Although most coverage of the Syrian civil war tends to focus on the fighting between the two sides, this war, like most, has a more insidious dimension: rape has been reportedly used widely as a tool of control, intimidation, and humiliation throughout the conflict. And its effects, while not always fatal, are creating a nation of traumatized survivors — everyone from the direct victims of the attacks to their children, who may have witnessed or been otherwise affected by what has been perpetrated on their relatives.Syrian rape victims—both men and women—are suffering from physical, psychological, and emotional trauma. To make matters even more difficult, they often have no one to trust to tell their stories. Women Under Siege is an organization that is working to collect and document first-hand stories to provide evidence and data on a severely under-documented human rights abuse.
So in a matter of two or three years, about 150,000 people were killed in a war that was being waged primarily by US-backed war criminals. Less than half that many have been killed in the same amount of time in Syria.
Why weren’t war hawks in Washington calling for the US to militarily intervene to unseat the Guatemalan regime in 1983? Better yet, why wasn’t anybody blaming the Reagan administration for paling around with blood-soaked dictators of exactly the type McCain, Boot, and Diehl now accuse Assad of being? Or better still, why isn’t anyone calling for accountability for the still-living Reagan administration policymakers, say Elliot Abrams, who insisted on maintaining US support for people like Rios Montt?
It’s hard to come to any other conclusion: interventionists in Washington who couch their arguments for military action in humanitarian terms are simply not using human suffering and death counts as a criteria for US intervention. Instead, they conveniently exploit instances of conflict and human suffering when it occurs in countries that they’ve long desired to intervene in anyways.
I went downstairs just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me in. He said, “Sir, you’ve got to come in and talk to me a second.” I said, “Well, you’re too busy.” He said, “No, no.” He says, “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” He said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.” So I said, “Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?” He said, “No, no.” He says, “There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”
So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me.” And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, “You remember that?” He said, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”
General Wesley Clark , the retired four-star general. He was Supreme Allied Commander of NATO during the Kosovo War. He has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2004, he unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic presidential nomination
Palestinians fleeing Syria denied help in Lebanon via The Electronic Intifada
“If I wasn’t running for my life I would never set foot in Lebanon,” said Um Ahmad. “We Palestinians are treated by the Lebanese as if we are not human. But we’ve learned to cope, breathe hope and live in the hope that we will finally return to our land in Palestine and experience how it feels to live in dignity in our own country. Dignity is something we have not been able to experience since 1948.”
A few weeks ago Um Ahmad, 52, fled Germana camp in the Sit Zaynab neighborhood of Damascus and is now taking refuge at Burj al-Shamali camp in Tyre, Lebanon.
According to the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), there are more than 470,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria. Palestinian refugees fled to Syria after they were pushed out of their homeland in 1948 during the establishment of the State of Israel.
Denied their right of return, Palestinians have held refugee status for nearly 65 years. Palestinian camps in Syria were still considered a safe haven until three months ago when they began to be affected by the clashes between Bashar al-Assad’s regime and rebel fighters.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR recently published estimates that 43,760 Syrian refugees have taken shelter in Lebanon since last year. The Lebanese government has a flexible entry policy for Syrians seeking refuge in Lebanon. A Syrian refugee is allowed to enter Lebanon without entry fees and can stay for a period of six months, or longer, subject to renewal.
But the situation changes when a Palestinian refugee is fleeing the same precarious circumstances and areas as Syrian nationals.
Palestinian refugees fleeing to Lebanon from Syria are only permitted to stay for one week; after that, they have to renew their permits which cost $33 for each person above the age of 10. The fee, as little as it may be, is difficult to come up with in a place like Lebanon where Palestinians are banned from work.
Mahmoud, 23, recently arrived to the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. Until then, he had been living in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, which has been hit by shells on a number of occasions. More than 20 persons were reported to have been killed in an attack on Yarmouk in early August.
“We had to flee the violence surrounding the Yarmouk camp. My aunt lives here in Shatila, but her house is too small to fit our family and her family. We just moved to a one-room apartment two days ago. It’s in the building right next to my aunt’s.
“The owner, a Palestinian, will rent it for $250 a month but we don’t have to pay him now. To tell you the truth, I don’t have that kind of money at the moment. When we left our home in Yarmouk we left with the clothes we had on us. My mother had $300 saved but we spent it all on transportation and food.”
“No phone number, no entry”
Not every Palestinian refugee fleeing Syria can get into Lebanon. The Lebanese border control authorities demand an address and a phone number of a relative or friend residing in Lebanon.
