Saturday, 8 June 2019

Waad Al-Kateab of Channel 4 News on her Syrian conflict film For Sama - 'If this footage wasn't taken, these stories all die'

 'Her dispatches to Channel 4 News from the last remaining hospital in Aleppo told the stories of civilians wounded or killed by bombs dropped by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces and Russian warplanes as they battled to retake the city from rebel groups in 2016.

 Al-Kateab’s unflinching lens won her awards, including an Emmy and the foreign affairs prize at the British Journalism Awards, but also made her and her family a target, forcing her to remain hidden behind the camera and adopt the pseudonym Al-Kateab, which she continues to use for filming.

 In her new documentary film For Sama, cut from more than 300 hours of footage (including drone shots) taken by Al-Kateab before she fled to safety in Turkey in December 2016 and claimed asylum in the UK one year ago, she finally steps into the limelight and tells her story.

 The film spans five years from the first hopeful protests against President Bashar Al-Assad in 2011 as the Arab Spring took hold in Syria through to the sacking of Aleppo by régime forces in 2016.

 It offers a deeply personal account of the Syrian conflict from Al-Kateab’s perspective – that of a university student (economics) turned activist and journalist whose camera records the highs of early protests and keeps rolling throughout the brutal crackdown that follows.

 During this time Al-Kateab (pictured top), 28, marries Hamza, a doctor at Aleppo’s last hospital – the only one of nine not to have been destroyed by bombing – where they and a circle of friends take shelter and work to save lives.

 They have a daughter together while under siege, the Sama of the title, to whom the film is addressed, narrated by Al-Kateab in her native Arabic. Sama is now three and has a sister, Taima, two (Al-Kateab was pregnant when she fled Syria).

Speaking in English, which she has fast advanced since leaving Syria, Al-Kateab says she first began filming the protests to combat the lies being spread by Al-Assad who denied they were happening.

 Early on foreign journalists were banned from entering Syria and the conflict later became too dangerous for western reporters to cover on the ground – Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin and US freelance James Foley (who Al-Kateab met in Syria) were among the journalists who lost their lives covering the war.

 “When the revolution started in Syria you can see protests in the street, but when you watch [state] TV there is nothing,” says Al-Kateab, who took part in demonstrations against Assad.

 “They started to say first there is no revolution… [then] they started to say the protestors are terrorists, they are not Syrian and they have guns.

 “Everything we can see [the régime says] that it’s the opposite. For me, as for many other activists, we wanted just to have some evidence about what was happening on the ground to deny what the régime was saying on the news.”

 Filming was not without its dangers – protestors were beaten and arrested by security forces loyal to Assad.

 Al-Kateab’s own revolutionary excitement meant some of her earliest footage could not be used in news reports as she joined in the demonstrations and could be heard chanting along with protestors, putting her at risk of being identified by the régime and silenced.

 At particular risk were her parents in Syria who could be arrested and held in a bid to force her to stop her activism, an old régime tactic (they have since fled, but Al-Kateab still keeps her exact origins a secret).

 “From the beginning anyone that makes the revolution clear, they were targeted, and until the end you can see the same. Marie Colvin’s situation was very clear… they wanted to kill her because she was in the place they don’t want any news to be out.

 “When the news is from Syrians they can ignore this and say we are liars or terrorists or blah, blah, blah, but with Western journalists like Marie Colvin they can’t say that she’s a liar.”

 Al-Kateab never met Colvin, who died in a rocket attack in Homs, a city some 125 miles north of Aleppo, in 2012, but says “all the Syrian people knew about her” when she came to report on the conflict.

 Going through the hours of footage Al-Kateab had recorded, much of it seen for the first time in For Sama, was the job of Channel 4 News deputy editor Nevine Mabro and Emmy-winner Edward Watts, who directed the film along with Al-Kateab. Mabro and Channel 4 News editor Ben De Pear are both executive producers on For Sama.

 The partnership between Al-Kateab and Channel 4 News is unique among UK news broadcasters covering Syria. Al-Kateab said in her own experience broadcasters could treat locals “as resources” and refuse to allow them a say on how their footage would be used in reports.

 “This is what happened with many friends around me and this is what happened to me before working here [at Channel 4 News],” she says.

 “I was part of the story, not just on the film [For Sama], because the film is very personal… but even with the news before I wasn’t just sending them the footage and they take it and do whatever they want, they were asking me: ‘What about this? See this? Let’s speak about this’.

 “They were really respectful of me as a citizen journalist working on this, not just a resource [for] videos. I have no experience – and I know that – but they were trying to help me to develop myself during this time and work on this as a journalist not as someone who just caught this footage and that’s it.”

 Mabro, who was Channel 4 News foreign editor when Al-Kateab was in Syria, says the young journalist had “changed the way that people see the conflict” through her films.

 “It’s a very unique perspective… it’s somebody who’s from the region, who’s living the experience. It’s impossible for somebody from the outside to ever capture those moments because they are never involved in the same way, living it in the same way.

 “Even though Marie Colvin obviously was there, she experienced all the fear and unfortunately died, she was always in and out of places.”

 She adds: “The other thing I think is really interesting about what Waad did was the choice of what she filmed.

 “The baby born scene (above) is the one that everybody remembers and tells you everything about war – who would have filmed that? I don’t know any journalist who, one, would have been able to get access and, two, even if they did get access, would film that rather than going and chasing frontline stuff or trying to get where the latest bomb was hit.

 “Waad was staying in the hospital and actually what she ended up getting – the choice of what she filmed – was very different to anything I’d seen before. And a very female perspective, but also just very different types of interviews with people. I think that’s what’s powerful about it.”

 The fear of being killed at any moment and the uniqueness of such an existence led to a sense that it was “really important to record everything around you,” says Al-Kateab, who filmed incessantly, to the annoyance of her small circle of friends also living at the hospital.

 But she says their attitude changed when one of their number, Gaith, who had trained as a medical student before the war, was killed by a bomb.

 “When he was killed we were just watching all this footage together – us eating, fighting, laughing and all this – and we felt how it’s really important, because in any moment you can… be killed, anyone around you can be killed, this life really should be saved and should be saved as evidence that life under the war is really important and unique. You expect sometimes to cry but you are laughing, sometimes you expect to be really moved but [you’re] not,” she says.

 “So when we’ve seen that Gaith was killed we were watching this and we felt how important this footage was. Since that moment, all the people around me never said turn the camera off. Sometimes they [would] come to me and say film us dancing, or something like this.

 “It was really a feeling of how important this life is and how easy it could be for it to end. So just for this I was filming everything, every day, sometimes with no reason – sometimes just the garden.”

 In For Sama, we see the moment Al-Kateab discovers she is pregnant with her first daughter. “The camera was really part of my life there,” she says, “It was like a friend, it’s just part of you all the time.” She adds: “It’s something that gives you strength because when you are there for a reason and you are doing something.”
‘This camera can be a survivor’

 Al-Kateab’s camera rarely shies away from the harrowing and heartbreaking scenes taking place before it. In the hospital, wounded civilians are brought in for emergency treatment and families are torn apart by death.

 “There are many moments where you feel that there is no reason for you to be here, you do nothing, it’s just filming things and all this film will be destroyed in one moment and it makes no difference,” she says.

 “But also there are other moments…”

 She points to a scene in For Sama where a woman is crying out over the loss of her child. The woman looks to the camera and asks Al-Kateab if she is filming. “I went to turn the camera off because I thought she was angry, then she said: ‘Film this.’”

 She adds: “This feeling, it gives you responsibility… and this woman even if she now has lost her child, she is thinking that this camera can be a survivor or something to help us or just a place to send a message to.

 “In other places… sometimes I feel like I can’t do that anymore, like the baby born [film]. I was filming just to document that for the hospital because it’s something really important…

 “I wanted to turn off [my camera] many times because I’ve seen that he’s dead and that’s it, I shouldn’t be just filming. In many moments I wanted to turn it off and then I don’t know why but I stayed and then that moment [when the baby opens its eyes] happened.

 “To catch this moment I was feeling that this is one of the big reasons why we are there, because the hope is always happening in this place and people are really very strong and stronger than the aircrafts and the bombing and all these things.

 “Me, as a journalist, I’m there because I should save this moment and make it reach out to make a difference. Small moments like this, very different moments, [show] you how important you are there. If this footage wasn’t taken, these stories all die and that’s it.”
‘I survived for a reason… to speak out and share the story’

 Al-Kateab says she doesn’t regret her decision to stay in Aleppo during the siege while others fled. “I have a lot of things which I really feel that it was worth what I did, all the risk and all the difficulties.” For Sama is in part her way of explaining to her daughter her decision to remain behind.

 She says she considers herself to have been a “witness of something really important”, adding: “I could have been killed at any moment inside [Aleppo].

“I survived for a reason and this reason is to speak out and share the story… and try to destroy all the régime [has said] about who we are… I’m here and I’m out now and this is my responsibility, after everything, to say what happened and get all the details out.”

 One message Al-Kateab is keen to convey is that right now in Idlib, Syria, some 40 miles west of Aleppo, as régime and Russian forces close in on the last remaining rebel stronghold, others are going through the same thing she and her friends and family went through in Aleppo.

 “It’s another city, but the same experience exactly,” she says.

 The success of For Sama so far has taken Al-Kateab’s attention away from the newsroom, where she is now employed as a producer, work she is keen to return to as soon as possible.

 “Now I’m just trying to travel with the film around the world and tell the story again and try to compare what was happening [in Aleppo] with what’s happening now in Idlib.

 “I don’t know if that will make a difference now but this is the only thing I can do now. The story it ends, but it’s still going on…You can’t just continue your life and ignore everything that’s happening.” '

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Extracts from Samar Yazbek's A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution

 'Bouthaina Shabaan appears on television. My mother tells us all to listen up, "She's talking about traitors and sectarian strife! Oh the horror! Shut the windows!"

 As I step out on the balcony, the lemon trees revive me. This place is calm for a few minutes, then gunfire breaks out. Everybody knows that the city's calm before was not a natural calm, since nobody could challenge the power of the security apparatus. Security forces watch the people: some flee, others get arbitrarily eliminated. The gangs sprouted out of the ground just like everything here, out of thin air. How could armed men suddenly appear and start killing people.

 Today on the Friday of Dignity, the Syrian cities come out to demonstrate. More than two hundred thousand demonstrators mourn their dead in Dar'a. Entire villages outside Dar'a march towards the southern cemetery. Fifteen people are killed. In Homs three are killed. People are killed and wounded in Latakia. In the heart of the capital, Damascus, in the al-Maydan district, demonstrators come out; some are wounded and then moved to al-Mutjahid hospital. Army forces surround Dar'a and open fire on any creature that moves. In al-Sanamayn the military security commits a massacre, killing twenty people.

 I return to the capital, knowing I will not despair from tirelessly fighting for justice, even if death rips open my chest. Like I said: You get used to it. Nothing more, nothing less. I am waiting for death to arrive, though I will not carry flowers to my own grave.'
[25 March 2011, pp2-5]

 'I will infiltrate the sleep of those murderers and ask them, "Did you look in the eyes of the dead as the bullets hit their chests?"

