NOTE: Qusai’s 30 Day Hunger Strike ended on Dec 29, 2013. Updates from Qusai on the situation in Moadamiya will continue to be posted on the blog.
ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE END OF THE HUNGER STRIKE:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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:
ANNOUNCING THE BEGINNING OF THE HUNGER STRIKE:
My name is Qusai Zarkarya. I’m a 28 year old citizen journalist in the besieged town of Moadamiya, Syria. This is my blog about my hunger strike to help break the siege.
“Like” the Facebook page for Solidarity with Qusai’s Hunger Strike::
Media or other Inquiries, Contact:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Qusai, in Moadamiya, Syria
MOADAMIYA, SYRIA. Nov. 26, 2013: Qusai Zakarya, spokesperson for the civilian Local Council of Moadamiya, Syria began a hunger strike to build pressure on the Assad regime to let food and medicine into his town and all besieged areas.
“I declare a hunger strike beginning on Tuesday, November 26, until the siege against the townsfolk of Moadamiya is lifted.
I call on people of conscience everywhere to pressure their governments to act to break Assad’s siege and let humanitarian agencies bring food and medicine into besieged areas. Your support is my only weapon,” said Zakarya.
Qusai Zakarya is a Palestinian Syrian born in Damascus who has lived since infancy in the town of Moadamiya, Syria. Moadamiya has been under siege by Assad forces since October, 2012. Zakarya, a 28-year-old who has advocated tirelessly for his hometown, is now witnessing his townspeople starve to death.
Zakarya cannot bring himself to eat cats, as some desperate residents are doing. “Not a chance. I used to raise three beautiful cats,” he says, before regime bombing destroyed his home on top of them.
Women have kept the community alive. Like country women the world over, Moadamiya women yearly pickle and preserve everything they can. When reserves ran out months ago, townswomen squeezed nourishment out of foliage, adding spices to make broth of boiled leaves more appealing, and banding together to take care of neighbors. Zakarya, who in better times enjoyed kickboxing, soccer, and bodybuilding, has lost 37 pounds.
Assad forces are blockading the city of Homs, Yarmouk Camp in Damascus, and most towns in the eastern Ghouta area, where Modamiya is located. Just southeast of Damascus, the town once full of 52,000 inhabitants has an agriculture based on olive groves. Gleaning olives has helped to keep remaining townsfolk alive, but winter is approaching.
Seven children and four women have died of malnutrition in recent weeks, despite numerous appeals for food by the city’s Local Council. Zakarya, who works under a pseudonym to protect his threatened family elsewhere in Syria, is the Council’s spokesperson. There are 128 councils across Syria, community self-governance structures developed by civilians active in the uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The regime alternately claims either that only Free Syrian Army militias are left in the town, or that local FSA brigades are responsible for holding remaining citizens hostage. In fact 8,000 civilians remain and it is the regime which has sealed off access to the town, Zakarya says, and remaining residents now fear being subjected to what they consider to be forced displacement—with good cause.
The regime reneged on its promises and imprisoned scores of evacuees after four evacuations in October, which Zakarya helped to negotiate. Worse, during the last evacuation, regime army fired on civilians as they tried to reach Red Cross busses. Many townsfolk fear that if regime army breaks through FSA defensive barricades, civilians will be slaughtered in collective punishment similar to massacres perpetrated by the regime in other towns during the uprising. Moadamiya’s local FSA contingents are moderates, not Islamist extremists.
Before the uprising began, Zakarya worked in an urban hotel to support his siblings. There, he met his girlfriend, Dalia. When grassroots protests broke out, the two confessed their love to each other—and Zakarya became a citizen journalist documenting regime atrocities. Then Dalia stopped contacting him, out of fear.
“No cigarette to smoke, no sugar to sweeten my tea, and she is far away… somewhere in Europe, not talking to me because she is scared that one day she might call and find out that I am dead, that I have left her with a broken heart,” reads Zakarya’s diary entry for November 3, 2013.
Zakarya was exposed in the chemical weapons attack on Moadamiya and other Ghouta towns last August, and was nearly left for dead. “If my friend hadn’t started crying and shaking me…after the doctors thought I was dead and placed me with the deceased for 30 minutes, I wouldn’t be here thinking about all this.” Zakarya notes in his diary.
Zakarya’s hunger strike has one goal: Food, now.
Food and medicine are not weapons of war. Support the hunger strike of Qusai Zakarya by demanding safe passage of food and medicine convoys into Moadamiya and other blockaded cities in Syria.
And Dalia, call your boyfriend!