While crossing to Lebanon, Um Ahmad was confronted by a security guard: “He said, if there is no phone number you need to go back to where you came from in Syria. I told the security officer, you should have some mercy, you know that we are running away from war, we are not here on a vacation. He replied: no phone number, no entry.”
Luckily, Um Ahmad was able to provide a phone number, but the story doesn’t end there.
“We had to bribe the Syrian border control security officer to be allowed crossing to Lebanon,” she said. “We had to pay $15 each. When we reached the Lebanese border they made us pay a fee of 50,000 Lebanese pounds [$33] for each one of the five of us. I have been here for 14 days.
“When we went to renew our one week permit from the Lebanese authorities, we were told there is no renewal for Palestinians. The Lebanese authorities informed us that when we exit Lebanon we will have to pay $33 because we stayed more than the one week period they gave us upon entry. Until now they have refused to renew our permit to stay in Lebanon as refugees.
“I left my husband, my three sons and their wives behind in the camp. They said, at least here we have our own place, where are we going to stay in Lebanon? I’m staying at my sister’s; unlike my family I’m used to the situation in Lebanon. I grew up in Burj al-Barajneh camp. My married sons didn’t want me to leave but I couldn’t remain for one more day in Syria.
“My sister who has a house here in Lebanon called from Benghazi [Libya], her permanent residence, and told me, you better leave Syria now. My sister in Libya told me about her experience during the time [Muammar] Gaddafi was shelling areas that were revolting, and suggested Assad will do the same. In the camp our cars were hit and torched, bombs sometimes fell next to our building, and sniper bullets hit our balconies. Our daily life became full of fear and we were worried we might get killed accidently; that’s why we had to flee.
“Two days before we decided to leave we were at our relatives’ house when a bomb fell on the building next to us. We felt the bomb; it felt as if the apartment fell on us. Unconsciously, we found ourselves among others on the street running in all directions. The building was chopped in half by the bomb; it was a miracle that saved us, and after that night I decided to escape to Lebanon.
“Our camp became empty of all the basic necessities: UNRWA shut down the clinic and the doctors who used to operate there disappeared. Food stores are full of empty shelves. We were left with nothing but fear.
“There was only one good man, a pharmacist, he took his stock from the pharmacy and set up a first-aid station in a room in his apartment. He was treating people from his own supplies, and he gave us formula milk for our six-month-old girl and a few diapers. But it was only so much this pharmacist could do; there were severe cases he couldn’t treat — like broken bones or shrapnel wounds. These had to be attended to at a hospital; many injured people refrain from going to governmental hospitals.
“At one point aid was delivered to us by some political factions from the camp: bread, grains and lentils, but it stopped. Water stopped running in our taps and electricity has been completely cut off for two months.”
Back to Syria
The Massnaa crossing point, on the Lebanese-Syrian border, has been a hectic spot for refugees. In recent days, the border security authorities have called on the Lebanese army for reinforcement to control the refugees fleeing Syria.
Although most of the minivans here are bound for Lebanon, some are packed with Palestinians traveling back to refugee camps in Syria. These Palestinians have been unable to find assistance in Lebanon, so they have no option than to return to Syria, despite the ongoing violence there.
The Electronic Intifada approached one Palestinian family at the Massnaa crossing point: a father, his wife and their 10-year-old daughter. The father, who was in his 30s, said: “We are going back to Yarmouk [in Syria]. We stayed for 15 days with relatives and had to pay $33 each. While we were in Lebanon we went to the UNHCR office and they told us it’s not their responsibility to aid us. The UNHCR said, go to UNRWA.
“When we did they [UNRWA] said we have to register and wait: after we registered, we were told there is not enough money to cover Palestinian refugees who are not from Lebanon. At the UNRWA office it was clear that they were telling us we were on our own.
“Inside Yarmouk, there is no fighting but we get shelled from both sides fighting in the surrounding districts. I left my grocery store with empty shelves and spent all the money we had in Lebanon: an expensive place where we can’t afford to stay any longer. It’s better for me and my family to return to Yarmouk; there we might sleep with the sound of explosions and with empty stomachs but we know our dignity is untouched.”
An UNRWA employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Electronic Intifada: “Through my work assessing the situation of the Palestinian refugees from Syria I came across an incident three days ago. There was a new wave of refugees from Syria who settled in a school in the border village of Majdal Anjar. At the school there were families of Syrian refugees and three Palestinian families from Syria.
