Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Fear and Degradation in Syria, Squalid Misery in Lebanon: Merciful Islam

"We don't have a moderate opposition. When they first started rebelling against Assad, everyone was with them. But then they started killing and kidnapping. They didn't achieve anything."
"They came by force. They weren't invited. They [foreign Arabs] thought they were fighting for Jerusalem, not Syria."
"They would slaughter you if you did anything. You had to abide by their rules all the time."
"I saw countless executions. They would gather a bunch of people and slaughter them, either by beheading or shooting. After the beheading, they would put heads on sticks for three days. They killed a lot of my neighbours, a lot of elders, for small mistakes."
"If you cursed God, you would be beheaded. If someone told 'Daesh' you had spoken ill of them, they would behead you."
"When I was back in Syria, I wanted my kids to grow up and have an education and a good life. I still want that. But I have nothing to offer and see no hope."
Khalil, 43, Beqaa Valley refugee camp, Lebanon

One child killed and several people injured as major blaze engulfs camp for Syrian refugees in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.  Al Jazeera

In Lebanon's Beqaa Valley hundreds of thousands of Syrians have settled in makeshift refugee camps. They live in squalid conditions, affecting the health of the children marooned there with their parents. Children in such camps develop respiratory problems resulting from the dampness and the difficulty of maintaining hygiene. "In the winter, the canal floods. It stinks", says Khalil, speaking of the open sewer that lies metres from the structure in which his family lives; a simple tarp-covered affair. As one of the last families to arrive at this camp, he had little choice in the location of his new home.

In the summer as warm weather arrives, a plague of insects descends and the dirt on the valley floor turns to deep muck when rains arrive.
Bekaa Village Refugee Camp

His own makeshift latrine used by his family drains directly into the canal, just as do those of all the other families. One of his neighbours complains about the filth surrounding them, and muses about moving back to Syria. "Where will you go?" Khalil asks  him, and answers himself, on behalf of his unhappy neighbour: "To death."

While most Sunni Syrians who have fled their country of birth have done so because the city, the towns and villages where they have lived all their lives have been bombed by the military faithful to the country's Shiite regime, which has used starvation, privation, aerial bombing, chemical weapons attacks, barrel bombs to destroy civil infrastructure and commit carnage to soft human bodies, destroying the lives of a half-million Syrians and dislocating millions more, in Khalid's experience his town was invaded by Islamic State.

Islamic State had inherited his town after an earlier insurgence of rebel groups had looted everything of any value from the village, to resell what they had stolen from the residents. Including the furniture from the town's school. When Islamic State moved into his village, Khalil says, their state of existence in the village descended from bad to dreadful. Most of the Islamic State fighters that established themselves in the village, he said, were foreign Arabs, others didn't speak Arabic.

The foreign fighters, Khalil stated, appeared to believe that they were on a mission to "liberate" the holy city of Jerusalem. They had no idea, he claims, that they were fighting a battle to overthrow the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. What Khalil appeared to find most troubling was the recruitment drives to ensnare the villagers into joining Islamic State. Under ISIL control, women remained indoors. Seen unaccompanied in the streets they could expect a public whipping.

Khalil himself was placed in prison for a month when a search of his cellphone revealed he had been in contact with a relative in the Syrian army. After experiencing a whipping and being otherwise beaten he was eventually released. But it was when his eldest daughter, 16, and his eldest son, 14, were being recruited into Islamic State that he made his move to take his family out of Syria, leaving behind their house and anything they couldn't conveniently carry with them.

At night they walked into Kurdish-controlled territory and from there made their way to Damascus where he paid a smuggler to take his family to Lebanon. "I wouldn't call it a life", he said wearily of the way the family lives in Lebanon when winter winds tear the tarps from the structures where families live in their Bekaa Valley encampment. In Khalil's shack there is a stove, a television set and a sewing machine. His wife uses the sewing machine to stitch colourful clothing for the women in the camp, to earn a living.
Bekaa Village Refugee Camp

"If not for my wife, we wouldn't be able to support ourselves", he observes. If not for the Islamic State forcing women to wear all-encompassing black burqas, they would not now, far from ISIL control, thirst to wear bright and colourful clothing to soothe themselves. Two of the family's eight children attend school. A few of the younger children take advantage of "child friendly spaces" that NGOs provide.

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