 Here in Damascus the murderers will soon fall asleep, and we'll remain the guardians of anxiety.

 Damascus is just like any other city. It becomes more beautiful at night, like a woman after making love.

 Security patrols roam dense in the streets. men in plain clothes congregate here and there, but the size of their presence gives them away. How did I learn how to distinguish between a security agent and an ordinary man on the street in Damascus?

 On 16th March, dozens of prisoners' families assembled outside the ministry. Nearly assembled, they did not actually succeed. They looked odd, almost elegant, holding pictures of their loved ones who had been imprisoned for their political opinions. I stood with them, beside the husband and two sons of a female prisoner. Suddenly the earth split open with security forces and shabbiha. The people didn't fight back. They were taken away by men with huge rings and inflated muscles and gaunt eyes and cracked skin.

 The husband beside me vanished, leaving his small four-year-old son behind. Suddenly I noticed the little boy gaping at his father and brother as they were beaten, watching as the two of them were stuffed inside a bus. I recoiled and turned the little boy's head away so he wouldn't be able to see what was happening, slung him over my shoulder and ran. When he asked me whether they had been taken to prison just like his mother had been, I was silent, unable to respond, until I simply told him, "You're coming with me now."

 "I heard," I say to a taxi driver, "that they put a young man in Dar'a into a refrigerator. While he was still alive. And when they pulled out his corpse, they found he had written with his own blood: "When they put me in here I was still alive send my love to my mother."

 Today there is a demonstration at the Damascus University Faculty of Letters; they detain all the students and confiscate their cell phones. The town of Talibseh is still under siege, and all lines of communication are cut; they receive their children's dead bodies from the security forces. In al-Ma'damiya, near Damascus, the people tear down a giant picture of President Bashar al-Assad, and a young man is killed. In Latakia eight prisoners are burned to death in the central prison.

 Back at home I think about how I will infiltrate the sleep of the killers and ask them whether they ever noticed the holes of life as they took aim at the bare chests of their unarmed victims.'
[5 April 2011, pp6-12]

 'Today is Friday. A soft drizzle stops long enough for people to go out into the streets and demonstrate in the squares and the mosques.

 We approach Harasta, the suburb we have to get through in order to reach Douma. Several green public buses with yellow seats are stopped, blocking the flow of traffic. Young men are jammed inside the buses, one of top of the other. When they step off they are deployed on both sides of the street. The marching young men are led by others wearing navy and grey uniforms. There are hundreds of them, maybe more. They all get out and deploy up and down both sides,of the street, while people retreat from the sidewalks with horror all over their faces.

 There is a military checkpoint outside Douma. One man, after turning over my ID, says, "Madame there are thugs around here, I must ask you not to go any further."
I take a breath, and then naively ask, What's happening here?"
"Oh nothing at all, there's nothing happening here."

 We loop around some agricultural land with olive trees, which pains me, because I heard a Palestinian from Lyd on television talking about how the Israelis forced him to demolish his own house. "They asked me, who's your master?" he said, crying. "Then," he said, sitting down under an olive tree outside his demolished house, "the olive trees are my master."

 I see some residents and ask them where the town square is. There are no more than two thousand demonstrators, but soldiers and security forces are everywhere, and the demonstrators hold up Syrian flags and banners with slogans like God, Syria, Freedom, That's It! and No Sunnis, No Alawites, No Druze, No Isma'ils, We are all Syria. Some hold olive branches. Apparently the olive trees are their masters too.
[8 April 2011, pp13-18]

 'The images that appear on television today of men taken from their homes in the village of al-Baida, gathered together in the square, their hands tied together and their heads buried in the asphalt. Sate television news reports they are traitors and have weapons in their possession. A few days later my friend from Baniyas would tell me that some men had gone out to demonstrate, chanting peacefully about freedom without any sectarian slogans, when some groups showed up and started shooting, killing a number of them even as the rest were carted off to prison and the whole town surrounded.

 One woman appears on television the next day, screaming at the top of her lungs, "We are the people of Baniyas and we are the people of freedom! as women behind her shout, "Freedom, Freedom!" All the women were veiled.

 Fear of the ancient humiliation long endured by the Alawites, brought them close to the régime narrative. They were poor, believing what they were told. A small number were against the violence and killing that was taking place. When the Islamists came out to demonstrate, they did not fire on anyone. Even some Alawites joined them.Some of those Alawites were subjected to additional oppression by the security forces; their reputations would be smeared. Some of them were arrested. The greatest tragedy was excommunication from the sect, being called a traitor.

 Today is the Friday of Perseverance. Fifteen people are killed in Latakia. The security opens fire in Damascus on demonstrators coming from Jobar after being joined by people from Douma and Harasta. The people of al-Rastan fell a statue of Hafiz al-Assad, who remains the greatest figure in Syria. In Latakia security forces try to infiltrate the demonstrators, but the young men seize their weapons when it becomes clear they are from the security forces. They wanted to make it look like an armed demonstration. The city of al-Dumayr is surrounded. Douma is still surrounded, and the daily toll of arrests is nonstop.

 Baniyas is empty. The streets are deserted; the shops are closed, and many have been looted. They have succeeded in framing what happened, as if it marks the beginning of a sectarian civil war that it is incumbent on the régime to prevent. But many city residents know that this is not the case, that there were invisible hands behind what took place that would like to turn the peaceful demonstrations that came out of the mosques into treasonous activity by armed men who are conspiring with foreign powers. Perhaps that was the only reason the régime could come up with to justify killing the people of Baniyas. But who was killing the army and security forces. And the snipers, who were those snipers? Maybe figuring out who was behind these actions will be simple enough, but how they managed to pull it off is still unclear.'
[15 April 2011, pp22-29]

 'In besieged Dar'a falling hailstones get mixed up with the sound of bullets whizzing past. Not far from this calamity, land is being surrounded, buried, all alone and drifting beneath the darkened sky, as if in a painting by Dalí.

 Not far from Damascus, just an hour by car, there is a calamity taking place that seems more like the stories we read about in the papers, one we cannot believe is actually happening here. Entire families are surrounded by tanks and soldiers and snipers. Anyone who dares to step foot outside is a potential martyr. Nobody is around to bury the bodies lying outside the al-Umari Mosque in Dar'a. I manage to confirm that several pharmacies have been bombed and burned. Why are they setting the pharmacies on fire? So that people won't be able to treat the wounded, of course.

 Last Friday Damascus was a ghost town. Security forces were deployed in all the squares, the number of their personnel and platoons rose into the thousands. My female friend and I drove through Abbasiyeen Square, and there was a strange deadly calm.

 We didn't hear any gunshots on our entire trip, but the next day I met up with a friend. She told me she had been in al-Zablatani, not far from Abbasiyeen Square. She saw a group of young Christian men standing and demonstrating right in front of the security forces, no more than a few dozen. One of them had taken off his shirt and bared his chest to the security forces' machine guns. He stood there for nearly a minute until the sound of gunfire rang out and brought down the young man. The security forces opened fire and ordered everyone to go back inside, as those on the street fled. Then the square was empty except for security forces, the sound of gunfire and the bodies of five young men that had fallen on the ground. State television would later report that the security forces had captured five saboteurs who were killed during armed clashes.

 It was getting difficult for me to go to Jableh or to move around freely in Latakia. I was a traitor to my sect for being on the side of the demonstrators. I wrote two pieces about the protest movement, in which I talked about the practices of violence and killing and arrest carried out by the security forces. They responded by posting articles from a mukhabarati website discussing my relationship with American agents, a ready-made excuse the security apparatus would always resort to in order to clamp down on people who have their own opinions. I was bounded by my own anxiety and fear, by my daughter and my family, who came under direct pressure from the scandal that ensued in my village when the régime told them that their daughter had betrayed her sect and her homeland.

 I sit at home next to my daughter after she returns from two weeks back in the village. She tells me impatiently, "They're going to kill you. In the village they said they're going to kill you. In Jableh they were handing out flyers accusing you of treason!"

 She is happily following the marriage of William and Kate. I try to find out online what is going on in Syrian cities, but she asks me to get off the computer and sit with her.

 In al-Qamishli the people come out to demonstrate. People emerge from the mosque in the al-Maydan district of Damascus.Ten buses of security agents beat up the demonstrators scattered through the neighbourhoods chanting for freedom and for the siege of Dar'a to be lifted. They are unarmed.

 Now there is news from Dar'a.: heavy gunfire, snipers are still up on the rooftops, nobody can move, there is a flour embargo. Are they just going to let the people die of hunger? In the Damascus suburb of Saqba there are also huge demonstrations demanding the fall of the régime.

 I tell my daughter I have to leave her for an hour, just a car ride through the streets of Damascus. On the verge of tears, she shouts, "Don't go! I know where you're going." Then the tears fall from her eyes. I respond by sitting down next to her.

 I wait there until the end of the day, when I learn the number of demonstrators killed is 62.'
[29 April 2011, pp30-37]

 'The cities of Syria are under siege. Water and electricity have been intentionally cut off for two days. People began sending calls for help on behalf of children who might die of starvation.

 I go to see a friend from Baniyas. He had left his house and his family behind because he wasan Alawite who stood with the peaceful demonstration in Baniyas. The Alawites of Syria consider him a traitor, as far as I know most of the Alawites of Syria think I am one.

 All the signs of life inform me that the situation in Syria is going to last for a long time, there will still be a lot more death and killing and bloodshed before the régime falls, or before another crazy situation can take its place.

 I.H. says: "The demonstrators set out from the al-Rahman mosque in Baniyas. It was 8 March after Friday prayer when A.S. called on the people to go out of the mosque against tyranny and in order to demand freedom. As about 200 to 300 men came out of the mosque, three were detained by criminal security and taken to the police station over by the bus terminal.The demonstrators tried to follow them, and on the way down people poured out into the streets, smashing up the buses. The demonstrators tried to prevent any vandalism, but these thugs got in their faces. Those thugs were Sunnis who smashed up Alawite buses, but the damage in that initial demonstration stopped there.

 Régime goons and shabbiha known for their sectarianism started coming out and chanting that the Sunnis had attacked the Alawite businesses in Baniyas and that they were going to burn everything in sight.

 Throughout the demonstration and the assemblies the security would roll out some prominent Sunni personalities in order to contain the crisis, so this one time they brought the mayor, but the demonstrators chanted, 'get out, get out, thief, get out!' They said the mayor paid millions of liras to get that position. Then they brought Shaykh I.H. and another imam, who received the same shouts from the demonstrators, 'Get out of here, you liars!' They were also corrupt men.

 At this point the demonstrators asked the security forces to bring Shaykh A.I., because he could be trusted and because he was a Sufi. The people of Baniyas gave them a letter for him. Their demands included: the release of prisoners, including Tal al-Malluhi, the abrogation of the emergency laws, the return to work of women who wear the niqab, the re-opening of the shari'a high school, forbidding the mixing of the sexes as in every other Syrian governorate, complete freedoms, the replacement of the head of the port of Baniyas because he behaved like a security officer and imposed taxes on poor fishermen who could barely make ends meet.

