The Syrian Civil War has been raging for six long years. This beautiful, ancient land which was once home to some of human civilization’s greatest achievements now lies in ruins. A 2011 protest movement escalated into a full rebellion when their peaceful demonstrations were met with bullets and torture. The civil war against the murderous dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad quickly became a unimaginably brutal melee as regional powers swooped in to assert their dominance, escalating the revolt into a multi-national war the likes of which the world has not seen for decades.
At least 250,000 people and up to many as half a million have perished in this conflict. Thousands have been tortured in the cells of Assad’s prisons. At least four and a half million Syrians have been driven from their homes, knowing that they will certainly die if they do not flee. Assad and his puppet-master, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, have been specifically targeting innocent civilians in order to drive them out of Syria and into Europe. In pursuit of that policy, they commit horrific atrocities against noncombatants every day.
Russia’s killer warplanes rain death on civilian targets, targeting schools, markets, hospitals, mosques with missiles and illegal cluster bombs while Assadi mortars shower rebellious areas with indiscriminate shelling, sometimes with munitions full of sarin and chlorine gas.
Assadi helicopters fly over civilian areas and pummel them with cheap, improvised “barrel bombs” – metal tubes stuffed with shrapnel, explosives, and occasionally chemicals that create absolutely devastating explosions that are specifically designed to maim and mutilate. While the fractured rebel groups are not innocent of atrocities their own selves, the scale and frequency of Assad/Putin’s massacres are beyond comparison.
The one bright spot in this heartbreaking tale of senseless violence and interminable cruelty are the Syrian Civil Defense Units – also known as the White Helmets for their distinguishing casques. Impartial, nonpartisan, and humanitarian, these are ordinary men who have taken it upon themselves to save as many lives as they can. Their motto is ‘to save one life, is to save all of humanity’ – and every day, they rush into the breach in defiance of death itself.
Showing fearless heroism, they are the first responders who rush to the site of airstrikes or shelling, risking their lives to save the wounded and dig people out of the rubble – no matter who is under the dust and concrete, be they an Assadist, rebel, jihadi, or civilian.
They do this every day, knowing that at any moment that the murderous Russian MiGs could return for one of the dreaded “double tap” strikes that specifically target the White Helmets as they work to dig out survivors.
Founded in 2013, the grassroots rescue organization has around 3,000 members operating from 114 centers across eight provincial districts. They’ve saved over 41,000 people from certain death over the past four years, and will not stop until the fighting is done. They are in desperate need of funding and supplies, which mostly come from donors in the Gulf. With the Assad regime keeping the United Nations and other international relief organizations out of rebel zones at gunpoint, the Syrian White Helmets are the only saviors that civilians can turn to.
OccupyDemocrats is endorsing a campaign to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the White Helmets, which is accompanied by a significant monetary reward that would be used to purchase ambulances, and medical supplies. It would also be a huge boost for global awareness of their daily acts of heroism, and a much-needed recognition of the lives they’ve saved every day, their own lives that they risk to protect the innocent, and of the lives the world has lost to the abominable cruelty of the butchers, Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin.
The United States and the international community (at least those who aren’t busy handing out weapons to anybody who wants them) have shamefully turned their backs on the people of Syria. They are the victims of indiscriminate slaughter as the dictatorships of Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey squabble over the carcass of Syria like jackals.
The Geneva Convention lies in tatters as both sides poison each other with chlorine, ethnically cleanse villages, massacre civilians indiscriminately and torture captured enemies. The mindless violence has become so common that it may seem hopeless – but we hope the work of the White Helmets will remind you that there are still those who work for the greater good, who look beyond the political divisions and dream of living in peace as free citizens. Humanity and goodness and hope does still live in Syria, but it is lost in the machinations of regional elites as they battle for dominance of the Holy Land – and as always, it is the common people who must suffer.
We must be the voices for the innocents whose screams of pain and misery are lost in the din of cataclysm.
Please sign the petition asking the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to give this prestigious award to the Syrian Civil Defense.
If you can, please donate to the Civil Defense. Your donation will directly help save lives.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.