Friday 22 February 2013

The One-Sided Ceasefire

What a 'period of calm' looks like in the Occupied Territories
Ben White for Al Jazeera

"Three months have passed since the ceasefire that brought an end to Israel's eight-day attack on the Gaza Strip known as Operation "Pillar of Defence". This infographic depicts the number of attacks on the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military during this three-month period, as well as the number of Palestinian attacks emanating from Gaza. Since late November, Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip have averaged over one a day, everyday. These include shootings by troops positioned along the border fence, attacks on fishermen working off the Gaza coast, and incursions by the Israeli army.

This data is important for three reasons. First, it is a response to the Western media's failure to cover the vast majority of Israeli attacks. This fits with a familiar and disturbing pattern, where a regional "period of calm" is exclusively defined in terms of attacks on Israelis. "Calm" from this perspective means security for Israelis - but more dead and injured Palestinians.

Second, data of this nature lay bare the daily reality for Palestinians and the power imbalance between the occupier and an occupied, colonised people fighting for their basic rights. It is instructive that the Israeli army refers to the entry of its forces into the Gaza Strip as "routine activity". Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers continue to snatch Palestinians from their homes in the West Bank, enforce segregation, and protect settler land theft. We have included numbers for Palestinians killed and wounded in the West Bank over this same period because developments there and in Gaza ought not to be viewed as isolated from one another.

Third, if or when there is another assault by Israel on the Gaza Strip, the Israeli government and many in the West will seek to emphasise the "rockets" narrative once again. So remember this data, and note what the Israeli army has been doing when - in the words of Israel's own consul general in Los Angeles - "for the last three months, there hasn't been a rocket fired from Gaza"."

Illustration and design -  Rachele Richards

Sunday 17 February 2013

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Unemployment in Gaza is overwhelming so finding work is a huge challenge. Those with any kind of income are amongst the lucky ones. However, for some workers carving out a basic living, their attempts to feed their families can be life threatening if their work takes them into the proximity of the Israeli army - even when the Israeli authorities have granted authorisation.

On 14th February 2013, Kamil Al-Kafarna (20) was working as a labourer scavenging construction materials near the Erez crossing in the very north of the Gaza Strip. He and his cousin Hosam Al-Kafarna, both from Beit Hanoun, were working in the area with permission from the Israeli authorities when they were shot by an Israeli sniper. A bullet entered through the right side of Kamil's abdomen, causing tears in his stomach, diaphragm and liver. The doctors believe that due to the damage inflicted upon his internal organs, he will never fully recover.

Hosam Al-Kafarna (21) was wounded along with Kamil as they were working near Erez. He was hit by two bullets. The first hit his right hand and the second one went through his left arm and then hit Kamil. Hosam will need to undergo surgery due to the bone damage in his arm caused by the bullet.

Kamil and Hosam happen to be cousins of Mamdouh Al-Kafarna who was shot in the leg by Israeli forces on 29th January, 2013 while he was farming in the east of Beit Hanoun.

Photos courtesy of Desde Palestina

Thursday 14 February 2013

Free All Palestinian Detainees - Save the Hunger Strikers

Supporters holding posters of Samer Issawi on his 205th day of hunger strike in an Israeli jail

A letter delivered to the United Nations today at the UNDP office in Gaza City:

We request an immediate end to Israel's policies of detention of Palestinians in Israeli jails. Endless United Nations resolutions describe Israel's occupation of Palestine, the longest-running military occupation in modern history, as a violation of international law. The General Assembly has also affirmed and re-affirmed "the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle" in Palestine.

Yet the same United Nations continues to allow Israel's colonial domination and occupation of Palestinian land, as well as Israel's incarceration of anyone resisting against it. For many Palestinians forced from homes taken by Jewish Israeli families, merely existing as Palestinian Arabs in their native land was deemed a crime by Israeli forces. In reality, the crime would be to not resist such acts of ethnic cleansing, clearly defined in past precedents where the United Nations has intervened.