 After these events, and with both direct and indirect orders from security, rumours started whipping round the Alawite street to the effect that those who came out to demonstrate were sectarians and Islamic fundamentalists who had no goal than to strike at the Alawites.

 The next Friday, there was a demonstration of approximately one thousand people, and a group of Alawite individuals were there. A young Alawite woman named A.I. got up and made a politically pointed speech that confronted the régime head-on, and she received a warm welcome from the demonstrators as all the slogans were patriotic and decried sectarianism. Until that moment there hadn't been any slogans calling for the fall of the régime. It was 15 March.

 The Sunnis in Baniyas later insisted that Baniyas has no Salafis, that the people of Baniyas never fought against the army, and that it was the security forces and shabbiha who went to the Alawite villages and told them that if they wanted weapons, they would bring them some.

 They say terrorists blew up the bus that was transporting army personnel, but why was that bus there in the first place. High ranking officers were involved in bringing the bus there. Five agents carried out an investigation in Baniyas about this matter. Everything they said points to an officer working on behalf of Maher al-Assad. They think he is the one who gave the orders to deploy, and that it was the shabbiha who carried out the assassination."

 Today a broad arrest campaign has swept up even a moderate group in the opposition as well as hundreds of young men. Al-Zabadani is besieged. Dar'a is still buried. Over the last two days there have been demonstrations in all the cities of Syria, including Damascus, Aleppo, Dayr al-Zur, Homs, Hama, Latakia, Qamishli, Amuda and Daraya. In Hama there are two security agents disguised as ordinary citizens at a demonstration, who suddenly try to open fire. The men of Hama pounce on them and beat them up until a political security patrol comes around to save them.

 In the end there are 83 martyrs, including women and children in Dar'a, where dozens of houses are bombarded.'
[30 April 2011, pp38-45]

 'Today legal activists release a report saying that the daily average number of arrests is at least five hundred people. Students are arrested for demonstrating outside the business school in Damascus. Telephone lines are cut off in the city of al-Tall after the security forces move in and arrest eight hundred people. 30 tanks and six troop convoys are on the move from the Ya-foor region, heading towards Damascus. House raids and detentions continue in Daraya, while in Baniyas thousands of demonstrators have come out demanding an end to the military siege of Dar'a.'
[4 May 2011, p48]

 'About five hundred women were supposed to meet at Arnous Square. The shop owners were apprehensive about the current state of chaos. One of them told me, "If the situation continues like this for another month ot two, we'll be runied, bankrupt!"

 There were't a lot of people there, maybe 60. The signs being held up brimmed with life, reading, Stop the killing, End the siege on Dar'a and No to Death, Yes to Life. We had only been marching for about ten minutes when a strange vibration ripped through the atmosphere. I saw a man walking towards us, and another gesturing at me. As I satrted running away, men pounced on the demonstrating women, beating and cursing and kicking them. They broke one woman's finger and slapped her in the face before arresting her. The rest of the women took off, scattering.'
[5 May 2011, pp51-53]

 'I recorded an interview with one of my friends who used to work for Syrian state television. She agreed as long as I do not mention her name, not now, not ever.

 "Official media discourse has divided the Syrian people into two camps: with or against. Even if you're a demonstrator who hasn't been accused of being involved with the armed gangs the you're a traitor. Even networks such as al-Dunya that call themselves private, are owned by pro-régime businessmen and do even more of a disservice than state media, inciting people to hate others based on their position vis-à-vis the régime, making up rumours and poisoning the atmosphere." '
[8 May 2011, pp63-66]

 'Today I am going to finish with Baniyas. One of the young men who had been at the centre of events is coming over to my house.

 The young man shows up. He is in his twenties, skinny and of medium-height. He won't shake my hand, but he is polite, well-spoken, calm and measured. He ends up talking to me freely, without my feeling like he is talking to a woman inside a frame, as would many fundamentalist Muslims. Maybe this is what they call moderate Islam.

 "I was at my grandfather's house, and there were about 50 soldiers stationed in the Ibn Khaldoun building. The army was sleeping up on the rooftops and we showed them hospitality. In al-Marqab the army carried out seraches and sweeps, then they withdrew. It was the security forces that did all the killing. We didn't know what was happening, some guys who were close to the action told me that security forces opened fire on people and beat them up.

 Some soldiers started turning themselves in to us and to the people. One of them said, 'They told us we were going to be fighting a gang, but when we saw the muezzin, we realised there was no gang. I knew it had all been one big lie.' Some army soldiers got killed turning themselves in, and others were killed before they could even leave the army. All their injuries were either from behind or directly to the head.

 The army fully pulled out and a new force arrived in al-Marqab. It was the security forces that killed the four women and wounded scores of others. They detained whole families. I think the operation wa sintended to force the entire city onto its knees because it had been completely outside government control, the régime asked for the demonstrations to stop but the people refused.

 There was something odd about that bus where soldiers and officers were killed, because the soldiers stepped out in a completely natural way and then suddenly, the shooting started. it was machine guns mostly, and I saw them with my own eyes, they were shooting - it was the shabbiha, I just told you some of their names. They were the ones who killed the soldiers along with some others that were with them.

 Even before 15th March, Shaykh A.I. would talk about taxes and the rising injustice against the people through this theft they were subjected to by the state. He talked about the pollution from the baniyas refinery. Then the demonstrations started to spread through the Syrian cities. The demonstrations were spontaneous and unplanned at first, at the municipal roundabout. But after the events in Dar'a, and the incursion into the al-Umari Mosque on Wednesday, the people rose up again, and they were energised by what was happening in most of the cities in Syria. We started trying to calm people down, and the shakyh decided that nobody should go out into the streets. But they wouldn't listen. In the al-Qubayat Mosque, when Shaykh Mustafa Ibrahim described the demonstrators as riffraff and anarchists, the peopleborught him down from his pedestal and then they got together and the demonstration happened.

 It could have been the first Saturday in April, after dawn prayers people were coming out of the mosque and I was in the garden. I saw someoneshooting from a car. Bullets were raining down everywhere. We took the car registration. It was owned by the shabbiha of the Assads. Wec were informed these guys weren't just shabbiha, they were very close to the security services.

 All the soldiers who were killed were shot in the back. The shooting came from the house of a man close to the shabbiha and the security forces. During their search of al-Baida, the only person who got killed was a Christian man named Hatem. Where were the Salafis they were talking about.

 I videotaped three meetings with three girls who were twelve, thirteen and fourteen, who all told me how the security forces had brutally tortured them. What had these little girls ever done?

 We alerted the authorities to what the state media and its appendages like al-Dunya were doing. Abd al-HalimKhaddam was banned -as far as we were concerned he was a traitor - which comes through in our slogans at the demonstrations, No Salafiyya and no Khaddam.

 [The Alawites] were frightened and intimidated. Recently there was a young man who wanted to come out to the demonstrations with us, but they threatened to demolish his house and kill his family.

 What happened in Baniyas wasn't against the Alawite sect; it was against the Syrian régime. It's the practices of the state that feed sectarianism. The Alawites in the villages around Baniyas are very poor, they suffer the same injustice.

 On 18th April, afraid there was going to be a sectarian massacre, I took a scooter and went up to al-Qusoor, an Alawite neighbourhood. I asked someone, 'Wjat's going on?' He said, 'Nothing.' Then I went back and Shaykh A.I. said, 'There is no sectarian strife,' and asked the Sunni guys to go home, but they didn't. The ones who wanted to stir up sectarian strife were the shabbiha and the security. The epeople were smarter than that.

 Even though there was a curfew and random arrests, the women started demonstrating and would give in to all the killing and arrests."

 Today Baniyas is cut off from the outside world, a chunk of earth floating in the void. Today the Syrian authorities will not let delegates from the United Nations enter Dar'a. State media said they had gone in for hours.'
[9 May 2011, pp67-77]

 'Yesterday evening a few young men and women who went out to demonstrate on al-Hamra Street near my house were arrested. My friends no longer tell me the time and place of the demonstrations because they don't believe my promises that I won't prticipate in them anymore, that I'll watch from afar in order to keep writing.

 I met up with my writer friend, she reported the following details:

 "We all assembled in Arnous Square. My girlfriend and I went out, monitoring the presence of security forces We went and sat on the steps in the square and started singing patriotic anthems. Then young men gathered around us and we all sang for the homeland, for Syria. There were about 150 men and women demonstrators, we started singing the national anthem, unfurling and holding up high the banners upon which we had written, No to the Siege, No to Violence, We Want a Civil State. We marched through the middle of al-Salihiyyeh, the people in the marketstopped to gawk at us in amazement and fear and some in sympathy. We stayed there for about seventeen minutes singing the national anthem, Guardians of the Realm Peace Be Upon You.

 Then the violent attack by the scurity forces began. When they attacked we all started running. My girlfriend fell down.One of the al-Salhiyyeh shopkeepers hid her inside his shop. A security goon broke into the shop while we were hiding. The shopkkeper told him, 'There are women changing inside,' and showed us a safe route for us to escape.

 They pulled out all the young demonstrators from inside the shops. Then they parked a bus outside the shop and put the young men inside. The people had started asking what was happening and the security forces told them, 'Nothing to see here, folks, these people are thieves.'

 They brought the young emn out of the shops, beating them with spite and violence and brutality, and the people watched in silence."

 I am in a funny situation, one that drowns in its own blackness. If only the Syrian security services had known that I am related to Osama Bin Laden before they startedcalling me names and fabricating stories about me. Maybe they could have used that against me. I spent some distant days of my childhood at my Aunt Najwa's family's home, who would later marry her young cousin Osama Bin Laden. najwa enjoyed protection from the Syrian security apparatus and Fawwaz al-Assad himself, who lived near the villa where she and her children resided.

 Just thinking about how the régime has turned the Alawites into its own human shield sends me into a bottomless pit of sorrow. I'll write one day if I manage to survive. Then I'll be the one preserving secrets about the Makhloufs, the Assads, and all the Alawite families who strayed from their religious path in order to decimate the Alawite sect.

 About a week ago I wrote on my Facebook page: "Our grandfather, Aziz Bek Hawwash, was the leader who refused the establishment of the Etat des Alaouites by demanding that France safeguard the unity of Syria. My grandfather on my mother's side, Uthman, fought in the resistance against the Ottomans, and the people of the mountain and the coast know of his many acts of heroism. My grandfather Ibrahim Salih Yazbek gave all his possessions and land to the peasants. That was before the land reforms of the sixties. That's right, I'm the granddaughter of those men. You are all the grandchildren of truth, you are not the grnadchildren of a mistake."

 That comment shook thing up even more with my family and the security forces, who had been deleting most of the comments I wrote. Once again I start receiving threatening letters and obscene phone calls. The senior security officer summoned me again.

