Monday, November 18, 2013

18-Nov-13: "When you touch someone you’ve touched a whole world, and he will pass it on"

It's beyond the capability of most of us to visualize what
the ongoing death toll in Syria's Arab-on-Arab orgy of violence looks like.
The crowd in this photo is substantially smaller than the
115,000 we mention below [Image Source]
We have been thinking about the carnage in Syria that continues relentlessly, and about how the world's great institutions have been dealing with it.

We're not so naive as to expect global gatherings of besuited diplomats to achieve an end to savagery via speeches and resolutions. But the reality of what has happened - and what has not - is a stunning reminder of the gap between what people tend to say, especially in hotel meeting rooms and airport press conferences, versus what they actually do.

That's a chasm that is at the heart of a great deal of human misery.

Start with the cold numbers. Horrifying is an appropriate word. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights website, which tracks these closely, reported this past Thursday (the most recent update we could find) that the killings that day alone were about two hundred:
"including: 60 civilians, 34 rebel fighters, 43 regular soldiers, 10 unidentified rebel fighters, 4 defected officers and soldiers, 29 combatants from the NDF and popular committees and at least 20 non-Syrian fighters from the ISIS, al-Nusra and rebel factions... In Aleppo 33 civilians (12 children) and 17 rebel fighters were killed. 12 civilians, including 7 children and 2 women were killed by regime bombardment on the A'btin village in Reef Aleppo. 1 woman and 2 children were killed by regime bombardment on the Rasm al-Basas village in Reef Aleppo. 6 men were killed by aerial bombardment on the al-Bab city. In Reef Dimashq, 15 civilians and 6 rebel fighters were killed. 5 civilians (1 man and his son from the al-Zabadani city and 1 man and 2 women from Qarra) were killed by regime bombardment on areas in the al-Zabadani and Qarra cities. 6 rebel fighters were killed by clashes in al-Ghouta al-Sharqiya, al-Qalamoun and Mahin in south eastern Reef Homs and in the neighbourhoods of Jobar and Barza of Damascus. In Homs 5 civilians and 5 rebel fighters were killed. In Damascus 4 civilians and 1 rebel fighter were killed. 3 civilians were killed by shell that fell on the al-Amin neighbourhood in central Damascus. In Hama 3 civilians and 1 rebel fighter were killed. In al-Qneitra 2 rebel fighters were killed. In Idlib 1 rebel fighter was killed. In Dera'a 1 rebel fighter was killed. 1 man from the Tibet al-Imam town of Hama was documented as tortured to death 10 days earlier in detention centres. Reports that 1 man was killed by regime bombardment on Harasta city of Reef Dimashq and that 1 woman was killed by a shell that fell on her house in the Tarnaha town in al-Qneitra. At least 20 non-Syrian fighters from the ISIS, al-Nusra and rebel factions were killed by bombardment and clashes in several provinces. 3 defected officers were killed. 1 defected colonel and rebel commander was killed by clashes with regular forces in M'aret al-Artiq of Aleppo. 1 defected lieutenant and rebel commander was killed by clashes with regular forces in the Mahin area in south eastern Reef Homs. 1 defected lieutenant was killed by clashes with regular forces in Mahin. 1 defected soldier was shot by regular forces after he killed 1 colonel and 1 sergeant inside the air defence division in the perimeter of the Asqabla village in Banyas city of Tartous province. 10 unidentified rebel fighters were killed by clashes and bombardment in several areas. 29 combatants from the NDF and pro-regime popular committees were killed by clashes, attacks on checkpoints and explosions. Confirmed reports that several fighters from the Abu Fadel al-A'bass battalion were killed by clashes with rebel fighters in Reef Aleppo. At least 43 regular soldiers, including 6 officers, were killed by a suicide explosion, clashes, rocket attacks on centres, checkpoints and machineries and IED attacks in several provinces: 18 Aleppo, 9 Damascus and Reef Dimashq, 2 Tartous, 8 Homs, 3 Idlib, 2 al-Raqqa [and on and on]"
That's a single day's harvest in the slaughter fields of Syria.

The overall tally is said to be about 115,000 dead humans... so far. It's a number that includes (roughly speaking, since data like these are approximate) 41,000 civilians, among them 6,000 children and 4,000 women. Plus 3,000 more who are, and likely always will be, "unidentified people".