Most recently the United Nations Human Rights Council called for sanctions, detailing Israel's denial of the Palestinian right to "self-determination, non-discrimination, freedom of movement, equality, due process, fair trial, not to be arbitrarily detained, liberty and security of person, freedom of expression, freedom to access places of worship, education, water, housing, adequate standard of living, property, access to natural resources and effective remedy," as well as its continued "dispossession, evictions, demolitions and displacement" of Palestinians.

Samer Issawi, Jafar Azzidine, Tariq Qa’adan and Yousef Yassin are four Palestinians detained by Israel whose only option to win dignity and justice is to refuse food. Arrested and held without charges, they have hunger struck for as many as 205 days and are reportedly "close to death." 4,700 more political prisoners abducted from the West Bank and Gaza Strip face a harsh and discriminatory Israeli military judicial system, which frequently jails people for years for throwing rocks at tanks of an occupying military force. The laws of an illegal occupier are themselves illegal.

ADDAMEER, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented Palestinian detainees' routine subjection to torture and ill-treatment, isolation, denial of family visits, and medical negligence, among other violations of international norms.

Samer Issawi is on his 205th day of hunger strike. His family in Issawiyeh has been attacked by the Israeli army for his resistance to unjust imprisonment. Doctors have said his condition is now critical. He represents the struggle of all Palestinian prisoners, incarcerated for resisting an illegal occupation, the colonial conquest of the land of an entire people.

Our meetings with families of detainees from the Gaza Strip inform us of ordeals too hard and heart-breaking for words to describe. No children have been allowed to visit their incarcerated relatives for nearly six years, while a blanket five-year ban on visits by spouses and parents only recently ended. Akram Rikhawi, released on 7 February after a 102-day hunger strike, couldn't recognize his ten-year-old son, whom he had not seen in nine years. He was allowed only two visits during his incarceration, and learned of his mother's death on the radio a month after it happened.

We demand the immediate release of Samer Issawi, Jafar Azzidine, Tariq Qa'adan and Yousef Yassin. We demand that the United Nations pressure Israel to release all Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails and call for an immediate end to the abominable treatment of Palestinian detainees. Resistance to a brutal military occupation is not a crime, but a duty.

Akram Al-Rikhawy, former political prisoner and hunger striker addressing a press conference in front of the UNDP building in Gaza City

A poetry recital in support of the Palestinian detainees

All photos courtesy of Desde Palestina

Saturday 9 February 2013

Palestinian Farmers Call for International Boycott

The International Day of Action for the Boycott of Israeli Agricultural Products - Day of Action in Zaytoun, Gaza and Madama, West Bank
On Saturday 9th of February in the Zaytoun district on the outskirts of Gaza City, hundreds of local farmers and fishermen were joined by the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and activists from International Action for Palestine as they participated in the International Day of Action for the Boycott of Israeli Agricultural Products. They marched to Palestinian farmland in the 'buffer zone' near the eastern border of the Gaza Strip and planted olive trees on razed farmland which had previously contained vast numbers of olive and citrus trees until they were bulldozed by the Israeli army in recent years.

Planting olive trees in the ´buffer zone´ in Zaytoun, Gaza 
Photo courtesy of Desde Palestina

Palestinian farmers attempting to work on their land in border areas such as Zaytoun, all the way down the eastern length of the Gaza Strip, endure Israeli military aggression on a daily basis. A similar situation is faced by Palestinian fishermen trying to earn a living in Gazan waters, where Israeli naval gunboats open fire on them and abduct them and their fishing boats. Many farmers and fishermen have been injured and some have even been killed whilst going about their daily work. Since the ceasefire that was announced on 21st November, 4 Palestinians have been killed and over 80 have been injured in Gaza. The vast majority of these violations have taken place in the 'buffer zone'.

Demonstrators in Zaytoun, Gaza, calling for the boycott of Israeli agricultural products
Photo courtesy of Desde Palestina

In the West Bank, the villagers of Madama near Nablus, along with supporters from the Billal Najar Centre in nearby Burin and activists from the International Solidarity Movement marched from Madama to land belonging to the village. They planted olive trees where illegal settlers had destroyed hundreds of olive trees.

The village of Madama faces frequent collaborated attacks between Israeli settlers and soldiers. Settlers from Yitzhar settlement are notoriously violent, regularly attacking Palestinian farmers and shepherds from Madama and surrounding villages whose land they want to take. When Palestinians try to defend themselves from these attacks Israeli occupation forces take over, attack the Palestinians and kill, injure or arrest them to keep them off their own land.