 I arrived at the first meeting with the senior officer on the point of collapse, because the two men who had accompanied mee from my home in a white car had blindfolded me. He slapped me in the face, knocking me to the ground. Then he spat on me. "Cunt," he saidHe shouted at me to get up but I really couldn't, my body was frail. He laughed, "Well well well, what a hero, you went down with just one slap." He slapped me a second time. Then he returned to his seat and launched into a long tirade, the same claptrap I had been hearing for years about betrayal and shame.

 I stood up and pulled out my knife, and I told him if he continued beating me I would plunge this knife into my heart. He was staring in shock.

 "We're worried about you, " he said. "You're being duped by Salafi Islamists if you believe what they're saying."

 "I don't believe anyone," I said. "I went out in the streets time after time and I didn't see any Salafis. I saw how you kill ordinary people and arrest them and beat them."

 "If you keep writing I'll make you disppaer from the face of the earth, your daughter as well. We're honourable people. We don't harm our own blood. We're not like you traitors. You're a black mark on all alawites. Go on Syrian TV and we'll agree on what you're going to say."

 "I won't do it, not even if you kill me with your bare hands."

 I put my knife away. I knew he wasn't going to harm me, that time anyway. Later on, when I started compiling testimonies of male and female prisoners, I would learn they had spoiled me.

 Two humungous men came into the room. The two mean placed a blindfold over me. A powerful hand took me. I shouted, "Where are you taking me?!"

 He replied calmly, as if croaking, "Just a short trip, so you'll write better."

 I felt like I had descended several flights. A hand undid the blindfold from my eyes. I hadn't expected what awaited me to be so dreadful, despite the fact that everything in front of me was so dark.

 The man satnding in front of me opened one of the doors. I saw them: two or three people. I am pretty sure I saw three bodies hanging in the middle of nowhere. He moved me even closer. My stomach started to seize up. The three bodies were almost naked. A faint light seeped in, that allowed me to see young men who couldn't have been more than twenty years old, or maybe in their early twenties, their tender young bodies clear under all the blood, their hands hanging from metal clamps, and the tips of their toes just barely touching the ground. Blood coursed down their bodies: fresh blood, dried blood, deep wounds carved all over them, like the strokes of an abstract painter.

 Suddenly one of the young men tried to lift his head. He didn't have a face. There was a blank space where his nose should be, no lips. His face was like a red board- red interspersed with black that hasd once been red.

 At that point I collapsed on the floor, and the two men picked me up again. Fopr a moment I was swinging in a sticky place. I heard one of them say to the others, "Come on man, she couldn't handle one slap. She'd just die if we gave her the tire."

 Then the smell rushed in: the smell of blood and piss and shit.

 Suddenly they took me out of that cell and opened another one. The sounds of screaming and torture rang out somewhere, somewhere both far away and nearby.

 The second cell opened and there was a young man inside whose spine looked like an anatomist's sketch. He also appeared to be unconscious. His back was split open, as if a map had been carved into it with a knife.

 That's what it was like, cell after cell, shoving me inside, then bringing me out again. Bodies strewn behind stacked bodies - it was Hell. It was like human beings were just pieces of flesh on display, young men who weren't even 30 reduced to bits inb cramped, dank cells. Heads without faces, bodies with new features.

 As they were tightening the blindfold ove my eyes again, I asked one of the two men, "Are those the guys from the demonstrations?"

 One of them rudely re[plied, "They're traitors fro the demonstrations."

 After they hauled me out of there, I went home. I wasn't the person I had been before. I tried to focus during those ten days when they came to my house, three or four men, so we could go back to the same officers's room. I don;t know if this really was his office and whether we were in the al-Jisr neighbourhood of Damascus or in Kafr Sousseh. The fourth time I went down to the cells, they didn't arrest me and they didn't leave me there. I just wandered around. One day I'll write about these hellish journeys.
[10 May 2011, pp78-91]

 'Syrian tanks shell the Baba Amr neighbourhood in Homs. Security forces invade houses and rob them. The shelling lasts for hours; nineteen martyrs are killed.

 Today international pressure on the régime is building. Catherine Ashton says, "The Syrian régime has lost its credibility." Ban Ki Moon calls on the president to have a dialogue with demonstrators and expresses his disappointment at what the régime is doing to its own people.

 I try to transcribe the interview with the journalist M.I., who broke the siege of Dar'a.

 "A vetenarian got me into Dar'a. We got stopped and searched a lot. The army had lists of names they were scanning.

 We took a tour around the city, and then went to the al-Umari Mosque. There was a demonstration, or people beginning to gather for one. There was a large security presence just waiting to attack the demonstrators, even though there was supposedly a ceasefire that day. There were about a thousand people demonstrating.

 We went to talk to one of the notable figures who told us what happened. The children of Dar'a who had their fingernails pulled out and were brutally tortured. Atef Najib had said to them: 'Come get your children and let your wives make new ones.' The demonstrators, who were tribal shaykhs, in addition to punishing whoever had tortured their children, their demands included the abrogation of the emergency laws and a crackdown on corruption.

 A call went out to save demonstrators who are being attacked by the security forces. By that stage, France 24 and the BBC had been expelled. The demonstrators talked about their pain and frustration at the president of the republic. When one said, "The snipers are from Hizballah," someone nearby shouted back, "Don't say things we don't know for certain, brother." A man with a long beard came over to talk about the Sunni-Shia issue, but the demonstrators rose up and told him to be quiet.

 A relative of one of the arrested children said, 'They took the children to prison for writing on the walls. They gave them the "special treatment".' That means they raped them.

 At one o'clock in the morningone of the protestors called from the al-Umari Mosque, 'We assembled here and there was a massacre.' I think it was one of those divisions of private forces. That was on a Thursday or Friday in March, when the famous clip appeared on satellite television saying: 'Is there anyone who kills his own people? You are all our brothers.

 Everybody knows the town of Douma is religiously conservative, especially the women. One time I was passing through there, the demonstrators were on one side and the security forces were on the other. A young girl passed by. I imagined she was going to walk by the security forces, in order to avoid the hordes of male demonstrators., but she chose to cross through the demonstrators. I said to someone near me, 'Isn't it strange how that girl passed right through all these men.' He says, 'Even if things are messed up here without any law and order, we are still men of conscience.'

 I'll give you the rest on tape."

 I felt grateful to him because there were moments while he was telling me these stories when I had to fight back tears. Now I am released from that awkwardness.'
[11 May 2011, pp92-99]

 'A man came and told me to leave the countryat once, because he had solid information about the liquidation of certain Alawite figures, about accusations of belonging to armed and Salafi gangs, and my name was on the list.

 The Syrian régime claims to be preparing for national dialogue, even as it continues its killing and its arrests. The tanks withdraw from Baniyas and Dar'a, but are then redeployed in the suburb of Daraya, near Damascus.'
[15 May 2011, pp100-105]

 'I try to get back to the testimony I took down from an anaesthesiologist who managed to get into Dar'a.

 "We founded a secret medical centreto treat the wounded. We did the same thing here in Damascus, and in Bosra there's an entire hospital controlled by the youth of the uprising.

 In Dar'a there were atrocities that never happened in Musrata or even Gaza. In Dar'a the killing was direct, most of them were killed with bullets in the head or in the chest. Security said as I passed through the checkpoints they were going to teach all of Syria a lesson in Dar'a.

 The Abu Zayd family had a beautiful house security wanted to take over, but the owner resisted and wouldn't leave, so they killed him along with his children.

 There were several other centres besides ours. The young men were always working, the women who were still alive and the men over 50. Everyone else I swear to you was either locked up or had fled or was dead. For fifteen days, anyone who stuck their head out of the window of their house was killed.

 90% of the dead were young men, and the killing was done by regular bullets. I was impressed by all the young boys between 15 and 16 years old. Their moustaches were just starting to grow, it was like fuzz. They were just children and they were shot in the head or in the chest.

 In Nawa miracles took place. Shirtless young men would come out and stand in front of the snipers and the tanks, in huge demonstrations despite the siege and the death. But in Dar'a they killed anyone who came out to demonstrate and arrested everyone else." '
[19 May 2011, pp111-114]

 'I write down the following incident, which T. related to me.

 "Corpses were arriving at the Tishreen military hospital, along with critically wounded and the occasional light injury. One young man who had been mildly wounded was alseep in his bed when an officer in civilian clothes came in and sat down next to the wounded man. I edged close and heard what they were saying. The officer asks him, 'Who shot you?' The wounded man remains silent. The officer instructs him, 'You'll go on television and say that the armed gangs shot you.' The wounded man looks the officer staright in the face and says, 'It was security who shot me.' The officer stand up, pulls out a gun, and places it against the wounded man's forehead. The officer stares right at him. 'Who shot you?' The wounded man says, It was security who shot me.' The officer shoots the wounded man in the head and walks out." '
[20 May 2011, p117]

 'Today I sit down and transcribe the interview from the A.Z. family in Dar'a.

 "On 18th March 2011, when the people went to see Atef Najib to demand the release of their children, he said, 'Forget your children. Go sleep with your wives and make new ones or send them to me and I'll do it.' The inhabitants of Dar'a all agreed that on 18th March they would come marching out of the al-Umari Mosque and one other mosques. They came out chanting 'Freedom, Freedom! The Syrian people won't be insulted!' and we all went with them. There were security agents all over Dar'a. There must have been thousands of them. As the demonstration marched through the valley, they were sprayed with water from fire truck cannons and gunfire broke out, killing four people.

 The next day, 19th March, at 6am, the people shouted out the names of the dead inside the mosques and assembled for the funeral. As we buried them, Shaykh Ahmad al-Sayasina called for calm. The young men set off for the al-Umari Mosque, but there was a phalanx of counter-terrorism and riot police and baltajiyyeh and security forces waiting for us in the valley. We stood there for a long time, until one of the Dar'a élite, Ayman al-Zu'bi, showed up, and the young men started beating him. Then canisters started falling down on us like rain, tear gas canisters, and they opened fire.

 On 20th March, the people of Dar'a al-Balad came out with us, there were canisters and gunfire again and the scurity surrounded us on all sides. The people looted a Syriatel centre. They didn't set the entire building on fire, but torched the assets of Rami Makhlouf. Dar'a was in a state of war. A lot of people were injured, but they occupied the hospital and any wounded person who went there would either be detained or shot. Wisam al-Ghul, a Palestinian, went to donate blood and the security forces killed him on the spot.

 On 21st March, people came out from all over for a sit-in outside the al-Umari Mosque. They set up tents, called for the release of the prisoners and children, for the abrogation of Article 8 of the constitution, for the release of female prisoners, and for the murderers to be brought to justice. On 22nd March, the people were sitting in, the demonstrations took place without any incidents. On 23rd March, it was a Wedneday, there was a massacre.They broke into the al-Umari Mosque, opening fire on the people inside and killing seven martyrs. The security showed up and started shooting at us, stamping on our necks, so that nobody would dare open their doors, lest they get shot at too. The people of the surrounding villages heard what was happening and streamed in. Then the shooting started, they say 70 people were killed, but I am sure there were at least 200. We kept going back there for weeks and saw the empty shoes of the dead and so much blood.