“I was at the school when a Danish NGO [nongovernmental organization] arrived to distribute aid to the refugees; to each Syrian family they gave a relief kit made from food items, mattresses, blankets and $300. When the NGO workers started to leave the three Palestinian families from Syria asked why they didn’t get any of the aid that the Syrians got. The answer was, you are Palestinians, there is no aid for you in our campaign. The Palestinian families protested and said that they had run away from the same violence and bombing that the Syrian families escaped.
“Our UNRWA office is not able to aid the Palestinians from Syria because we only have a general fund for the Palestinians in Lebanon. The problem is when we appealed for the UNHCR to give us a special fund to aid the Palestinians from Syria, we know they have money at the moment, the UNHCR ignored our call.
“When I realized that the UNHCR had no intentions of aiding the Palestinians from Syria, I started advising the community leaders in the Beqaa region [of Lebanon] to call for donations directly from the people. We phoned rich businessmen and local NGOs and asked them to donate the bare minimum. We managed to gather enough for a one-time donation of food items, blankets and cooking pots.
“The only help the Palestinians from Syria are getting is from a few personal initiatives. The general picture is clear to see: the Syrian refugees are being taken care of on arrival by various NGOs and Lebanese political parties, but when the refugees are Palestinians they are left alone and this is because the case of the Palestinian refugees cannot be invested in politically.
“The discrimination is coming directly from the top, from the UNHCR which is the umbrella to the rest of aid agencies. Being an insider I know that the UNHCR at the moment has enough funds to cover the Palestinians from Syria: their ongoing refusal to allocate funds for the Palestinians is obvious discrimination.”
The Electronic Intifada contacted the UNHCR’s Beirut office but the agency declined to comment. UNRWA was also asked for an official comment but the agency did not respond.
Living in a boy scouts’ storeroom
Below the three floor building of a Palestinian cultural center in Saad Nayel, a town in the central Beqaa region, a small room previously used for storing boy scouts’ equipment, two families from Yarmouk camp have made their temporary home.
The cement floor of the room is covered with a thin blue plastic sheet to prevent Wakel and Ahmad, aged four and six, from cutting their bare feet while running around. In the small room there is a tiny bathroom being used as a kitchen as well. Sitting on a plastic chair in the dim storage room Khaledah Debsi, 46, a wife, mother and grandmother, greets us with a smile. With bitterness Debsi shares her story of being a refugee coming from a refugee camp.
“I’m originally from Akka [Acre] and my husband is from Haifa, Palestine,” she said. “It’s been one month since we left our house in Yarmouk camp. The situation was getting tense and dangerous when we left the camp. We left because the camp was dragged into the conflict and we were being harassed and provoked daily. Since we are Palestinians we had to pay a $12 exit fee, call it a bribe, at the Syrian border and a $33 entry fee at the Lebanese border. Add all this to the pricey transportation charges in these urgent times.
“At the moment we are illegally staying in Lebanon because our one-week permit is finished. If we decide to go back to Syria we will have to pay $33 penalty for each person, the six of us. Luckily we found this cultural center that took care of us and gave us this room, and two mattresses. Until now we have not seen any aid from any relief organization, but the kind people in the neighborhood gave us some help.
Living on crumbs
“Things are going to get worse for the refugees because winter is coming and it will be freezing cold in Beqaa,” Kamil explained.
“Buying diesel for heating is already expensive for us residing here. The few local NGOs that responded to our call gave us crumbs: we asked for 200 aid portions and we only received 50. We are trying to help these families but it’s only a little we can do, and the biggest player who is absent in these circumstances is the UNRWA. The only thing the UNRWA did was to count the numbers of refugees.
“This humanitarian case has been ongoing for two months, since Yarmouk was bombed, but the UNRWA are still counting numbers. We have been living in Lebanon for 65 years and we still have no recognition and rights from the Lebanese state.
“With regard to the Syrian issue we are being punished because we didn’t take sides and decided to stay out of the conflict. We learned from our bitter past not to get involved in internal Lebanese politics and conflicts. There are two main camps who are giving aid at the moment: the 14 March camp led by the Future party and the 8 March camp led by Hizballah, and we know in order for us to get aid we have to submit to the politics of these parties; we don’t want to affiliate with them. We know that once we sell ourselves to a political camp we will get aid, but it will come with a price.
“Each time we go to UNRWA they sing the same old song: there is no budget. Our next move is going to be a protest; we are going to gather the families, tell them to bring their mattresses and we’ll start sleeping outside the UNRWA office, maybe the problem will become visible to them, and they might start doing their job.
“We have sheltered two families in our cultural center, but we could only fit two families in the storage room. So far we have been managing to keep people calm and hopeful but when people get hungry and the cold winter hits we won’t be able to keep people sane.”