Today's demonstrations in Occupied Palestine affirmed the call by Palestinian agricultural organisations and the Palestinian BDS National Committee for worldwide campaigns to boycott Israeli agricultural products and Israeli agricultural export corporations. These companies are deeply complicit in Israel’s ongoing violations of international law and Palestinian human rights. Whilst they profit from stolen Palestinian land, Palestinian farmers are unable to export their own produce, thereby crippling the Palestinian agricultural sector. The demonstrators called on the thousands of people simultaneously demonstrating in over 30 countries around the world to strengthen international BDS campaigns against the Israeli apartheid regime.

Mustafa Arafat, a farmer from Zaytoun, Gaza:
"The daily aggression suffered by us the Palestinian farmers every day must be highlighted to the world, so people can understand the reality of the attacks and the suffering that has continued throughout the recent ‘ceasefire’. The boycotts of Israeli companies in agriculture are so important as the Israeli occupation has destroyed our farming production and denied us the possibility of exporting our own products. International pressure on Israel is the only way our own economy will be allowed to develop and for us to live normal lives."

Zakaria Bakr, a fisherman from Gaza City:
"As some of the remaining Palestinian fishermen still able to fish, we urge all those around the world to launch campaigns to boycott Israeli Agricultural products and companies. Negotiations have for years only been a cover for making our lives worse. Boycotts are a peaceful activity and something that everyone can participate in. We have called for the boycotts because while our fishing industry, our communities and livelihoods have been destroyed by Israeli aggression, all of their industries have benefited from destroying and confiscating our land and violently denying our access to the sea."

Mamun Nassar, a shepherd from Madama, Nablus:
"I have been attacked, injured and beaten by settlers many times while tending my flock. I was just imprisoned for six weeks because I was attacked by settlers on our land. The settlers hit my face so hard they broke most of my teeth. My brother was shot and then arrested for trying to help me. All we want is to tend to our sheep."

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Press Conference in Gaza Port

Today´s press conference in support of Palestinian farmers and fishermen held in the port of Gaza City launched several days of activities leading up to the International Day of Action for the Boycott of Israeli Agricultural Products on Saturday 9th February. Speakers were from the Boycott National Committee, the student boycott movement in Gaza, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, PNGO and International Action for Palestine.

"The boycott of Israeli agricultural exports will remain an essential strategy as long as Palestinian farmers cannot export their produce due to closure and blockade. It must continue as long as Palestinian farmers cannot access their own land and work on it in safety, whilst Israeli corporations profit from stolen Palestinian land." - International Action for Palestine

Photos courtesy of Desde Palestina

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Presenting the International Day of Action for the Boycott of Israeli Agricultural Products

A Day of Solidarity with Palestinian Farmers and Fishermen

On Wednesday 6th of February at 10 a.m. in the Gaza port, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and International Action for Palestine, invite you to a press conference announcing the International Day of Action in solidarity with Palestinian farmers and fishermen on Saturday 9th February. The Day of Action, called by Palestinian agricultural organisations and the Palestinian BDS National Committee, will launch worldwide boycott campaigns of Israeli agricultural products and corporations, in light of their deep complicity in Israel’s ongoing violations of international law and Palestinian human rights. Thousands of people around the world in dozens of countries will participate on the 9th February and Gaza will host events to support the campaigns throughout the week. 
At the press conference several organisations, fishermen and farmers will speak first-hand on the impact of the incessant aggression and blockade on the livelihoods of Gazan farmers and fishermen, and ask people of conscience in Gaza and beyond to boycott, divest and sanction from Israeli agricultural products. We´ll also present the events that will be organized in the following days, prior to the International Day of Action on Saturday.
The conference will also include the public presentation of International Action for Palestine, a group formed by international volunteers that works closely with Palestinian organizations and individuals to support the rights of farmers, fishermen and ordinary citizens in the face of Israeli occupation.
After the press conference fishermen and activists will participate in an action in the port. Fishermen and farmers will be also available for interviews after the event is finished.