 On Thursday 24th March, about 100,000 shirtless barefoot men came out and the security forces and the army opened fire on them. We discovered a large number of people had gone missing, and to this day we still don't know if they're dead or incarcerated. Inside the mosque, everything was ruined, and there were writings in Persian. I saw security forces with scruffy beards, which was unlike the security forces we knew. Some people later said that one of the two snipers they captured didn't even speak Arabic. On that day, 24th March, the crowds chanted, 'The People Want to Topple the Régime!'

 On 25th March, the people congregated inbig numbers at the al-Umari Mosque for the martyrs to be buried, more than 200,000 people. There was heavy gunfire coming from the governor's mansion. There were snipers. The shooting continued for two hours. People attacked the governor's house to bring down the snipers who were up there killing demonstrators.

 Thursday 31st March: Local representatives talked with the people of Dar'a about attending a meeting with the president, 25 notable figures went. They had brought pictures and CDs and video with them. He told them he had no idea this was happening, and promised to withdraw the security and the army. The army really did withdraw, and the prisoners and children were released. But that was just another trap set by the president, who we learned later on had actually ordered them to fire in the first place.

 Friday 1st April. Everyone from the villages came to Dar'a. Even people from Damascus came. There must have been 700,0000 of us. Everyone was chanting, 'The People Want to Topple the Régime! There weren't even any traffic police. People were picking up litter and cleaning the streets, protecting the town. Civil revolt was declared, and we demonstrated there for two weeks without any security present. Then on the Friday of Steadfastness, as people came out of the al-Umari Mosque, shots were fired and a lot of people got killed.

 On 25th April they moved into Dar'a, at dawn with eight tanks. Electricity and landlines were cut off. They pounded the city with gunfire for seventeen hours, shooting up the water storage tanks before the army moved into the neighbourhoods, detaining all the young men between the ages of fifteen and forty, and all the homeowners who refused to let snipers up on their rooftops; they detained a lot of people, maybe ten thousand.. The charge was demonstrating and chanting slogans. People fled from entire neighbourhoods where snipers were up on the rooftops shooting at anything that moved.After the security forces withdrew, the tanks came back four hours later and started shelling the houses. They opened fire on the houses that were next to the morgues." '
[7 June, pp118-125]

 'I sit down to write about the suicide of a soldier in Jisr al-Shugur. Many inhabitants fled after the demonstrations were violently repressed. This came on the heels of many other incidents where soldiers and officers defected from the army and refused to follow orders. This forced the security forces and the shabbiha themselves to open fire on the unarmed people, those who had come out at the beginning of the demonstrations with olive branches and called for the fall of the régime.

 Jisr al-Shugur was different because the people got their hands on weapons and tanks, plus the army defected there. The city had to be taught a lesson, obliterated. The residents fled and became refugees in Turkey. There were orders to kill people and break into their homes, to set fire to the farms and agricultural land and to drain the water tanks - a scorched earth policy was to be applied to the rebellious city.

 Four soldiers who got orders to open fire and to break into houses in one particular neighbourhood were creeping along. One of them veered off course and entered a nearby building that wasn't their target. Two others followed. He took off his helmet, and started smashing his head and hands against the wall, until his fists were all bloody, before he fell down in a heap. His comrade tried to pick him up, but his heavy equipment prevented him and he crashed down on the ground, which made an odd boom. The third soldier backed away. The other picked up his gun and stuck the barrel right under his chin, and a gunshot rang out. The fourth solidier looked down at the soldier at his feet and before he could move, he heard the sound of a helicopter followed by long bursts of gunfire. He collapsed on the ground.

 This was just one of many incidents experienced by the soldiers who invaded Jisr al-Shugur. Those that did not kill themselves and who refused to fire on demonstrators, every last one of them was killed. An eyewitness who is a field doctor in the military emergency force discovered the corpses who had "been killed but terrorists in the vicinity of Jisr al-Shugur." Most of the injuries were to the head. They had been shot from a distance of no more than two metres, which means this was a liquidation, an execution. Secondly, there were clear signson some of the bodies of torture before they died. The bodies were found somewhere where no fighting had taken place, there were no traces of gunfire and there were no empty shells.'
[8 Jubne 2011, pp126-129]

 The people of Jisr al-Shughur fearfully flee the military siege and the massacres carried out in the city. Turkey takes them in, setting up tents along its border. Syrians are also transformed into refugees in Lebanon, but the Syrian régime is more present in Lebanon than anywhere else. The Lebanese government hands over two refugees, fleeing to Lebanon means fleeing right back to Syria.

 Turkey announces its disapproval of the régime and its barbaric tactics: repressing demonstrators, killing and mutilating people, making them homeless and refugees. How can planes fly through the Syrian skies to bomb their own people? It's something imcomprehensible to Syrians, that these massacres can be repeated day in, day out. The cities are annihilated and the whole world is watching while the Syrians die.

 Last night I decided to go out shopping for a few things, not far from my temporary new home. As I strolled through the al-Shaalan neighbourhood, in the spice market, I saw young women running away. People were running in all directions. The panic in people's eyes told me there was a demonstration. I ran forward and saw scores of young men and women chanting for freedom. They were singing the national anthem and shouting: "No to Killing! No to Violence!" The shabbiha jumped on the demonstrators and called on pedestrians in the street to join in beating them as well.

 Demonstrations continue in Latakia and Damascus today, in Homs and Aleppo. In Aleppo the security forces surrounded the University City and the shabbiha stormed on campus. Over the last 24 hours the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has climbed to 2,400 people, and Jisr al-Shugur remains shrouded in obscurity.

 Today a powerful video clip appeared,: Demonstrators in the al-Qaboun neighbourhood of Damascus are burning a pictur eof Bashar al-assad, as they shout until their voices get hoarse, "The People Want to Topple the Régime!" Burning that picture means there will be house invasions by the shabbiha and the security forces in al-Qaboun, which will also mean more killing and arrests.'
[9 June 2011, pp131-135]

 'Women and girls of all different ages started meeting ten days ago in order to come up with a program that would unite the uprising. Our first step was to place doctors wherever demonstrations were happening, which meant we had to come to an agreement with courageous and trustworthy doctors who would be placed in those areas the day before. That was no simple task, because as soon as the security services discovered a doctor treating the wounded, they would arrest and torture him immediately.

 The tanks are heading for al-Bukamal and Deir al-Zur. Ma'arat al-Nu'man is emptied of its people and more than 8,500 Syrian refugees are fleeing their homes in villages and cities.

 All along the Turkish border refugees call for the fall of the régime. The refugees are shouting on the television screens: "We asked for a little bit of freedom, they killed half the Syrian people!" The revolutionaries decide to name this Friday after Shaykh Saleh al'Ali, the rebel who refused a French proposal to establish an Alawite state and who remained committed to Syrian unity. The women of Dar'a go out to demonstrate in spite of the siege, repeating: "Anyone who kills his own people is a traitor!" The people of Hama tear down a statue of the president and throw it down on the ground. Statues are falling in the cities. Statue after statue.'
[15 June 2011, pp151-153]

 'Some residents of Jisr al-Shughur return home. There are instances of rape, assault and beating. It is the fourth month in which demonstrators are going out, and the régime's killing and arrests did not slacken.

 The number of refugees exceeds ten thousand. The régime has decided to surround the villages that lead there and even prevent them from leaving their homes. But coming back is out of the question because there is such awful news about those who do come back getting killed and their families tortured. They appear in refugee camps on satellite channels and declare there were no armed gangs and the army who did all the killing, that they would not come back until the collapse and fall of the régime.

 Some refugees could not get across the border and are living out in the wild, sleeping under trees. I think about children being tucked in under the open sky. I notice their weary eyes as they gaze into the camera.'
[17 June 2011, pp157-158]

 'Today Angelina Jolie appears on television, visiting the Syrian refugees. My heart skips a beat. Syrians are now displaced persons, celebrities adorn themselves with them.

 I hear there is a national council being formed to confront the régime as a representative of political forces inside the cou as well as abroad. The village of Khirbet al-Jouz is surrounded and its people hunted down and detained for helping the refugees from Jisr al-Shughur. My day ends with a young man appearing on al-Jazeera as a representative of the local coordination committees. At least something good is happening today.'
[19 June 2011, pp160-161]

 'Today the president gives his speech, which is even worse than the last two. The president keeps saying there is a conspiracy, that there were gangs. He is a cartoonish Frankenstein, reciting a stilted book report about the mechanics of organized, premeditated crime. The Syrian people answer back: Urban demonstrations in Homs and Hama, Idlib and Aleppo and a number of Syrian cities.

 State television announces the discovery of a mass grave in Jisr al-Shughur - they say it contained security forces and army soldiers. The people of Jisr al-Shughur and the defecting army officers say it was security agents and members of the army who carried out the killing, and who dug mass graves in order to slap the charge on armed menand confirm the official narrartive. The annihilation of the city was intended to cleanse it of these armed men.'
[20 June 2011, p164]

 'Here is the testimony of a young man from Jableh.

 "The daily pro-régime marches in the streets of Jableh became inflammatory. How could we not get annoyed when there was no human sympathy? Our first attempt began as a humane and human desire to articulate our refusal of injustice and our rejection of state media lies. We would have successfully protested on the Friday after the massacre in Dar'a by coming out of the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Mosque, if we had not found it surrounded by fire trucks. They brutally dealt with a young man who loudly opposed the presence of security agents inside.

 The next Friday we succeeded in getting out of the mosque and into the square we dubbed Freedom Square. That was a big Friday with huge hordes and tons of supporters. Our slogans called for freedom and support for the people of Dar'a and Douma, focusing on slogans that would reassure our brothers and sisters in the Alawite sect and encourage them to join us in rejecting the language of blood and conflict.

 We kept going out after evening prayer, there were more people every day, from all different classes - doctors and engineers, unemployed people and university students. Even women joined us, as did some of our brothers from the countryside. Our slogans at that point didn't exceed demands for reform, the combatting of corruption and calls for freedom.

 We kept on going out every day for two weeks, without any security or army or shabbiha coming near us. Our demands weren't only concerned with jobs and the cost of living. They were existential and had to do with freedom we hadn't felt that sensation of for 41 years, with democracy and party pluralism, with changing the constitution that enthroned the dictator.

 We also called for equality of opportunity regardless of the connections and favouritism that Jableh perhaps suffers on more than any other city or province. Jableh swarms with corrupt people.

 Our protests peaked on the Friday of Dignity, 22nd April 2011. It was the largest protest Jableh had ever seen. More than three thousand people took part, including a large number of women. One of those was the mother of the activist T.B., who is still in prison; she was carried on the people's shoulders as she chanted, 'Oh Jableh, where are your men, O Jableh!' Our slogans included: 'One one one, Sunni and Alawite are One!' and 'O Noble People of Jableh, Answer the Call of Freedom!'

