March 28, 2016

Life in Daraya is cheap when the government treats you like sheep

The government delegation looked us in the eye and told us they are using barrel bombs on us because they’re the cheapest option

Daily life is tainted by loss in the small town of Daraya, but people are keeping the struggle alive

I was active in the nonviolent protest movement in 2011. After the massacre in Daraya the following year, when several hundred people were killed, we formed a local council, to run our affairs. For a while, the local council was able to issue food packages but the pressure was immense. Certain traders, who were able to stored goods, controlled everything. Still, we managed to create a relatively fair system and ensure that everyone got their share.

There was no bread at all for several months at a time. When this happened we were forced to eat leaves instead. Olives with leaves became our main meal. During the summer months, you see people collecting dried figs on the ground and selling them for money. As we didn’t have any sugar we would smuggle in saccharine to have it with tea but you don’t feel satiated because it has no calories. So far no one has starved to death in Daraya but there is no infant milk so this has led to malnutrition and then illnesses related to malnutrition. 2013 was the worst year, things have improved slightly after that.

The local council has been able to manage the dwindling supplies in a very difficult and tense environment. Starving people have little or no patience so it takes a lot to please everyone and distribute goods in a fair way.

The UN no longer has any credibility as a humanitarian organisation; everyone now accepts this. We feel that they are controlled by Syrian regime. We believe the UN actually wants to help but is not given permission to do so by the regime.

Meanwhile doctors are performing miracles in the absence of medical equipment. The head of the hospital here has managed to figure out how to manufacture serum bags, for feeding drips. The medics are boiling water with salt so the hospital can keep functioning.

The media activists who communicate what was happening to the world are also heroes. As are the young people who forged good relationships with international humanitarian organisations and got them to help, even if it’s just a little.

When the situation really deteriorated in Daraya 50 per cent of population left. Around 8,000 people stayed. I chose to stay because I still believe in the revolution and believe we have to continue on this path. My wife and son left. I haven’t seen them for three years. There are times when I really miss my family and the daily shelling really weakens my morale. I begin to wonder whether I should have left when I had the chance.

We are in control of half of Daraya and the surrounding farms while the regime has the other half. Since 2013 we have witnessed over 4,000 barrel bombs in our side of the city, so it is almost totally destroyed. Last month, the regime launched 58 barrel bombs on Daraya each and every day. This means we have all had to move from house to house several times, but not before we have tried to fix the old one several times until we finally give up and move to a new one.

After your home has been destroyed you go in to try and find a single photograph that will remind you the way your life used to be. But you can’t find that photo. Imagine that. I couldn’t even find my books or my bookshelves when I went back.

But in these dire conditions we have managed to forge amazing new relationships. People who have withstood these tragedies together have become like one big dysfunctional but happy family. Sometimes they fight or blame each other but at the end of the day we are all working together towards the same goal. The regime has been able to inflict a lot of suffering, but it hasn’t been able to take that away from us. Possessions are gone, homes are gone, even memories are gone, but we have each other.

There is no viable political solution on offer at the moment. All along we have been saying that we are willing to accept a political solution if it guarantees our rights.

I will never forget the day I went to Damascus as part of an opposition delegation to negotiate with the government. It was immediately clear that they were still intent on adopting a scorched earth policy. The regime deals with Syrian people as if they are sheep. The delegation told us we should all behave like the sons of one nation and not let strangers interfere and create discord among us.

“So why do you keep dropping barrel bombs on us?” we asked them.

“We have to because it’s the cheapest weapon and it’s locally produced. So we use them because we don’t have any other options,” one of the delegates told us. “It’s even cheaper than ammunition.”

They looked us in the eye and told us that they’re using barrel bombs on us because they’re the cheapest option.

We explained to the delegation that 1,800 people from Daraya are being detained by the regime and gave them a list of 300 detainees who were all peaceful activists. We said that if they could obtain their release we were willing to consider a political solution.

One guy answered saying they couldn’t release the detainees from Daraya because of what that would mean for the detainees from other areas?

“The solution is simple, release all the political prisoners,” my colleague told him.

The guy shrugged and said that decision is up to the leadership. Then before we left, he admitted that some of our detainees had died under torture.

Before the uprising, my friends and I would take part in small symbolic acts of resistance. We would refuse to vote or make complaints about bribes and corruption. Even that got us into trouble. I was arrested and imprisoned by the authorities in 2003 because I participated in a demonstration against the US occupation of Iraq and against government corruption. I was in prison for two and a half years.

When we started the revolution, we thought that the West and the US would act. All the atrocities that have been committed should be enough to move the international community to act against Assad but they haven’t. The chemical attack (in E. Ghouta in 2013) was a real shock to everyone. It’s like they forgot who used the chemical weapons and the focus became simply taking those weapons away. This upsets us deeply. 1400 people died in the chemical attack and they forgot all about it. 700 people were killed in the Daraya massacre, same thing.

Now it’s all about Isis. All of those massacres, have not moved the West to intervene. But one crime committed by Isis; a crime that was filmed cinematically and distributed to the world, this one crime has rallied all countries. Meanwhile the massacres that have killed hundreds of peaceful Syrians who just want a government to represent them, that hasn’t moved anyone.

People here have utterly lost faith in the international community. The Syrian people have realised that the West is in fact not guided by humanitarian principles but by its own interests. The regime guards the status quo, and for the West this is better than uncertainty.

The problem now is that the Syrian people feel they have been pushed into a corner where they are so exhausted they’re willing to accept any compromise just to make the war stop. But there’s a rebellious faction that wants the shelling to end but it also wants a political solution that ensures the rights of every citizen and a pluralistic democratic regime. The majority of people still want that solution.

As told by Motaz Morad, 38, from Daraya

Join the campaign to break the sieges on areas like Daraya now