Events of the Week
Wednesday 6th February: Press conference in Gaza´s Port. Presentation of International Action for Palestine group to the public, and action with fishermen.
Thursday 7th February: Rally/march through Gaza City.
Friday 8th February: Interviews with local media (radio, TV).

Saturday 9th February: March with farmers near the buffer zone, planting of olive trees.

Friday 1 February 2013

A Day in the Life of a Gazan Farmer

Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip
29th January, 2013

In the far north of the Gaza Strip, in the rural border area to the east of Beit Hanoun, farmers continued their daily struggle to work on their land. International volunteers from Spain, Germany, France and the UK accompanied farmers and Palestinian activists from the Beit Hanoun Local Initiative as they harvested cabbages in the light drizzle, whilst singing Palestinian folk songs. It would have been an idyllic pastoral scene if it weren't for the military jeeps and watchtowers on the border 400 metres away.

Photo courtesy of Desde Palestina

At about 11.00 a.m. we heard shots fired from the border. Unknown to us at the time, a small group of farm labourers had been tending olive and lemon trees about 300 metres away from the cabbage patch. 21 year-old Mamdouh Al-Kafarna had been shot and wounded by Israeli soldiers.

The farm labourers said they saw two Israeli military jeeps stop at the border fence so they left their work fearing that the soldiers in the jeeps may begin shooting. After the jeeps drove away the labourers thought it would be safe to return and continue their work.

However, on their return they realised that the jeeps had left two soldiers on the ground between the trees near the border fence. Apparently they were wearing foliage as camouflage. The soldiers began shooting towards the labourers and Mamdouh was injured in both legs by the same bullet. It brushed his right leg then entered and exited his left leg.

As he fell, Mamdouh saw the soldiers cross to the Palestinian side of the fence and enter the Gaza Strip a short distance. At the sight of them running towards him, Mamdouh was afraid they might abduct or even kill him. He desperately tried to get away even though moving must have been incredibly difficult due to his injuries and by this stage he had become separated from his fellow workers.

Amazingly, he managed to escape to safety and was evacuated from the area by donkey cart. He was eventually transferred to Beit Hanoun Hospital. Mamdouh is the eldest son in his family and only he and his father have work, supporting 20 people at home.

 Photo courtesy of Desde Palestina

The farmers explained that last year it had been too dangerous for them to access this land but they had attempted it now believing it to be safe due to the ceasefire. Unfortunately this is not the case. According to staff at Beit Hanoun Hospital, nearly 30 civilians have been injured in the northern border areas since last November.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

One neighbour to another - From Syria to Gaza

This week we met a family who had fled their home and sought refuge with relatives. Not an unusual story in Gaza, perhaps. However this was a Palestinian family from Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. The mother of the family is originally from Gaza. Her three sons have never been here before in their lives. Their father is still trapped in Syria.

The eldest son, 17 year-old Ahmed is bright, sincere and softly spoken. Listening to his accounts of the situation in Syria was staggering. During this conflict I have found it difficult to comprehend the brutal reality faced by the Syrian people. It still is, but meeting Ahmed has brought it home to a much greater extent.  

He showed us a video clip he'd filmed in the immediate aftermath of a government missile strike on a mosque in a residential neighbourhood. Over 200 people had been killed, some of his friends amongst them. He hadn't posted the video online while he was still in Syria for fear of reprisal.

Meanwhile, a friend from Germany whose trip to Gaza had been delayed, instead went to the refugee camps on the Turkish-Syrian border. From there she went into north-western Syria, to the region around the city of Idlib. What follows is her eyewitness account.


Freedom spray – Our days within Syria 

Article and photography courtesy of Julia

While i search to find my way through the dark into a borrowed pyjama in the sleeping room of a family I don't get to know because they fled the bombing i stumble over a left behind bottle of deodorant. "Freedom spray" it says. Quickly i spray a little puff onto me and offer the others too.

We laugh.

We are in Maarrat Al-Numan, a city in Syria in the close range of Idlib. The city used to have about 120.000 inhabitants, now the people remaining –we will never get the exact number. The estimations vary from 2000 to about ten thousand. People keep leaving in fear and keep coming back when there is hope that it has become safer.