 The next week, Sunday afternoon,Jableh was divided on a sectarian basis, with dirt bags set up in all the Sunni neigbourhoods. Snipers were stationed on top of government buildings, giving them free rein to look down on the streets. In order to expose the area for them, Jableh cemetery had most of its famous ancient green trees chopped down at the root.

 In less than two and a half hours, Jableh started to hear heavy gunfire, forcing people to hide wherever they were, in stores, for example, to avoid being hit by bullets. Nine young men were killed and many others were wounded. They prevented ambulances from arriving.

 We were able to get some of the wounded into the neighbouring mosque, and prevent the theft of their organs by the régime shabbiha at the national hospital as happened to a young man who came out with his neck slit all the way dwon to his stomach, in spite of the fact that his original injury was to the foot. We depended on doctors who hadn't been taken away for arrest and torture on the charge of aiding and abetting criminals and terrorists and infiltrators.

 After the massacre, Jableh became a ghost town. Nobody dared leave their home for fear of a sniper's bullet. Most doors were impentrable black iron out of fear for another massacre like the last one. We had to limit ourselves to night-time demonstrations, some of which were 'flying' and some of which were very crowded.

 The first day Jableh started calling out Allahu Akbar from inside the houses, the security targeted anything that moved, and the city fell asleep that night to the sounds of gunfire and dynamite until the small hours.

 The third incursion into the city was on 5th June, 2011. The shabbiha intended to terrorize the Sunni neighbourhoods with heavy and violent gunfirewhich continued with Jeeps and Mercedes cruising the streets.

 The city is an epicentre of poverty. Most of the representatives from there and the surrounding villages, along with Atef Najib, were able to buy up most of the property and houses under assumed names.

 Now Jableh follows the rules of cat-and-mouse; turf wars to distract the shabbiha, to distract them so the demonstrators can go out for a few minutes on Friday to call for the fall of the régime.

 The bounty of the internet is unavailable in Jableh. TV is the only source of news and information."

 Here ends the story of Jableh, the city Atef najib hauils from; a relative of the president, he is the one responsible for the arrest and torture of the children of Dar'a. It never once occurred to me that the oppression and ruination this criminal from my city carried out against the people's dignity might ignite the Syrian uprising.

 The murderers and I are from the same city. Some of their blood flows in mine. Some of my relatives are theirs, people who embrace murder and bloodshed. I am weighed down with a heavy burden in the face of all this death.'
[21June 2011, pp167-176]

 'The officer was harassing me. I panicked even more when he mentioned my daughter and nauseating things in the same breath. Just thinking about it makes me want to throw up. If time allowed me to see that man again, I wouldn't think twice about killing him. That's another thing I'll never forgive them for. They made me know what it feels like to think about ending someone else's life.
It was only in these moments, but on the way home I would start shaking just at the thought of killing him one day. I tried to feel the desire to kill in those moments when he was harassing me. I also decided I was going to leave the country no matter what the consequences.

 I started having flashbacks to things the al-Assad clan and their relatives would do to young girls. My memory takes me back to the late eighties in Latakia and how we all were of speeding black cars and the men who drove them. We all knew they belonged to the shabbiha [thugs, literally 'ghosts'] of the al-Assad family, if not one of them personally. We girls felt indescribable horror after the death of one of our college friends,a very beautiful young woman who people say had been harassed by one of Jamil al-Assad's sons. She stopped coming to the university when he began stalking her, but we were all shocked by news of her death. Her cold corpse was discarded after it had been raped and disfigured.

 The incident passed but we were all terrified and spent days afterward without leaving our houses. Any young woman who refused the sexual advance of an interested boy from the al-Assad clan could wind up with the same fate. The more I thought about this and my young daughter, the more I thought about how I was going to kill him before I ever let him insult my dignity.'
[23 June 2011, pp178-9]

 'Today the phone threats start up again in an awful way. Less than fifteen minutes after posting a comment about how the makhlouf family had sold the free trade zone to Kuwaiti investors, I get a phone call from the senior officer, telling me, "Close your account or else I'll come bomb your building with artillery that will erase you from the face of the earth."

 Today I am working on the story of a young man from a village outside of Jableh.

 "In a village near Jableh they waged a campaign against the people of Jableh. We in the Alawite villages heard that they were nothing but a bunch of thugs who had beaten up the driver of the head of this region and smashed his car. Those turned out to be rumours spread by guys from the Ba'th Party and security forces.

 On the day of the massacre in Jableh, 25th march 2011, we heard the sound of heavy gunfire near our village. We heard rumours every day being spread by the ba'thists and the security forces to the effect that the Sunnis of Jableh were going to attack us. Every half an hour , a car would pass by with armed men shooting at the committee that was protecting the village. That night they captured one of the armed men. We believed he was one of the Sunnis who nwanted to kill the demonstrators but it turned out he was from a small village near al-Qardaha and that he was a well-known weapons smuggler.

 During this time, leaflets were distributed accusing you of being a collaborator, inciting people to kill you. The security services in the coastal region seemed to have some kind of vengeance against you, just like the Christians have against Judas!"

 I didn't want him to notice my trembling fingers, which I hid inside the notebook.

 "People from both communities were trying to mitigate sectarian strife but the next day rumours would spread like stories about Sunni men deflowering Alawite women spread among the Alawite villages.

 The number of armed Alawites grew. When the security forces saw Alawites carrying weapons, they would look the other way. Meanwhile the security forces would expose Sunni men, including doctors and upright and honest people just for making humanitarian contributions to those who were wounded during the demonstrations.

 Before the Jableh massacre, a man from the al-Assad family came to the village of Bustan al-Basha and starting handing out weapons to people for free, but he would take their IDs. In the village of Damsarkho outside Latakia, the same guy showed up, but the people kicked him out."
[25 June 2011,pp182-186]

 'Today...heavy gunfire in Jabal al-Zawiya and several demonstrations call for the fall of the régime even as the arrest campaign continues.

 I meet with a young man from the coordination committees.

 "After the mobilization in Tunisia, but before the fall of Ben Ali, we became optimistic and held a sit-in outside the Tunisian Embassy in support of the Tunisian revolution. When the mobilization broke out in Egypt we were sure Syria's turn was coming. On February 3rd, we sat in against the only two telecoms companies in the country, Syriatel and MTN. But when we showed up at the al-Rawdeh café it was packed with security agents. We tried to reschedule, but some of us were detained.

 On 15th March we were blown away by how many people came out to demonstrate, which meant there was no need to mobilize and rally them. The people were ready.

 On 26th March we took cameras inside the mosque and came out chanting in support of Dar'a and freedom and the martyrs. Some people headed for al-Merjeh while others went toward al-Baramkeh and the demonstration in al-Mezzeh. That meant we weren't alone, the popular mobilization had begun to boil and wasn't going to stop.

 Because of the extreme repression, the prtest movement withdrew to the suburbs. Security started taking IDs from anyone who wanted to go inside the Umayyad Mosque, and soon the al-Rifa'i Mosque in Kafr Sousseh as well.

 The régime was becoming more violent and brutal. One person would get arrested, another would get killed, a third would disappear.

 With all the security pressure we tried to organise ourselves into tight circles. A month and a half had passed since the outbreak of the protests, and the tasks of the coordination committees were distributed according to various issues: politics, media, organization, medicine. We started learning that in the bloody protest areas like Douma and Dar'a and Homs and Baniyas there wasn't much time for culture and art and so the focus of our activities had to be on humanitarian support and politics.

 Some guys tried pulling the mobilization on the ground in one direction, saddling it with ideological baggage, but we managed to arrive through consensus at the truth that replacing Ba'thist ideology with another simply wouldn't help anyone. It would open up the question of the Islamists intimidating minorities, the scarecrow the régime uses to really frighten people.At the same time it would open up a gap separating the secularists from the Islamists from the liberals. The most important thing was to work on the ground in a non-ideological way. The Islamists weren't partisan in general.

 Our strategy reiled upon satirizing the régime - 'Don't Call me a Jackass, I'm an Infiltrator'. Our guys would try to control the slogans in the demonstrations, in order to ensure things remain peaceful and civil.

 Currently we are working to unify the coordination committees completely all over Syria." '
[28 June 2011, pp194-202]

 'My sect is being persecuted for the third time in history, as they are subjected to a misinformation campaign by state media, the security services and some of those who benefit from the régime, by making Alawites line up behind the régime and defend it. Despite the fact they would turn them into human shields if their path ever got too narrow.

 My girlfriend and I visit a young woman who has been arrested, an engineer in her thirties. She and a group of young people had been preparing a food convoy to break the army and security siege of Dar'a. Security forces would arrest anyone who helped the people of Dar'a, even killing doctors and emergency workers. They seized one of the young men who had been helping her, then called her from his phone to trap her. The security forces captured her in the middle of the street. She managed to shout her name out loud so that people would know who it was being arrested.

 "I was held there from Monday to Friday. Other prisoners took care of me when they could. On Saturday they transported us to political security, where there were young men walking around with shackles on their hands binding them to one another. Their crime was delivering food to besieged Dar'a.

 The next day we went to the lodging house in Kafr Sousseh, which was where unclaimed foreign workers, Filipinas and Ethiopians and others were taken. It was inhuman, and I couldn't believe such a place existed in Syria. Some female servants had been there for a year or two because they couldn't find anyone to cover their travel costs. One of the servants was silent; she wouldn't talk and looked like a frightened animal. A woman in the next room wanted to kill herself; in another room there was a woman who had lost her mind. One servant told me about the horrifying things the people she used to work for would do, awful things I can't even talk about. Another woman approached me. I had a sandwich and she asked for half so I gave it to her. She then broke that half in half and gave it to another woman, who broke that into even smaller pieces and started handing them out to the other women. There were more than 30 women in a single cell. The room was small and we were crammed on top of each other.

 The next day we went to the Palais de Justice. As we waited for a while in the dock, I noticed my brother was locked up there as well. He shouted my name and I shouted back his. We saw each other before we were both taken away. I don't know any more about him."

 In the evening I attended a mourning ceremony. I heard so many stories about sons dying in front of their fathers, about a young man's head rolling down dead in front of his family and siblings, his blood and guts going everywhere and his brains spilling out of his head. Women whose children were killed right in front of them. Houses ruined and demolished and burned as their owners watched. And most important of all, I heard women tell unending stories about how Syrians had been helping each other, as if they were one big family, against the practices of the security forces and the shabbiha.'
[29 June 2011, pp203-209]

 'I write down the testimony of a journalist who stayed in Hama for a few days.

 "As soon as I arrived in the city I saw twenty thousand demonstrators chanting 'Peaceful, Peaceful, No Salafis and No Infiltrators, We are all Syrians', chanting for freedom. I saw women riding in a big car that trailed behind a demonstration. My girlfriend was at the demonstration with me, and we saw women demonstrating everywhere, out on the balconies and in the streets, every particle of the air was demonstrating in Hama.