“My husband came to Lebanon before we did, he made sure he found a job then we followed after,” she said. “When we used to live in Yarmouk, I worked and my husband used to be an accountant for a company, but now he is working on a construction site. His boss knows that my husband is staying and working in Lebanon illegally so he pays him less than the normal wage that builders get, and this is the only source of living we’ve got at the moment.
“He is able to support us with 10,000 Lebanese pounds [$6] per day to buy bread, yogurt and eggs: meat and chicken are luxuries to us at the moment. In Syria we had some dignity since we could work in all sectors and we were able to buy our own apartment but we are shocked to find out that here in Lebanon, Palestinians have no rights and cannot work in any sector.”
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have always envied the “privileges” that their compatriots in Syria enjoyed. The “privileges” that Palestinians in Syria enjoyed were basic human rights: the ability to work, own houses, equal access to healthcare and education, something Palestinians in Lebanon have been denied.
With the appalling situation in Syria, Palestinians are caught in crossfire and forced into displacement yet again.
A Syrian refugee plays with her child at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, July 31, 2012. Jordan opened the camp with 2,000 tents to accommodate an expected new influx of refugees near the border. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
Passage to Ecuador: Chomsky, Assange, sham justice, sham democracies. (via London Progressive Journal)
Iraq has been torn to pieces by sectarianism since the US invasion and occupation, Libya is in turmoil in the aftermath of NATO intervention, Pakistan is being destabilised and a proxy war is being stoked by the US and its allies in Syria.
Filed under: Not surprised.
This Week in War. A Friday round-up of what happened and what’s been written in the world of war and military/security affairs this week. It’s a mix of news reports, policy briefs, blog posts and longform journalism.
- According the UN, of the 108 people killed in the Houla massacre, fewer than 20 were killed in shelling. The rest were executed by gunfire. 49 of the dead were children.
- Syrian activist and filmmaker (and current student at Syracuse University), Bassem Shahade was killed in Homs this week. Here is a short film of his about a child survivor of the 2006 war in Lebanon.
- After 31 years, Egypt’s emergency military law expired on Thursday. The rule had empowered security with expanded powers of detention and arrest without charge as well as using torture to extract confessions ever since the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat in 1981.
- Egypt’s top prosecutor has charged Hosni Mubarak’s sons with insider trading.
- Check out this visualization of the Israeli segregation of Palestinian roads.
- PBS Frontline aired a mindblowing good piece of journalism: Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad infiltrated Al Qaeda in Yemen and created a phenomenal piece for Frontline.
- Iraqi police will take over security of Baghdad in July.
- A New York Times article discussing some of President Obama’s decisions and policies regarding counterterrorism revealed the use of a “baseball card” kill list and the definition of “combatant” expanded to include all military age males within a strike area… among others. (I responded with my own opinions on these policies here on TPN).
- GQ has a longform piece by Luke Mogelson in the June issue about the large Taliban jailbreak last spring.
- The computers of high-ranking Iranian officials have been infected by a new virus: a powerful data-mining virus called Flame.
- Two men have been charged with terrorism in Northern Ireland after they were stopped with seven pipe bombs. Their potential group affiliations have been unreported.
- The Hague handed former Liberian president Charles Taylor a fifty year sentence for his war crimes conviction. Inthe Boston Review, Yale law professor Owen Fiss writes about prosecuting atrocities in Africa.
- Negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan resumed Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
- Protests across Honduras have been bringing attention to the rampant, unsolved murders of journalists. 20 have been murdered over the past 3 years.
- An unbelievable story: Oscar Ramirez, a Guatemalan residing in the United States, received a phone call informing him he had been one of two boys abducted during the Guatemalan military’s 1982 massacre of the village of Dos Erres, in which 200 people were murdered.
- Veteran and employer confidence in transitioning from military to civilian jobs is dropping sharply.
- A taxpayer’s guide to the earmarks inside the House’s version of the FY2013 defense appropriations bill.
- The military judge in the Sept 11 conspiracy trial at Guantánamo has set the pre-trial hearing dates: the first set occur during Ramadan this year and the second set occur on top of the anniversary of 9/11.
- A House vote Thursday authorized the Defense Department’s new espionage agency.
- Despite the President’s threat to veto the bill, nearly all of the House’s Democrats sided with Republicans to pass a spending bill for military construction and Veterans Affairs.
Photo: Cairo, Egypt. A man paints the phrase “Tahrir Square” on pavement during a protest. Marco Longari/AFP/Getty.