The city is now split in two halves.

The ‘free side’ we get to know is that of a constant hide out. But freedom is there, since the people lost the fears of the regime, they tell us. The frontline of fighting between the army of Assad and the ‘dshesh horr’, the free army runs through it.

You need to know which streets to walk, you don’t just take a chat at the wrong corner. Snipers can shoot very far.

We get asked if we want to visit the ‘Jabbha’, the front and we reject. The question feels strange, because we are already close to about one kilometer to it, the constant barrage of bombs and shooting becomes our usual surrounding very fast. We reject as we don’t see the need to go. Neither are we journalists hunting a story, nor do we feel can we achieve any ease to the situation by going there. We are not on an adventure trip and even if our feelings with the resistance grow day by day, sharing the ditches men in arms lye in is not our mission. But we understand the need of the people wanting us to know all of their story. And that of the resistance at the front understandingly is part of it. We stubbornly stick to our decision that we will not go further and this is respected by all we meet.

The shelling that has been inflicted on this city is so intense and the destruction we witness so massive, that searching a comparison i can only find comparisons in the images and stories I know of German cities in 1945. But the massive difference here is this society did not start or lead a war.

The life, that is crawling through the cracks is also similar to the stories I've heard of those times. You'll see a little chimney popping out of the ground somewhere, the only sign that there is people underneath. Windows of half crushed houses covered to not let the little bit of light through that those inside have managed to organize for themselves.

Mainly what we see is just dead and silent. The only sounds we hear is those of the continuity of bombs dropping. It's become a ghost city. We walk streets and corners of destruction, never knowing when the next bomb drops close or far. 
When you do meet people, everybody greets each other intensely and also the good byes are of a kind that has a different depth than when you usually meet at a street corner. One day we will be passing a building and returning a few hours later find it crushed completely. Two of the young men we had met there in the morning were hit by the crush and were now evacuated with heavy injuries to Turkey.
There is quite a lot of cats around and the people remaining have built a strong relationship with them. One will tell us that he has now 27 cats he is feeding –because it makes him sad that they too have nothing left to eat. Another who is a photographer collecting the images of his city being killed has a little collection of happiness in his photo files that he shows me: the cats of his city in various moments and places. People tell us about the story of a cat hit by the Assad army and that they gave surgery for her in one of their field hospitals.

We have come here with a group called “hopeful smile”. They have always been here, also before the revolution started. They are just a group of people of this city who have always tried to do nice stuff. They show us pictures of their activities of before –pictures where we can also see the city of before and the life there used to be.

Street cleaning actions within the neighborhood, like giving aid, toys or times of fun to families in need, maybe a little summer camp or such. At least this way we get to  remember them not only as survivors of the horror, but also as the other people they are. Through their eyes and stories we can know this city has once been different. This ‘before the revolution’ and ‘after it succeeds’ is the all surrounding frame of the stories of now.

When the things developed as they did, from the first demonstrations to the complete destruction we are finding now the people of “the hopeful smile” decided to stay.

They still don’t carry guns. They know their people, they know the area and they know what they need to do.

They are finding the families in hiding, they search them everywhere in every crack and every cellar, in the holes in the mountains and under the ruins of ancient cities built 4000 years ago. They find the needs and try to cover them. İt’s an almost impossible task, they themselves have to organize the aid from an outside that is hard to reach and feed the hundreds of people they find in the various shelters.

İt is everything people need: food, water, blankets, clothes, plastic sheets to protect from the rain, a doctor and a smile. “the hopeful smile” are a group of young men who are also everybody from this city of before: a doctor, a student, an engineer, a teacher, a teenager who used to go to school or somebody who used to have a little shop.

We go out with them to deliver and we are very impressed by the correctness of their work in this big mess. When the search crew has located a family they will first take the exact data. Who are they, how many, which age and as such, what is their need and what can their ration of the few things there are consist of.

There are ready packed bags of food, that can feed a family for a few days. There are big packs made of a big plastik sheet serving as a make shift roof, in it wrapped you will find a matrass, a few rubber boots, socks and two or three blankets.