 The next day we met a woman whose husband and son were killed in 1982. She wouldn't let us film her, so we only recorded her voice.
 'In 1982 I was at home with my husband. I didn't know what was happening inside the city. Everyone was a prisoner in their homes. On 2nd February the security forces invaded my home. My husband was holding a radio, listening to the news. He wanted the whole world to know what was happening in Hama. The security forces used the radio to beat my husband over the head until they killed him right in front of me. My son was twelve. The officer said, "Kill him." I threw myself at the officer's feet, begging him to let my son live. On the officer's jacket pocket I could see the words, "Death Squad." They killed my son in front of me and I stayed in the house with my two small daughters and my youngest son. The officer and the security forces stayed for about two weeks. Every two hours the would raid the house with a new patrol, not just my house but everyone's. They would beat people up in their own homes. The electricity was disconnected and there was no water. People were starving.

 They would come to inquire about the girls, pulling them out of the houses either to rape them or kill them. Sometimes the girls would be raped and then killed. Some girls would pour gasoline all over themselves so they could set themselves on fire before the troops and the officers would be able to come and rape them. 

 There was a beautiful pregnant woman, the officers raped her and then set her on fire. There weren't any men around, in one week anywhere between thirty and forty thousand people were killed in Hama. I lived in a wooden house. The whole neighbourhood was made of wood. They set the whole neighbourhood on fire and we started throwing ourselves from the balconies. I lived on the third floor and threw my five-month-old son and myself from the building. Some women tossed out their furniture. Before that the army and the security had mined the buildings in order to destroy the al-Kaylani neighbourhood, which was one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in the Middle East.'

 We stayed there from 29th June until 2nd July. Every single day there were demonstrations against the régime, even the children were coming out to say, 'The People Want to Topple the Régime!' It was there I met the leadership of the blocs and the coordination committees. They were simple, ordinary young people. They didn't have extremist religious views and I saw secularists among them.

 We asked to meet with some religious shaykhs but they refused. They all said, 'We don't represent Hama, the people represent Hama, the Syrian state media would just exploit us.'

 On the Friday of the Children of Freedom about 120 people were killed. The riot police were holding shields in front of their faces. As the demonstrators got closer, they moved aside the shields and all of a sudden, armed men appeared opening fire on the demonstrators. That happened more than once.

 On the Friday of the Children of Freedom they moved into the nieghbourhoods and broke into the houses, arresting people and beating them up. From that day forward all of Hama came out to demonstrate. About half a million demonstrators went out and they forced Muhammed al-Muflih, head of the military security branch to step down."

 We were in a car cruising around the streets of Hama and one of the young men who was protecting us proceeded to tell us,  '
Hafiz al-Assad killed my dad and my grandpa and my uncle. There's a neighbourhood in Hama called "The Widows", they named it that after '82 when they killed all the men there, they didn't spare a single one.

 All the people we met had lived through two massacres, Hama had lived through three: 1964, 1982, 2011. One of them was crying as he told us, 
'In '82 I was coming back to Hama from Aleppo by car when we got stopped at a security checkpoint. The security forces said that everyone from Hama had to get out. The driver was from Homs and he handed of his ID at the checkpoint instead of mine. The Hamwi guy who was sitting in the backseat got out and they immediately shot him in the head and killed him. He fell down on a pile of bodies. That's how I was saved.' " '
[30 June 2011, pp210-215]

 'I rememberhow at the start of the protest movement I had gone to Jableh in secret, without my family knowing about it. My friend got me into one of the fisherman's houses, where the poor man couldn't furnish his clean-smelling, one-room house with anything more than a shabby couch. The man was in his forties and had three children, who were out playing i the street. His wife was veiled. He was basically illiterate, but he went out to the demonstrations. He told me, "We want to be left alone so we can live our lives, nothing more than that." This is the people's revolution of dignity. This is the uprising of a brutalized people who wish to liberate themselves from their humiliation.'
[1 July 2011, p218]

 ‘The second time they came to my house there were only two men instead of three. I was in the same office as last time but this wasn’t the same senior officer. Three other men came in. They were enormous, and they threw onto the ground a young man who was completely naked except for underwear splotched with blood. His body resembled the mutilated bodies of those young men I had seen last time, only he was whimpering. The officer told me, “This young man says you help him organize demonstrations.” I looked at the young man and calmly replied, “That’s not true. The demonstrations don’t need organizers. The people go out without any organization.”

 Today I sit down to transcribe some testimonies.

 “On the day of the 26th March massacre in Latakia, my brother and I were coming back at night from the shop where we work. The demonstrators weren’t carrying any weapons. They were chanting, ‘Peaceful! Peaceful!’ and calling for freedom. They army and security forces asked them to go back, they pushed them away five hundred metres or so. When the demonstrators had backed away a little bit, we were stunned to see heavy gunfire directed at the demonstrators, as if they were game and the officers were at a shooting range. I saw more than 50 demonstrators get hit. They took the wounded away in trucks and took the dead to some unknown location. The cars that took away the dead were Suzukis, and they sped off fast. Then the fire trucks came and their water cannons sprayed around where the killing had taken place clearing away the blood. Within an hour the street was back to normal. It seemed weird that the gunfire would be direct, at close range, and aimed at the head and chest.”

The sectarian tension seemed very high in Baniyas, Jableh and Latakia. The shabbiha would stir things up by going into Sunni neighbourhoods and shouting sectarian slurs as they passed through. I can assure you the situation was not sectarian at the beginning of the protest movement, because I saw with my own eyes a man called Ayyub from the Alawite community stand up to address the demonstrators, 'I'm an Alawite and I'm participating in the demonstrations. I'm against the régime; they force me from my home for many years. We are a single nation.'

 This was one of scores of testimonies that I collected about the participation of some ordinary Alawites at the beginning of the protest movement, and how they were brutally repressed by the régime and its supporters.

 My neighbour, a volunteer in the security forces, told me about this incident.

 “During the siege of Jisr al-Shughur, things got all confused. I believed the armed gangs actually existed and that they wanted to slaughter and kill us all. I saw a man. He had a beard and dust all over him. I later discovered he was delivering some food to his family. The man asked, ‘Are you with security?’ I said yes. He calmly said, ‘Come with me.’ I followed him inside his house. He cleaned my wounds, put on some bandages and then looked at me, saying, ‘We aren’t animals, and I know you’re not a killer.’ He handed me his cousin’s ID and said, ‘Use this to cross over [the border] until things are safe for you.’ I never crossed the border. I gave him back his cousin’s ID and thanked him. When I got home to Latakia, I told them simply that I blacked out and found myself someplace I didn’t recognise.”

 The man in the story left his house and disappeared. I know he’s hiding out of fear the security forces are going to kill him. He told me as much:

 “I won’t participate anymore in what’s happening., those people were kind to me and saved my life, despite the fact that the man who gave me his cousin’s ID was with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

 “A man from the military security in Latakia came and told the Alawites in the al-Hammam neighbourhood near Basnada that the Sunnis had attacked their daughters at the Qaninas School. Not a single Sunni was inside the school. One of the girls’ relatives came back after taking his daughter home, his blood still boiling with anger, and told the security agent who had been in touch with the group of shabbiha at the entrance to the neighbourhood, ‘It isn’t true, there was no reason to frighten the people.’ The security forces and the shabbiha surrounded him and shouted at the man, ‘Go home before I have all of you arrested.’ “ ‘
[3 July 2011, pp220-228]

 ‘ “A man went into one of the neighbourhoods and said, ‘There’s an infiltrator here! The people would run off after him to chase down this supposed infiltrator and hand him over to the security. On another day and in another neighbourhood the same infiltrator appeared and they captured him again. But because the Alawite neighbourhoods were so close together, somebody noticed that they had captured the same person. One of the men told the head of the security department sarcastically, ‘Uncle, change your infiltrator every once in a while if you want the people to believe you!’ “

 I stop writing down what the security forces were doing to stir up sectarian conflict. My friend supplying me with information says he has dozens more stories about what they did in the city [of Latakia].
 “They were breaking down people’s sympathy and building up walls of hatred. The security and the shabbiha both, they worked hard at that.”

 Someone has to smash the narrative of this criminal régime with the truth of the revolution. This is a revolution and not a sectarian war.’
[3 July 2011, pp229-230]

 ‘I have been smoking like a madwoman, but I simply must keep watching the videos that one of the young men had sent me showing how the martyrs’ bodies were returned with their stomachs split open, stitched up in a really strange way. The young men who sent them said, “It’s really awful, they steal organs from the young men before killing them, maybe while they were still being tortured.” There truly was something peculiar going on. The martyrs’ bodies were stitched up in a way that proved they had undergone some kind of operation.’
[5 July 2011, p232]

 ‘News of the killing increases by the day. There are many stories of people disappearing and being kidnapped, about the torture of children, stories about prisoners. I sit down to transcribe the testimonies of young men who are barely twenty years old.

 “I was arrested on 30th June. The Faculty of Economics demonstration was happening. It was the peak of defiance because the security could see us but we wanted to demonstrate and raise the banner of freedom despite them.

 Five of us were taken to the al-Qanawat station. There was so much killing. They put my friend on the ground and started in on him. Then they brought us over to wipe up his blood with our bare hands. He’s a medical student. He left the country and is never coming back. They beat another one just because he’s from Hama.

 We were transferred to criminal security? How can I describe to you the horror, the beasts, the heroes. Is it, like, heroism to beat up some defenceless guy with a blindfold over his eyes and smash his head against the wall? Is it heroic to throw down insults on my mother. One of us happened to be gay, just imagine what was in store...
I was kept at criminal security for six days, and then they transferred me to political security. The situation was worse there. They took my friends downstairs and I had no idea what they were doing to them, but we could hear their screams up above.

 They brought each of us in turn to see an interrogator. Before you could say anything he would greet you with a slap. We got used to being slapped like that, like it's a normal thing. I had already told them I wasn't at the demonstration, that I'm a Druze from Suwayda and we don't have anything but pro-régime demonstrations."

 “The idea of a revolt against the régime had been brewing for years. Dar’a was the immediate cause while the distant ones are well-known: Syria, the current situation, the state of tyranny, miserable circumstances and widespread corruption.

 When the events broke out we started building a network. We pushed aside what some now call ‘the Islamic character of the revolution.’ We mobilized on Facebook, through art and writing. Fridays were the day people went out demonstrating. Damascus was an unlikely spot because it was encircled. We had the option of the Umayyad Mosque. We weren’t Islamists. So we searched for another place, but in the end we were forced to use a mosque because it was the only place people were allowed to congregate.

 There was a call for a demonstration in Douma. It was plain to see there were a lot of security agents present, foreign faces, they obviously weren’t from Douma. The prayer ended quickly, as if the imam knew what was happening. We all went out on the balcony and saw more than two thousand soldiers, fully armed with Kalashnikovs and pistols.

