Tuesday, November 20, 2012

11.18.12 continued Individual stories – Family visits *WARNING EXPLICIT*

We visited three families Sunday bringing with us toothbrushes, toothpaste, Ausome fruit snacks and M&Ms for children.

The first family we visited was a woman, her three children and her mother. The woman wanted to tell us how her husband was murdered but her mother didn’t want her to talk with us. The grandmother was very, very afraid because they ‘escaped’ from Za’atari  refugee camp (north near the border) and feared being returned to the camp. She was also angry because in the five or so months she had been in Amman roughly 15 people had visited but no one has yet provided assistance to her family.

Bear in mind that these people have lost every material possession they owned as well as their ability to earn a living. They have almost nothing – just the clothes they came with and maybe a few items donated from kind people.  Many can’t pay the rent in the low income apartments so are evicted often. It’s not their fault. They left a war zone and have nothing…

The area where many of the refugees are living in Amman is called Mukhaym Hussein, or Camp Hussein. It was originally a Palestinian refugee camp established in 1948 when the people of present day Israel were forced from their homes. Over time permanent structures have been built up but the community has had consistent economic struggles.

We traveled down an alley to visit the second family.

A man was seated on a cushion with his right leg outstretched. 

He welcomed us and immediately started telling us about his family. As he talked extended family members joined us. Abdul has eight sons and four daughters.   One son was kidnapped by the governor of his district in Homs. The regime accused this son of rape – which he didn’t do. The immediately imprisoned him.  He was tortured horribly. When he asked for water he was given petrol.  He was beaten and tortured all over his body, including his genitals, with an electric shock.  They finally got this son released from prison due to the lack of evidence. After he was released he was treated medically for five months after which he was well enough to go home to finish recuperating.  The very first time he ventured out of his house he was shot in the head by a sniper.  Here’s his picture:

His seven year old son was shot by a rooftop sniper while trying to cross the street.  He thankfully survived.  His third son was kidnapped and his whereabouts are unknown.  The fourth is in prison.

After telling us about his children he shared that he, too, was shot in the leg when trying to cross a street. He pulled his pant leg up to show us a big circular scar on the outside of his right leg.  It likely didn’t heal properly and it causes him much pain.  But he’s alive.

Abdul spoke of 54 of his neighbors who were hiding in the Christian section of the city. They were sheltering in a school that was supposed to be protected by the Red Crescent (the equivalent of the Red Cross).  Assad’s soldiers hunted them down and executed them with knives and then the school was bombed.  A few survived. The Free Syrian Army got a bus and sent the survivors to Damascus.

Abdul’s cousin spoke up next saying all they did was peacefully protest and the army came in. They were not at all violent initially. He wants the world to know that.  His son was shot in the chest above his heart. Thankfully he survived.   He said they left Syria because they were so afraid particularly for their women and children because they saw a regime tank entering the city with six to eight naked women walking in front as human shields.  Some of Assad’s forces use this technique to protect the gunners from being shot as the FSA fighters don’t want to accidentally shoot their daughters, sisters or mothers.

While Abdul’s cousin was speaking a young boy came in the room.  ‘He is seven’, Abdul said.  ‘A soldier was  dragging him across the street by his feet. His horrified father ran to get his son and was beheaded in front on the boy.’ 

The last home we visited was of four sisters – all of whom are now widowed.  The first that spoke had a son fighting in the Free Syrian Army. 

The second sister said the regime broke into her town and asked for her brother.  The brother then went missing so the sister went to the police station to report that one of Assad’s soldiers had kidnapper him. She was tortured and they forced her to record that an armed gang killed him when in fact it was Assad’s soldiers.  She returned home and a soldier had captured her husband. She had her daughter in tow and ran to try to save her husband. He was machined-gunned down in front of her and her daughter was shot in the side.  As the sister ran to her husband a soldier attacked her, hitting her in the chest and her leg with the butt of his machine gun. Her leg was smashed and she suffers much pain. Thankfully her daughter survived.   
Their younger brother was beheaded.

I was very taken with this second woman who had suffered so much. She wanted her story told and allowed to take a picture of her and one of her sons:

Other family members began to add to the conversation. One told of how Bashar al-Assad announced that Homs – the surrounding suburbs of which are Alowites and followers of Assad – were ALL against the regime.  He wanted to use Homs as an example in the hopes of squelching uprisings in other cities.  He continued on and said his son had been in the Syrian Army. He said the revolution started when he was away on vacation.  When he returned and saw what was happening and that approximately 40 Iranians were now in his regiment he defected and joined the Free Syrian Army.  His youngest child – a beautiful little girl – was born in Homs. They didn’t dare put many details on her birth certificate in the hopes of protecting her.

I was shown a Syrian ID.  They have codes (that some people didn’t even realize were there) that identifies their religious affiliation. This is how the Syrian Army is identifying anyone who isn’t Alowite, Shi’ite, or Christian. By way of reminder, Sunni are the majority in Syria and the other sects band together for security. Assad, an Alowite, had been afraid that the majority would remove him from power- hence the heinous treatment of his own people.

The man with the beautiful baby told of a funeral of eight in Clock Square of Karm Al-Zaiten. Many thousands of people came to participate in the funeral. All of a sudden the electricity was cut, the lights went out and machine gun fire erupted.  All were killed in about an hour and Assad’s regime took bulldozers to bury the bodies in a mass grave in Belmira by ‘Military Zone 118’.  They then hosed down the streets, leaving no trace of the atrocity.

In the town of Alhamadia one of the men – a ‘supplier’ in the Free Syrian Army - witnessed tanks moving into town. 23 women were used as human shields as Assad’s soldiers murdered about 1,300 in three days. To this day there are still bodies in homes. Assad’s forces control the town to this day.  You’ll see bones on the streets.  He not only was a witness to this horror but he helped bury at least 200 of the dead.

Others spoke up and said that the stories they related weren’t the worst stories:
·        -   One witnessed a pregnant woman being sliced open, her fetus was removed and killed and the mother   holding it until she died as well;
·          - Another found many children in a school room whose necks and legs had been slashed. Some of their faces had been cut;
·          - One saw a three year old being disemboweled, it’s mother cradling it until it died;
·         - A man witnessed another man being tied to two tanks – an arm and a leg tied to each. Then the tanks drove in opposite directions;
·         - Another spoke of seeing many people were hiding in the basement of a hospital. Hundreds of people. The Syrian Army set the hospital on fire.

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