They carry with them a few bags stuffed with clothes they collected and search the exact fit out of these bags when they find people too poorly dressed to withstand the cold. All of it is documented and when things are unclear they are solved first before the aid goes anywhere. İt is hand delivery only, this sole correctness hard to keep up when the rules of need and greed take over in the isolation this society has found itself in.

From people we hear that whole truck loads of aid are stolen by thieves. But then it is hard to understand again. In many cases of course there is a main criminal intent behind the robbery, but in some it might be the decision to steal from the big agencies who are neglecting the people inside and take care that the aid reaches there. A logical understanding tells me that the resistance of course wants to feed it fighters. The other logical understanding in me knows that this situation creates powers, where only the strong ones have the methods to decide.

The “hopeful smile” stick to their methods of correctness and sit over long exel files, countless photos and videos they make to prove this. The aid they receive is paid by themselves or by few donors like friends of theirs in exile.

With them we crawl into little caves in the hillsides. İn a cave we will find 10, 20, sometimes thirty people hiding from the bombs that drop on their cities.

We travel to the ancient ruins of a byzantine city, once a tourist attraction or a place to have a picnic, the ruins and the aqueducts underneath have now become a shelter for many more families.

These are families from a farming community called Faruma that has been hit by the shelling of the regime. As people they have already lost their homes and quite some family members, but as farmers they are determined to at least keep what is left of their live stock. So the byzantine times have become alive again, with simple shepherds filling the scene of a movie like atmosphere in the midst of a surrounding so beautiful it’s hard to grasp while the sound of bombs shake the air.

While the animals are still a little savior and luckily the old aqueducts continue to carry some water, these people too lack whatever else there is. The plastic sheets help cover some of the shelters, blankets and clothes protect from the cold. Wheat, rice and lentils delivered will cover some few days, if portioned in small rations.

On the way to the families already on the delivery list we will find more families. More to add to the list the “hopeful smile” is trying to feed. When we return to our own hideout, we are greeted by the laughing chief cook, a man with a face of a boats captain. We crowd ourselves around a laptop that has made itself a path into the world wide web and discuss why this world is not reacting.

In front of the oldest mosque of the city, just in the city center completely destroyed we find two public phones. The blasts that has his them has modernized them, they are now wireless and we joke while we try to call the UN.

The news of the 50 million dollars for humanitarian aid that have now been decided on by the U.S. leaves everyone speechless, when we understand they have decided to deliver it to the people through the regime.

This kind of news become terrifyingly gruesome when you go to visit the only make shift hospital in the city.

When you think that meeting the first children of this city and learning that they all have infected themselves with hepatitis is bad news, well the hospital conditions we find just make them feel worse.

İt is in a cellar and I have no clue if a public report should mention it’s location. İ don’t know how things go here, but when i know that all hospitals the city used to have were bombed, i feel the need this place not known.

The creativity of the last five doctors and the rest of the medical staff has no borders. They have been able to retrieve some basic equipment from the destroyed hospitals and built wooden rooms in the cellar as operation stages. The hygienic surrounding is a disaster, as is that of electricity for light or heating that a place like this would need. A basic x-ray is possible, but that’s just about it. The doctor we are travelling with most of the times had just finished his studies and specialized on cardiology.

“Now,” he says “I need to do everything, but surgery most of the time. We learn quickly, but we do many mistakes too.” 

Above the operation stage you will notice the professional kind of lamp setting needed to light the surgery. İt’s shape is just as it is in every operation room, but when they point us at it we understand they built it by themselves. İt is a big satellite disc, in which they have fixed halogen lamps.

One bigger room is filled with patients. We are supposed to document, but I am too shy to point my camera at them. One is lying in bed like a shadow of life. He is completely paralyzed from top to bottom. He is so thin and so grey that it chokes whatever there is in me.

He had surgery in Turkey, but as the care centers there are full he has been returned and now grows thinner and greyer day by day in this cellar, while the bombs around make the building rumble.

We meet a patient whose toes were removed due to diabetes. There is no treatments left also for the sick or old, in a place where you men get their legs and arms cut off, due to the lack of any other medical choice.

The people working here in these conditions are the heroes I can easily side with and claim as such.