 Rows stretching out behind them were all shabbiha, in addition to the shabbiha inside the mosque. You only have two choices: do the right thing and mobilize the people the way you have come there to do, or run away. We got together and some of us locked arms and started chanting, ‘God, Syria, Freedom, That’s it!’, ‘The Syrian People Won’t be Humiliated!’, that’s all.

 They started hitting people with tasers and all kinds of chains, wooden sticks and truncheons. One of them hit me on the head and I fell down. Next thing I know there are ten guys on top of me. One of them squeezes my head and starts pounding me, something like five batons appeared in the blink of an eye. It was a savage beating.

 The shabbiha put me next to the detention buses and started to beat us before throwing us inside. The bus was like a red container on the inside from all the blood. Some people had nothing to do with it. They just rounded them up from inside their shops. The arrests were random like that.

 At the al-Khatib station, there’s something called ‘reception’. They’ll all be standing there on both sides, and as soon as you enter they start beating you from both sides.

 I got hit more than most because I’m from Maysaf. Without even asking what my sect is, I get it even worse.

 My Christian friend was in really bad shape as well and he also needed medical attention. They came to put him on the bus, but then brought him back. Later I found out they didn’t take him because he was Christian, because he would have exposed their lie.

 They unloaded us in the square outside the al-Mujtahid hospital. One of them held people away, a second pushed me along in a wheelchair with another in front of me, shouting at people to stay back, that I was armed, that I had killed five security agents, that I was a sniper. They wheeled me around the hospital just to let people spit on me, saying ‘May God curse you, infidel!’ ‘Infiltrator!’ ‘Salafi!’

 The doctors were a security front. They didn’t show any mercy. They wrote me a prescription for some medicine but before I got back on the bus they took it away and tore it up.

 They brought us all together and made us sign two pieces of paper with a fingerprint. Everyone signs this, and it is the intention of everyone who does to no longer participate in any action or to take part in any demonstrations. We did and got back on the buses where we were forced to chant. When we reached the square, they unloaded us from three buses so there wouldn’t be any commotion in the city. We watched the bus drive off, and we gathered together to form a demonstration, all of us bloody and broken. ‘With our blood, with our spirit, we’ll redeem you, O martyr! God, Syria, Freedom, That’s It!’ we shouted in response to those who forced us to repeat their slogans.

 The next day my friend came to see me. He had been crying. I thought it was because he believed the Alawites had beaten me up for being sectarian. I told him it wasn’t the Alawites who beat me up. It was the authorities. Then he clarified he was actually crying because the ones who beat me up were his cousins.”
 “I was arrested at a demonstration in Arnous Square on 19th May 11, and held in jail for six days. During the demonstration we carried banners and chanted for an end to the siege of Dar’a, shouting, ‘No to Sectarianism!’ and ‘Spilling Syrian Blood is Forbidden!’ We repeated the Syrian national anthem. Just as they grabbed me I was in the middle of reciting, ‘...venerable souls and a glorious past...’

 They put us on a bus, hitting us the whole time with tasers and iron chains. We arrived at the security branch in al-Maysaf, where they also beat us badly. We were blindfolded. If we fell down on the ground they would beat us even more. In the interrogation there were simple questions about how well we knew certain people. Then they would hoist up our legs and violently bastinado us on the soles of our feet.

 It was the same deal when we came out of interrogation: beating and kicking and electric prods. We were also blindfolded while we were being taken from one security branch to another. The new branch was on Baghdad Street in the middle of Damascus, but I only learned this later. There was a young man there with long hair. ‘Are you a faggot or what?’ they demanded. They started making him really uncomfortable. We were a source of mirth to them. Even thought there were doctors and writers and intellectuals among us, they wouldn’t stop insulting us, beating us and kicking us.

 They marvelled at the fact that we were all leftists and secularists. They thought everyone who went out to demonstrate had to be a Salafi.

 My second interrogation was in the hallway. I could hear other people screaming under torture in the adjacent rooms. There were three old men from Douma in there with us. One old man wanted to hand over his son because he was going to march in a funeral. People thought they had to give up their children in order to protect them. When the father handed over his son they arrested him as well. They smashed his son’s head against the wall and made him look at his father coming back from violent, utterly brutal torture.

 They all said we must not go out and support the fundamentalist Salafis. They were very annoyed by the demonstration we had in Arnous Square, in the centre of Damascus. People from all different sects had come together alongside secularists.

 At the Kafr Sousseh branch there was a torturer who would hit us with a kind of sadistic pleasure, savagely beating us and then laughing. With each blow he would let slip a little giggle, spinning around in place, then coming back to beat us and laughing out loud all over again. He flayed us with a whip that was like the head of a snake.” ‘
[7 July 2011, pp233-246]

 ‘The French ambassador enters Hama and visits a hospital in order to make sure the wounded are receiving treatment. The American ambassador visits Hama as well, and the Syrian Foreign Ministry releases a statement voicing its distress over the visit, declaring that what the ambassador has done is contrary to diplomatic protocol. Syrian television says the ambassador met with agents provocateurs in Hama and incited them to violence. The Americans say they support the Syrian people in their transition to democracy.

 Today there are sixteen dead and scores wounded, some of them in Damascus. Washington decries the response to the ambassador’s visit even as hundreds of thousands of Syrians pour out into the city squares. Say No to Dialogue Friday affirms that the demonstrators do not want “dialogue”. Richard Ford drives around among the protestors. The domestic opposition and the opposition abroad agree there will be no dialogue. Hama is the epicentre of the protest movement.

 I acquire a testimony from Hoda Ibrahim, a correspondent for Radio Monte Carlo and France 24, and from a young man of the uprising from Jisr al-Shughur, who I’ll call M.

 M. Says, “We were going out to huge demonstrations in Jisr al-Shughur, approximately ten thousand people. The security forces let us demonstrate because they knew if there were any more martyrs, the demonstrations would only get bigger.

 While we were demonstrating outside a state security branch in Freedom Square and the post office, a man named Bassem al-Masri was killed. During his funeral, security opened fire on the people in Freedom Square. The people were just chanting slogans and the security requested army backup, which came from Idlib. When the army reached Jisr al-Shughur they believed they were going to find armed fighters, but they discovered this was a lie.

 At the time we were fifteen thousand demonstrators without any weapons. The security forces gave the order to open fire. A number of soldiers fled into the fields while others turned round and opened fire on the security forces. There was a clash between the security and the army, and as the fighting continued the security fled into the fields out of fear. Most of the army sided with the defection: approximately 300 or 350 soldiers.

 Along with the soldiers there were three defecting officers. They clashed with the eight security forces that were still in the post office building. Five or six defectors died as martyrs and all of the security forces were killed. The defectors sprayed gunfire on the state security detention centre, and the security forces inside said, ‘Don’t shoot, we surrender!’ They handed over their weapons and not a single one of them was harmed.
By the next day there were 170 defectors. Some of the defecting soldiers and those fleeing Hama, Latakia and Homs joined up with the defected army, and theirnumbers grew to between 700 and 800 defectors. They attacked the military security station, took it over and killed whoever was inside. There had been negotiations before that. The defectors told them, ‘Come back to the people and leave the régime behind,’ but they refused to give up their weapons, saying they were going to demolish all of Jisr al-Shughur on top of people’s heads. The director, Abu Ya’rab, had killed fifteen security agents because they were against all the killing.

 After two days of fighting security forces from Idlib arrived and they clashed with the defected army in a town called al-Freekeh, seven kilometres outside of Jisr al-Shughur. The defecting army had set up an ambush for the security forces and 120 men were killed. They sent 15,000 soldiers and 300 tanks to invade the city. The defectors started moving people to the Turkish border and securing a way out for them. One reason they didn’t confront the army as it advanced into Jisr al-Shughur was that the defectors knew that what the régime was saying about armed gangs would be validated somehow if the defectors fought back.”

 Hoda says, “According to the testimonies I heard from the people of Jisr al-Shughur, the people who remained in the city were either imprisoned or killed. Eleven people on motorbikes, labourers returning home from work in Beirut came under fire. Three of them were killed and the rest arrested. I spoke with one and he mentioned how they were detained in a sugar factory where they were severely tortured. Everyone was talking about this sugar factory that had been turned into a giant prison for men and children and the elderly.”

 I stop here for a moment shivering. The Syrian régime has turned playing fields into prisons. Someone who was released from the municipal stadium in Baniyas wrote something on Facebook describing the brutal treatment there, how they were force-marched and made to walk on top of each other’s bodies, stamping on them and kicking them.

 “One person who stayed behind in Jisr al-Shughur during these last days mentioned how the sounds of screaming and torture could be heard echoing throughout the night as far as five kilometres away.
 Around 15th June, a rumour got started, saying things had calmed down in Jisr al-Shughur. People talked about how the entire family of al-Qasqous believed this and came back. Every last one of them was killed. But another story claimed the men and women were killed while the children of this family were arrested. I saw women and children who didn’t know the fate of their men. It was awful, like an entire world had been lost.

 On 19th June, I saw children and women, walking along the same rocky mountain road, stretching five or seven kilometres, in order to enter Khirbet al-Jouz and Ayn al-Baida. What really caught my attention was how many women and children there were. I saw children wherever I went, and when they saw us they would run towards me to say they didn’t want Bashar al-Assad, that they wanted the fall of the régime, and then they would start singing what they just said. The people informed me they had captured some of the shabbiha in Jisr al-Shughur, but rather than killing them, they let them go.

 When they handed out food, all the refugees in the camps turned into one big family. In that solidarity I saw a kind of bulwark against death. The water flow dried up and the heat was getting worse. When the water ran out, the camp children drank from the ponds all around them and many died as a result.

 One young man in the Khirbet al-Jouz camp said, ‘There were two young girls who stayed behind in Jisr al-Shughur , they were stripped naked and forced to walk through the streets like that.’
 They told me there was international Arab silence in the face of the Assad clan’s crimes, and that the idea of dialogue with the régime was out of the question. The refugees want the fall of the régime.”
[8 July 2011, pp247-254]

 ‘I need to transcribe the final testimony I collected from a frightened officer on the run. He belonged to the Alawite sect and that was the reason for his fear.

 “We got orders to head for the neighbourhood, to attack an armed gang there. As soon as we entered the neighbourhood we came under fire. It was the third time they had gone to attack the armed gangs, and suddenly we’re caught in an ambush.

 Every time we captured someone from that gang, the air force mukhabarat would take him away immediately. Except last time, one of the prisoners was right there in front of me. He started crying and screaming and blathering. The higher-ranking officer from the air force mukhabarat took care of him personally, and as he did, someone escorting the officer, a security agent, shot the prisoner i n the head, at which point I became certain of one thing: we were just bait. It seemd we had fallen into a trap, and after seeing our comrades killed by armed gangs we would be even more aggressive with demonstrators the next day. I knew for a fact the officer killed that prisoner because he was afraid of what he might say.”

 All the trials and torments, which I had once thought worthless, would make me a stronger woman; but they weren’t enough to make me the kind of woman who could just calmly go on living while such shameful acts crash down on people all around her.’
[9 July, 2011 pp255-258]