Columnist Sara Weinberger: Speak up for Syria

  • Wisdom House kindergartners with hearts sent from the U.S. SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 9/17/2018 8:18:16 AM

The humanitarian, educational and advocacy work I have been engaged in as a member of The Valley Syrian Relief Committee has been transformative. Since the committee was formed in early 2014, we have mobilized a compassionate and active network of faith-based organizations in the Valley, who have given their time and energy to support the Syrian people. Additionally, we have collaborated with organizations, such as the Syrian American Medical Society and the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF). I have listened to members of these groups share their fears about family and friends in Syria: an uncle disappeared by the regime who hasn’t been heard from in months, a friend who had been tortured and murdered. I have witnessed Syrian refugees speak of longing to connect with family scattered all over the world, while others pray to one day be able to return home.

Our Syrian colleagues at SETF have also connected us with Wisdom House, a school located in Idlib Province for children ages 3-6, many of whom have lost their parents. The school was built underground to protect the children from the barrel bombs that have rained down on Syria’s civilian population for more than seven years. Wisdom House newsletters fill my computer’s inbox with photos of these beautiful children, and thank-yous for the letters and cards of hope they have received from people in western Massachusetts, letting them know they have not been forgotten. In the midst of this brutal war, SETF funds a women’s center, Tomorrow’s Dawn, as well as a theater troupe. These programs foster community and purpose to combat the daily trauma of living in a war zone.

Idlib is also the last major rebel stronghold in Syria. Half of its 3 million residents fled north to this province after the Assad regime conquered opposition areas in other parts of Syria. The regime, supported by Russian and Iranian troops and weapons, is preparing to conquer Idlib in order to drive out the last remaining opposition. Any day now, perhaps even by the time you read these words, the regime will have launched a massacre against the civilian population, in what threatens to be this century’s most deadly assault on civilians. Reports are that Assad has given the military a green light to add chlorine gas to its arsenal of weapons. Already, Russian and Syrian airplanes have launched airstrikes that have killed dozens.

Hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children have nowhere to run. The Turkish border is closed, and residents fear for their lives if they flee to regime-held areas of Syria. The news out of Idlib has barely touched most Americans, who are consumed by life under Donald Trump. European leaders worry about another onslaught of refugees but do nothing to prevent it. Sadly, the result may be that the world stands idly by again, while Syrian civilians are mercilessly slaughtered.

The Wisdom House School is 12 kilometers from the frontline. My friends at the Syrian Emergency Task Force are desperately trying to figure out a plan to evacuate these children. I think of the Kindertransport, when 10,000 mainly Jewish European children were saved by being taken in by the U.K. just prior to the start of World War II, and wonder what will happen to the children of Idlib. Having committed ourselves to “never again,” we must not permit our own government to be a bystander to another mass murder. Right now, the administration appears to have no strategy for preventing this bloodbath, providing evidence for Russia to show the world that the U.S. is no longer the power it once was. An unchallenged offensive in Idlib will further empower Iran and escalate the danger to U.S. forces already in Syria; and it threatens to strengthen ISIS as Syrians, abandoned by the U.S., gravitate to the promises of extremists.

This is not the time for isolationism. For almost five years, our community has turned out to demonstrate its compassion for the victims of this brutal war. Valley residents have filled the sanctuaries of local faith-based organizations to hear from survivors of torture, to educate themselves about this incredibly complex war, to write cards and letters of hope, and to hear from internationally-renowned experts about efforts to bring the Assad regime to justice. We have cooked up pots of soup and broken bread, while selling “Soup for Syria” cookbooks. We have held vigils and interfaith services, and have raised more than $160,000 for humanitarian assistance.

Our community has a human connection to the victims of this war, and we owe it to them to do all we can to prevent this looming atrocity. Call your congressperson, Congressman Jim McGovern (202-225-6101) or Congressman Richard Neal (202-225-5601). Request that they urge House Speaker Paul Ryan to bring the Syrian crisis to the House floor, and pressure the Trump administration to prevent this disaster.

Ask Senator Ed Markey (202-224-2742) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (202-224-4543) to do the same with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Implore all of our legislators to personally speak up for Syria in Congress and to urge their colleagues to do the same.

Do it for the children of Idlib.

Sara Weinberger, of Easthampton, is a professor emerita of social work and writes a monthly column. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.




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