While we walk the streets again we receive a recount of the revolution and how things developed here since then. Back at the hide out center the stories told to us are underlined with the many videos and pictures collected throughout these last two years in exactly these streets.

We pass  more buildings and streets. ‘This was the street of the first demonstration, tens of thousands were peacefully chanting for freedom and change of regime. They shot two of us. We returned with their bodies the day later to demonstrate and filled even this street too -they killed more. There were snipers everywhere. Then there were helicopters, then they dropped two bombs on a demonstration. People were presenting their naked breast and shouting that they could just shoot all of them’

 –and the shots fell.

It was after the helicopters and the bombs they dropped on the people, that the first arms were taken up by the citizens of the city.

They show us the locations Assads army used to hold: the museum filled with ancient mosaics for example, that this city is famous for. From here about 200 people were shot by snipers.

‘you want to die? Just visit the museum,” they used to say. “We had no chance than to defend ourselves” they say.

It took almost half a year and many dead in Maarat, before the armed resistance took its go. It has achieved a lot: nobody is being shot from the museum any more. This part of the city is free.

People are desperate to prove their peaceful intent. Again and again they demand us seeing the videos, where we can see the proof: the same buildings, the same streets and the people being killed within. There is no way around the facts, this is how it happened.

The question where the weapons of the resistance came from in the first place and who delivered them with which intent is another. But the understanding why people decided to take them is easily fulfilled.

Some people tell us, where the weapons came from. They say it was the regime of Assad himself who facilitated or at least let gaps open for weapons to flow. They are aware that even if at some point they decided to take up arms there is also the side to the story that it was convenient for the regime to have this change of picture. It supports him, they say “to portrait us as violent and terrorists. But we have to defend ourselves too.”

In the same time many weapons came from the Gulf countries. The explanation people give us is that the regimes in those countries fear uprising themselves. They too like the image broadcasted which is that of Syria now of violence, destruction and fear. The message it sends is clear: “you dare a revolution, you receive a civil war.”

Then of course there is weapons and logistics from the West and various groups with religious narrative.

We meet the fighters of the Free Syrian Army. Of course we meet them. They sit at the sides of the road and come to greet us on our ways. They are grandfathers, fathers and sons. They are cousins and uncles. They too are students, or workers, or shop owners, or teachers or engineers. At least within this city. They are the ordinary citizens of Maarat.

They too are very upset about the image of them being some sort of Al Qaida. “Where is Al Qaida?” they ask. Joking they add that maybe Al Qaida could actually help them out with the fight at the front only two kilometers away.

They, just as people before grab us by the shoulders and intensely demand us hearing that they are not fighting an ethnic or religious war. “We have Alewites with us! No Problem! Christians, Sunni, Shia! We were neighbors, friends and sometimes mixed within one family. Jews! We have Jews in Syria, there is no problem, no problem. Al Nizar (-the gouvernments) that’s the problems. Assad, Iran, U.S.A., Israel, that’s the problem. No problem Alewites or Jewish. No problem people.”

They explain us how the ethnic divisions are systematically produced. They know about villages of poor Alewites, first besieged and starved, then pressed into fighting on the side of the regime. A big amount of the free soldiers we meet have been police or soldiers in Assads forces themselves. They know how terrifyingly difficult it can be to defect.

They tell us that it’s not even the soldiers in that army they consider as their enemy. But the reality of this fighting knows no pity. They tell us that as well.

And they know that the media reproduces these fears and divisions. They fear that the ethnic and religious war will become the truth, when only the powers push long enough for it. They fear this imposed on them, more than they fear death itself. And the way they move and talk and act I strongly believe them: they have lost the fear of death. Religion and belief surely is part of gaining this strength. But the fear of their society becoming one they never wanted is still alive.

I have come here and I am moving around as a single woman also in the nights that have become the streets of men. It is these men who easily are produced to a picture of the extreme and hateful. I did decide to wear a veil in these days to not make things more complicated and as we have no experience anyhow in how things can develop in these circumstances.

We too were frightened before entering. And it was not just the bombs we were frightened of. It was also the fierceful image of militias we see as the image of Syria nowadays.

But even though my veil keeps sliding off, as I have no practice in tying it, even though i smoke, talk and move as a woman in a conservative surrounding here wouldn’t I receive respect and protection in all the days and places we travel.

