start and even more intensely nowadays.

Trees in the aftermath of Assad shelling. Moadamiya 2013

Trees in the aftermath of Assad shelling. Moadamiya 2013

  • Assad’s forces want to destroy our livelihood.
  • They want to destroy a food source for our townspeople.
  • They are killing our friends, the trees we love.

How can I describe to you the emotions we in Moadamiya feel when we see these trees killed? Bombed and shelled and broken—

My parents suffered the loss of their olive trees in a Palestinian village, in 1948. Today, when an olive tree goes down from Zionist violence in Palestine, the whole activist world mourns. Whole groves of trees are shelled in Syria, and no one hears the sound they make.

No one hears the branches crack and break but us. No one sees the roots shockingly torn above the exploded ground but us.

Hear the trees. If you will not hear the human screams in Syria, hear the ancient screams of the trees.

Hunger Strike, Day 18: Stop Blaming Alexa!

Posted: December 15, 2013 by StopTheSiege in Uncategorized
Snowy Moadamiya, Dec 2013

Snowy Moadamiya, Dec 2013

Wasn’t able to write yesterday because I was so mad at the entire world. I was freezing in body, burning in heart.

I walked around Moadamiya while the snow was falling, and I saw my town covered with white death. The thick snow killed the simple vegetables that some of the families tried to plant to feed themselves.

Many children were taken to our field hospital to get treated for very bad colds, and there was nothing the doctors could do except give them painkillers because we are very short of medicine.

Doctors are also treating a lot of Moadamiya civilians for stomach pains and worms and other digestive problems related to eating things that may not really be fit for eating.  Leaves of random trees, domestic animals…who knows what has gone into their guts these four months.

Left the field hospital angry as a bull. Went back home forgetting all about my freezing starved body and killing bad back pain. Signed in to Facebook and Skype to do some work, but all I saw is more Syrian kids froze to death, more shit about Geneva 2, the expansion of the Islamic extremists in the FSA, more crap about new truce the regime is planning to offer us, and of course more dumbheads who are willing to fall for this trick again.

Dammit. I felt my heart pumping fire instead of blood through my body.

I felt that, in a way, all the world has the icy blood of freezing children of Syria on its hands, starting with Bashar the damn Assad and his allies, the hypocrites of the Western governments who only care about their benefits and getting rid of Assad’s chemicals but don’t care about the damage his other weapons are doing, the greedy politicians of the Syrian opposition, and let’s not forget corrupt FSA leaders, and even my small attempts to make a difference.

One way or another, we all have the iced blood of the freezing children of Syria on our hands, so please stop blaming Storm Alexa!