I just spent the morning talking to two Syrians from Hama. One has been here for many months, the other arrived in Turkey last week. I'll call them Mike and Bob because for obvious reasons they didn't want me to use their names. I mostly spoke to Mike, the one who crossed the border last week. Bob arrived much later in the conversation and I didn't have a chance to talk to him at length.
A Turkish friend put me in contact with them. I knew only that Mike was a firsthand witness to what's been happening in Hama lately, and that Syrian security had tortured the hell out of him.
Mike's mother is Syrian, his father is Palestinian. His father was expelled from Jaffa in '48. That means Mike is Palestinian, because having one Syrian parent isn't enough to have citizenship. His father worked for the United Nations in a Palestinian refugee camp.
"I remember the day. It was Wednesday at about 6:00 p.m. We lived in a new suburb. My father said, 'I'm working for the UN, I have nothing to do with this.'"
I interrupted to ask if his father was in the Ikhwan. Absolutely not, he said, and neither was he. "I'm not related to the Ikhwan," he said. "I totally agree with the American and European system." I think that's true, by the way--he had no reason to say otherwise. I can't verify anything he said independently. I'm very aware that everyone who speaks to a journalist is trying in some way to manipulate public opinion, but generally if you're an Ikhwani trying to manipulate the Western media, your line isn't "I'm not related to the Ikhwan." It's "the Ikhwan are so misunderstood." And basically, my gut said he was telling the truth.
He was six years old. They took his father to the basement along with the other men and killed them all. He was in the house. They left the bodies there for days. There was no food or water. "You can imagine the smell. I will never forget the bulldozer."
I feel a real sense of obligation to try to recount the rest of the conversation as accurately as I can--the details are important, and some part of it might be useful to anyone who's trying to understand what's going on there right now. It might corroborate other accounts or fill in some piece of a larger puzzle.
I've got many pages of notes. I'll have to approach this over several days. But I suppose the place to start is at the end. I know the look he gave me when I left. I see it a lot: "You're a journalist. Please, make the world understand what's happening to us. If they understood, they wouldn't let it happen."
People keep believing that even when the evidence for that belief is not good at all.