Reporting from Israel: Yovav Kalifon
I’ve been thinking a lot about Syria.
What started as an “Arab-Spring” wave of demonstrations in early 2011 has developed into a bloody civil war, with 10,000 civilians dead in over a year of fighting. We keep receiving video footage and eye-witness accounts from Syria portraying widespread atrocities such as massacres, torture, rape, burying people alive, maiming adults and children, just to name a few.
Syrian hopes and calls for reform turned into barbaric chaos, misery and death.
I won’t try to play the political analyst and tell you who’s fighting whom and for what aim. For what I am about to suggest, it is not even necessary for us to agree on who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy in this story. Even if you subscribe to the theory that foreign agents are at play in Syria and that it’s not a real rebellion, you should keep reading. All we need to agree on at this point is that the situation in Syria is bad, that it is out of control, and that civilians are caught in the middle of it.
The other thing I hope you’ll agree with me on is that the situation in Syria has gone on for long enough. The UN, the Arab-League, and Turkey in particular, have tried their influence over Syria, but to no avail. UN observers are having a hard time getting into the country and reaching the necessary places. Humanitarian aid is concentrated mostly outside the borders of Syria, where refugees find help after already losing it all. On top of everything else, it seems the fighting sides opt to carry on with it, have nothing left to lose, nor a better future to offer.
With the situation as complex as it is, there is no obvious solution that will satisfy all sides of the conflict. Still, the sounds and images coming out of Syria leave no room for doubt – there is an ongoing slaughter which must be stopped, and our governments are not up to the challenge.
Seeing how all other attempts end in failure, I suggest a civilian, multinational, self-organized fly-in to Syria:
What does a fly-in mean exactly?
The idea is for groups and individuals to make plans to travel to Syria, by land, sea or by air, and arrive there within a set time-frame. The aim is to make it clear that the international community is not merely monitoring the horrors from far away, but actually mobilizing itself to arrive on Syrian soil, out of genuine sympathy and concern.
A fly-in by Whom?
The people who will travel to Syria will mostly be ordinary civilians, people like me and you, as well as private groups and relevant NGOs. As unofficial representatives of the International community, it will be easier for us as volunteers to cross into Syria and to move around. So far, official governmental workers who are required to coordinate their actions with the Syrian authorities were not able to move around effectively enough, for the reason of being official representatives, bound by rules and regulations.
Why a fly-in and not something else?
Our governments and their organizations have had over a year, and there is no obvious sign of them having much influence over the events. Signing online petitions is a nice gesture, but Syria is so deep in blood that they probably don’t notice and care even less. Sending more field hospitals and humanitarian aid to help fleeing refugees is important, but they keep slaughtering each-other inside Syria, resulting in more refugees.
We all remember what usually happens when our governments intervene militarily in remote conflicts, such as what happened in Libya for example. I believe most people will prefer not to resort to military means yet again, not in Syria, and not anywhere else. There is reason to give internal disputes a chance to resolve themselves, and when they don’t, there is reason to think of non-violent means of intervention, and to give them a chance to work.
The only non-violent intervention I can think of that will deliver humanitarian aid into Syria proper, inject hundreds of (unofficial) observers and reporters, and breath hope into a desperate situation, is to stage an international civilian fly-in and cross-in directed at Syria.
What will volunteers do there?
Once in Syria, volunteers should make their presence clearly felt. This will send an important signal, one which will ripple in two opposite directions:
First, the signal to Syria will be that it’s unacceptable, in the 21st century, to slaughter civilians, when we can all see them calling out to us from Youtube, Twitter, FaceBook etc.
Second, the signal to all the world’s nations will be that it’s unacceptable, in the 21st century, to slaughter civilians, when we can all see them calling out to us from Youtube, Twitter, FaceBook etc.
The most practical thing volunteers should do in Syria is exactly the work of UN observers, reporters, and humanitarian aid workers. As much as the situation allows it, volunteers should shed light on the situation, deliver humanitarian aid as best they can, and call on others to join them.
For that to happen, volunteers should equip themselves with cameras, laptops, cellphones, medical aid and equipment. They will function as humanity’s eyes, ears, mouth and conscience.
Hopefully, as more trained individuals and specialized NGOs join the initiative, experts will get involved, specific guidance will be circulated, equipment will be obtained, funds will be raised, logistic support will grow, and the effect will be much greater. Some of the organizations I’d like to see getting behind this initiative are Doctors Without Borders, the Red-Cross, Amnesty International, and there are many others.
What will be the effect?
Already in the preparation phases, as more and more people apply for visas to Syria and contact their consulates, their respective governments will notice the rising interest in Syria, and may start to wonder. This alone might lead some countries to rethink their attitude towards the crisis in Syria, and its affect on them.
Assuming the situation continues as it does and the fly-in gets under way, one can expect Syria and other states to interfere with the plan. Giving Syrian authorities something of this sort to worry about might lead them to lower the levels of hostilities from their side. Having our governments prevent us from traveling to Syria will similarly compel them to act more responsibly and decisively, knowing full-well their public is greatly concerned about Syria.
Assuming the fly-in eventually gets through and volunteers spread throughout Syria, the presence of international civilians on Syrian soil should have a pacifying effect on all fighting sides. Realizing they are being watched in-person and in real-time, fighters will adjust their tactics and become less openly brutal. By the same token, and as a later consequence, conflicts in other parts of the world will be affected by the precedence, set in Syria, of an international civilian fly-in to calm a civil war down.
Of-course a civilian fly-in will only be the beginning of a change. It will affect the way the crisis is perceived and addressed, leading to change in how it develops. As the situation will calm down gradually, official, trained workers will be able to follow suit and deliver much needed professional aid to Syrian civilians.
But is it safe?
Absolutely not. Syria is not safe, not for you, not for me, not even for Syrians. If it were, I wouldn’t be talking about a fly-in. Drastic times call for drastic measures. When no-one is willing to take risks for what is right, people should expect to see more wrong. This initiative is not for amateurs, thrill seekers or anarchists. It is a serious matter of global concern, a matter of life or death, right and wrong. The fly-in requires commitment, audacity, hard work, confidence, and perseverance. Responsible people should think hard before committing themselves to it, accept responsibility for themselves, and take their stand.
Why Syria and not some other war zone?
True. Civilians the world over are facing hardships. They too could use our attention and our immediate support. But we don’t have to deal with one single conflict at a time. That would take us forever. Devoting too much global attention to one conflict only will allow other conflicts to flare up and spin out of control, all the while remaining out of sight. Media consumers should insist on having access to a balanced coverage of various issues.
Personally, I feel Syria deserves much media attention at this time, resulting in more immediate action. That crisis is still relatively fresh, and should be treated before it becomes the normal situation in Syria. In the Middle-East, feuds like the one we see in Syria can easily spill-out to include more groups and states. They can develop into something much bigger that lasts much longer.
Setting a memorable precedence in Syria, such as conducting a massive fly-in, will have a positive effect on other countries in the region, and far beyond. A demonstration of that sort will advance human rights in an area where it is clearly needed. The “Arab-Spring” happened for a reason, and as the results remain undecided in Syria, something along the lines of a fly-in seems necessary to complete what it started.
When is it?
Throughout August 2012.
Stay up-to-date and help the effort at:
Posted from: http://yovav-kalifon.tumblr.com/