On our ways to the city and to the villages we see other faces of fighters than from the city. More grim behind some weapons, more strict in the look, more controlling.

The fighters from Jabbah al Nusra who freed Taftanaz Airbase surely are not the chatty kind of guys we can easily become friends with.

They obviously did an amazing job: seeing the huge space and tens of now burnt helicopters they freed is impressive. From this place the wrath of the regime was brought upon the Syrian people. But we feel this wrath has been returned. What happened to those injured or captured and the many bodies of the dead of the Assad army is a question nobody we dare to ask can answer.

We discuss the intentions of religious groups coming to fight in Syria. People don’t deny, also the men we get to know from FSA don’t deny that there is those who come with a vision of there own. That there is those who are criminal and low in moral. People tell us how they are struggling to set up courts to trial those who use the power their guns give them wrongly. İt becomes obvious that things are a mess. A very big and a very sad mess. 

But this mess is a mix more complex than a division between the good and the bad. The secular or the religious. The peaceful or the violent.

Even if the vision of some of the very religious is not shared by all, this does not mean that all the very religious fighters are low in moral, are acting with crimes against the people or are trying to impose their visions. İt is a whole mess of a people fighting to save themselves and others, of trying to keep up the ideas and demands of a revolution, keeping up the popular committees while drowning in the isolation the world has set upon them and the interfering interests of states and secret services, of groups intending to import sharia, all of them acting through the channels of support and neglect, money, weapons or aid. But all of the wrong in the territories freed by the FSA does not make right what is on Assads side.

The paths to solidarity with the Syrian people have become quite stumbly. It is hard to find them and also not when you want to find. While we move around we have to question every story we hear again and again, we learn to look at it from all sides and have still understood much too little and much too much.

It is very obvious that the things happening here are a big heap of a crime, committed by many. But these have many colors, and they many seem to agree in one thing: that they all have the need to instrumentalize the crumbling of the Syrian society for the benefit of theirs.

The only reason this is happening and all parties are participating in doing the best possible actions and inactions leading to this total chaos, is the power struggles in which each part thinks they can win their strategies, when only the Syrian society has at last lost its’ soul.

As a European citizen I feel my main objective in demanding our governments to play a role in breaking the isolation people are trapped in, at least on the level of making humanitarian aid possible. People we are talking to are very aware of foreign intervention and they don’t wish it. But as the world acts as if it weren’t happening, the mess here is a whole collection of foreign intervention already. Only that it solely seems to be the ugly side of it reaching and not that of simple aid.

The activists on the ground are having to fill this gap, their political struggle for freedom and equality is being pushed aside while they are pressed to do what aid agencies should do in a much bigger scale. The starvation of the people and massive displacement is the fertile ground for corruption and violence to have its’ go, while the societies popular movements are systematically destructed.

The complete refusal of our governments, or the International Community to launch their capacities for aid can only mean that there is a great interest in this society breaking and extremist forces taking over.

As an anti-imperialist I feel my main objective in tossing the debate of the traditional left into a new analysis and this very fast, as our traditional debate has already lost track of the fast developments in the area.

In my opinion the useless try of our voices being heard and our positions being set within the debate of siding or opposing whole states strategies as such have always been wrong. İn the case of Syria they are more wrong than ever.

There can be no romanticized position next to a regime, just because this regime opposes some of the other regimes or states we also oppose. Assads regime is not the anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist secular dream, or the partner of a humanitarian libertarian left. And many of the rebels on the other side are obviously not as well. But for now they are not an entity or have the power of a state. For now they are the direct result of a people being slaughtered and starved.

If we live up to our so called ideologies of freedom, equality and justice we must continue –no we must at last start to walk in Syria, we must be creative and loving in the solidarity we have to offer, we must not let the sole aid be that of liberals or extremists, we must not let the people drown into dependence on partners that are none.
At the moment it is not the right to determine political aims of ours within Syria, at the moment people just need support to survive. They are very well capable of keeping up their society of differences, of creating a free and equal Syria for all, if we only meet face to face with them and give the isolation and stigmatization they are confronted with a united blow.