Thursday, November 22, 2012

11.21.12 Syrian Women's Society

Eqbal Ebrahim, Director of the Syrian Women's Society in Amman, welcomed us for an afternoon-long visit and tour of two of their facilities.

The SWS was established in 2006 and has grown to include offices in many Middle Eastern countries. Their primary purpose is the support, education and advancement of Syrian women – some of whom have had extraordinarily tragic experiences. They also have a rehabilitation center for recuperating Free Syrian Army soldiers and citizens.

SWS is:
-          Supplying simple furnished apartments to widows and injured women and their children who arriving from Syria;
-          Providing  educational services in first aid, computer use, culinary and sewing classes etc;
-          Offering  activities for children in the summer when school is not in session.

Eqbal brought us to one of the SWS homes. We met three women and their children.

Da’ara was the original home of the first woman and her two boys – ten and eight years old.  Her husband was killed, her mother was critically injured and her older son seriously hurt when a missle fired from a Syrian Air Force jet hit their home.  The older son, Ezzat, was beside his grandmother when her leg was amputated. She died shortly after arriving in Jordan. Both boys witnessed their father’s body parts scattered all over the living room. The injuries to Ezzat’s feet and legs are horrible. He was described as a very sad boy.  The younger son is acting out with much aggression. Both are receiving appropriate treatment and their family have been provided with a small apartment by the SWS free of charge. Each family being assisted is assigned an area of responsibility. She is responsible for the kitchen of the housing center.

Here is a photo of Ezzat’s injuries:

The manager of the home described Ezzat as being very shy when he first arrived in Jordan and that he’s come a long way. He was playing visual hide and seek with me with a smile on his face.  After playing for a while he allowed me to kiss his big cheeks.

The second women we spoke with was from Daara. Her husband and newborn baby girl were killed. She has four daughters and one son here who are in school. She fled to Jordan as she feared for the safety of her remaining daughters. She wanted to protect them from potentially being kidnapped and raped. 

The last woman in the room was there with her adult son, Taher Masalma, who had crutches at his side.  She has another son in the FSA and three daughters who are in Amman with her. Taher was injured and his father killed.

This is Taher (white jacket) with Mohammad Sukkar (our awesome guide) to his left, Nick to his right and the manager of the home:

Many were sitting at a mosque in Daara (where the revolution first began)  in protest, in peaceful revolution.  The army surrounded them and started throwing hand grenades then firing their weapons into the crowd. Taher was shot in the chest while trying to help the wounded around him.    After he was shot he was placed in an ambulance with seven or eight other wounded.  At a checkpoint on the way to the hospital the army started firing into the ambulance killing two doctors and the other passengers.  Taher was the only survivor…but the soldiers didn’t know that he was alive.  Some were speaking Farsi so he knew they were from Iran.
He stayed quiet in the ambulance bleeding  as he had been shot in the arm, back and leg at the checkpoint. The soldiers left thinking all were dead.  He was found about two hours later and was taken to a hospital where the regime had removed all medicines and medical equipment.  Because the physicians had no real tools they used a screw driver to remove the bullet that was lodged in this chest.  After arriving in Amman he had additional surgery, including the placement of three pins in his right leg which is still in a cast.

Here are pictures of the initial wounds:

And his leg still in a cast:

After visiting the home we went back to the SWS office where we were introduced to a young gentleman likely in his mid-twenties. He was arrested on the 3rd of October 2011 by the Air Force Intelligence because he had been a peaceful protester. He was ‘discovered’ when he went through a checkpoint as his name was on a list. 

He sat for 20 days in jail where he was interrogated and tortured the whole time. They applied electricity all over his body.

Here are some of his wounds:

After 20 days he was moved to a main military prison in Damascus.

He was in a basement room that was 1.5 x 2 meters (approximately 147.5 square feet) with 14 others. At one point they brought in an older gentleman who had cuts all over his body. He died within 15 minutes.  They yelled to the soldiers that the man had died. Their response was ‘a dog has died’. They left his body there all day, finally removing it in the evening.

The ceiling of the basement cell had three holes in it so the soldiers could watch them. Sometimes the soldiers would throw trash down on them through the holes or urinate down on them.

Two brothers, 15 and 16 years old, were raped by soldiers – in front of each other with people watching. And old man shouted ‘what are you doing to these children?’ The soldiers left the kids, got a stick and raped the older man with it. He was then beaten and was never seen again.  

He was there for 100 days, getting 2 meals a day, one in the morning and one in the evening.  In the morning he was tortured with electricity and at night with batons.  

He got to take a shower once a month. A group shower with his prison mates – another form of torture.
The last thing they did to him was got a barrel filled with water and put him in it. And then put electricity in the barrel. He passed  out. The soldiers got a doctor to revive him.

When it was announced that the UN Observers were coming they let him and everyone else go to ensure that there would be no evidence of torture in their facility.

He got a paper from the court saying how many days he was in prison, who arrested him and who signed the document. 'It is good evidence for future war crime trials', he said.

He asked me to write about two children dear to him His 15 year old brother was traveling from Jordan to Syria on the 14th of October (2012) to get papers he needed for school here. He was arrested at the border and has not been seen since. His family asked police about him but they said they had no information about such an arrest.  The taxi driver told his parents that he was arrested by Air Force personnel.  He also has a nephew that was arrested and whose whereabouts are unknown.  His family just wants to know if these two young boys are alive or dead.

This gentleman still has two brothers and a sister in Syria so he has asked us not to use his name.

He is an architect and is volunteering at the SWS center conducting classes in AutoCAD.

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