Is it a wonder that, in the face of such intensely barbaric destruction, even the most dedicated killers can sometimes end up beheading the wrong people? This is from the BBC, this past Friday:
Syrian rebel 'beheaded in case of mistaken identity' | An al-Qaeda affiliated rebel group in Syria is reported to have asked for forgiveness after beheading a fellow rebel in a case of mistaken identity. A video recently posted online showed members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) brandishing the severed, bearded head of a man. They said was an Iraqi Shia caught fighting on the government side. But other rebel fighters watching the video recognised the man and said he was one of their commanders. [BBC]
What sort of measurable impact does barbarism on this scale have on the people paid to sort out and end the very bad things people do to each other at the national and global level? Here's an authentic indication of how it goes. It was exactly two years ago this week that the government of Syria - the dictatorial regime of the blood-soaked Basher al-Assad - received the honour of becoming
the Arab representative on the UNESCO committee the deals with issues relating to the implementation of human rights.
It's a mind-numbing reality: in the eyes of an international forum that is, without a doubt, up there with the most distinguished and influential of global multi-lateral organizations, the regime chosen to represent the Arab world on matters pertaining to "the implementation of human rights" is the one headed by the Butcher of Damascus. Since the other Arab states who sit in the halls and lobbies of UNESCO evidently accepted this, we're left to wonder what dimension of the Arab world's "implementation of human rights" is embodied by Syria.

We're encouraged to see recent reports of a different kind that reflect the embodiment of Israel's ethos and core values. A widely syndicated news report on the McClatchy Newspapers network, published this past Friday, is one of many that have recently taken a modest peek at the simple practical actions that Israelis are doing for some ordinary Syrians in compelling need. A brief extract:
Syria and Israel are formally at war, and the idea of Syrians being treated in an Israeli hospital once would have been unthinkable. But the brutality of the Syrian civil war has driven some 200 wounded Syrians in the past six months to seek help at the Israeli frontier on the Golan Heights, according to the Israeli army. Soldiers take them to a field hospital for treatment and triage, with more serious cases sent to hospitals in northern Israel. About 100 have been treated at the Nahariya hospital, with more arriving as news of the Israeli medical aid spreads by word of mouth. For the man in the bed, who declined to be named for fear of retribution against his family back home, treatment in Israel has been a profoundly transforming experience.
“I thank the Israeli army,” he said. “Two and a half years of revolution have changed my opinion of Israel. Look what Bashar Assad” – Syria’s president – “has done to his people. Everything he says is a lie. He spreads hatred of Israel, but Israel is a friend, not an enemy. The Israelis showed us their humanity.”
...Many of the wounded who end up in Israel arrive unconscious and are jarred when they awake in an Israeli hospital, surrounded by Israeli nurses and doctors, including Arab staff who speak their language. “At first they’re quite scared and closed, but after a few days of treatment they start to absorb that they’re being cared for by Israelis, and they become more receptive,” said Dr. Eyal Sela, who directs head and neck surgery at the Nahariya hospital. Sela said his staff had performed complicated reconstructive surgery on seriously wounded patients. “As soon as you show them sympathy and start talking to them with the help of a translator, you establish human contact and they begin to open up,” he said...
A 17-year-old who entered the room in a wheelchair said that at the border he’d been frightened by Israeli soldiers pointing their rifles at him and ordering him to raise his hands. After an examination and transfer for medical treatment, he said he was surprised by the “compassion, sympathy and humanity” shown him at the hospital...
[One of the doctors] said he felt “privileged to help people who arrive with such serious wounds, when we know that in Syria there’s no chance they’ll get this level of treatment. At the human level, when you touch someone you’ve touched a whole world, and he will pass it on.” [Tampa Bay Times, November 18, 2013]
How irritating is it that such reports get relatively limited exposure? Quite, in our opinion, though note that some quarters in the Arab world - like this one - are paying attention. And while we're at it, the Financial Times has an excellent article here from a week ago.

Still, the reality is that certain prominent parts of the global mainstream news media manage to turn their noses away when faced with evidence of the great good being done at this moment in certain typhoon-ravaged island communities. [See "Which country is absent from the BBC’s list of international aid efforts in the Philippines?" on the estimable BBCwatch website.] This says far more about what motivates some forms of mainstream reporting than it does about the givers and the receivers of the aid effort they purport to describe.

Since we ourselves are involved in a successful undertaking that reaches out to people in need - in our case, families grappling with the challenge of raising a child with serious disabilities - we know the profound difference between making speeches and making a difference.

In the case of the foundation we created as a memorial to the beautiful life of our murdered fifteen year-old daughter Malki, about 30% of the families who have been helped by the ongoing work of Keren Malki happen to be Arab. As the doctor we quoted above who is helping to heal broken Syrian bodies put it so well, it's a privilege to help, as well as serving as an eloquent reaffirmation of the supreme value of life.

Experience teaches us that it's an outlook not that widely shared in the region where we live.

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