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Preventing Syria’s Next Massacre – Guest post by Hind Kabawat

This article was published on Medium by Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Hind Kabawat, on July 31, 2018


As I walked among the tombstones that demarcate the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial for the infamous 1995 massacre, I could not help but draw parallels with my country’s own conflict. These 8,000 innocent Bosniak Muslims, left to be slaughtered by Bosnian Serb troops under the command of Ratko Mladic, demonstrate the deadly consequences of the international community’s failure to protect civilians occupying the UN’s declared “Safe Haven” zone. I fear that it is this same fate that may befall some of the millions of civilians currently residing in Syria’s Idlib province.

For the past year and a half, the Idlib region has served as a safe haven for other regions of Syria that have seen violent conflict. As Bashar al-Assad’s offensive has seized control of most of Syria within the past year and a half using military aggression with the support of Iranian fighters, as well as aerial bombardment by their Russian allies, in areas such as Homs, Eastern Ghouta, and most recently Daraa, opposition groups have acquiesced to ‘reconciliation’ agreements under the condition that any opposition fighters or civilians unable or unwilling to live under regime control be granted the option to relocate to Idlib. These fighters, their families, and countless civilians have been transported in buses by the Syrian regime under the supervision of Russian forces from their homes to the Idlib province, in what is far from an act of reconciliation but rather a targeted practice of forced displacement and “demographic engineering”, which is a violation of Rule 129 of Customary International Humanitarian Law.

The population of Idlib, which once numbered around 750,000, has swelled to nearly 3.5 million in recent years due to the influx of internally displaced people seeking safety and security. Currently, the province is a distorted reflection of the diverse Syrian nation that existed prior to Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on his own populace, containing Syrians from all over the country and from different ethnicities and religious groups. While a certain percentage of Idlib residents are members of armed opposition groups and an extremist presence exists in the form of Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and a select few other radical groups, the vast majority of the province is populated by civilians. It is these individuals whose safety is of immediate concern.

While Idlib has been the evacuation point for the rest of Syria, there no longer remains anywhere for civilians to evacuate to in the event of an attack by the Syrian regime. Over 3 million refugees have entered Turkey since the Syrian conflict began, stretching Turkey beyond its ability to take in and care for those fleeing to its southern border, and there is no safe passage or open border elsewhere that residents of Idlib can hope to reach. Thus when the regime turns its eye to Idlib, which as of July 27, 2018 Bashar al-Assad directly stated his intention to do, these civilians will be trapped and left to be caught in to crossfire of the regime’s campaign against northern opposition groups.

According to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977, civilians and all persons not taking part in combat may under no circumstances be the object of attack. The Syrian regime has repeatedly demonstrated its contempt for these laws, directly targeting civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and schools while also detaining civilians and peaceful protesters. As of July of this year, the regime has released more than 7,000 death certificates for detainees that bear evidence of their death under torture, demonstrating the confidence acquired by Bashar al-Assad’s continued impunity for his repeated war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Without international intervention, once the Syrian regime consolidates its hold in the country’s southern provinces, they will turn northward towards Idlib while maintaining their narrative that the province is under the sole control of al-Nusra despite clear evidence to the contrary. In line with his prior military tactics, observers and military experts expect this campaign will be marked by heavy aerial bombardment by Russian forces, targeting of civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, and the use of chemical weapons. With nowhere else left to flee, millions of Syrians would be sitting targets.

With each disturbing image released from the Syrian conflict, of children pulled from piles of rubble and of mutilated corpses of women, men, and children detained by the Syrian government, the world has decried the brutality of the Syrian conflict and vowed to take action. The civilians, women, and children of Idlib standing waiting for those nations to fulfill their vow, or to leave them to their fate at the hands of a government whose repeated war crimes have been extensively documented, just as the people of Srebrenica did in 1995.

This article was written by Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Hind Kabawat


Image: Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial. Credit: Remembering Srebrenica

Against the Ban? 5 Things You Can Do Now

Dear Friends,

For 25 years, Tanenbaum has worked for a world where differences are respected. And that means we ask the hard questions…

  • Is your America the country that turns away human beings—fleeing a death sentence in their home countries?
  • Is your America the country that says only persecuted Christians deserve protection?
  • Is your America the country that says every person who follows Islam is a suspected terrorist?
  • Is your America the country that protects freedom of religion—but only for some people?

If you answered no… here are 5 actions you can take…

1. INSIST ON THE FACTS

2. HELP TEACHERS TEACH THE FACTS

3. SHARE AND LISTEN WITH THOSE WHO DIFFER

  • Identify your own biases. What prevents you from hearing your neighbor who differs from you?
  • Respectfully share an article that moves you with someone who disagrees with you. Let them know you wanted to share it— because it was important to you. And openly listen when they respond.

4. BE AN ALLY FOR JUSTICE AND INCLUSION

  • Stand up for Persecuted Christians – and also for Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Druse, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Yazidis, Bahai’i and people of all religions.
  • Say out loud that good people can have different views.
  • Call or email politicians who oppose the ban to thank them.
  • Use Social Media and be a voice for justice and inclusion (share good ideas—including this email!)

5. BE HEARD—ADD YOUR VOICE

  • Oppose the “Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Entry into the United States by Foreign Nationals” – and urge President Trump to rescind it!

From my vantage point, these five actions help to combat extremism—because extremism is not only random, unexpected acts of violence. It’s also the hatred, exclusion and venom that breeds violence.

Stand with us for the country we love and our right to be different, respected and safe. We can do that…if each of us works together.

Yours,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO

Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees Transitions to the Future

Dear Friends,

I am delighted to announce that, effective January 16th, 2017, the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees (MFA) — a project launched by Tanenbaum — moved to the Tides Center to continue its critically important work.

In September 2013, the T A N E N B A U M | Center for Interreligious Understanding was proud to convene a broad range of religious leaders and faith-based organizations to begin what is now America’s leading interfaith response to the Syrian crisis.

As a project of Tanenbaum, MFA has grown to include more than 75 constituent organizations. In addition to impacting more than 85,000 refugees in urgent need of aid, MFA addressed nearly 9,000 people with face-to-face public outreach programs, and reached audiences numbering more than 470 million through print, broadcast and digital media.  MFA has conducted briefings in many parts of the U.S. as well as Canada, Israel, the U.K and E.U. It has directly addressed the three core fears that hamper humane and sensible refugee policies: economic impact, terrorism, Islamophobia.

Tanenbaum is proud to have incubated MFA’s early work and to have enabled its growth.  Having grown and expanded its reach in the last three years, MFA is now ready to begin operating separately as a project of the Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) organization that serves as a fiscal sponsor, and provides services to over 230 nonprofits across the United States.

Tanenbaum looks forward to MFA’s continuing success and to remaining a member of the Multifaith Alliance and an active partner on the critical issues where our work to combat religious prejudice, hatred and violence intersects.

Joyce S. Dubensky
Tanenbaum CEO

Tanenbaum’s MFA Speaks Out – Don’t Demonize Refugees!

Dear Friends,

At Tanenbaum, we know that many of the people who are today’s refugees are just like us. People of many different cultures and beliefs, and ways of practicing them. They are orphans. They are parents with children.

Our nation is now in the midst of a debate about these individuals. The undertone is divisive, suggesting that only Christians should be brought in, that refugees can be equated with rabid dogs, and that all people who follow Islam (i.e., 1.6 billion people) must be treated as prospective ISIS activists. Tanenbaum objects to the hate-mongering that is going hand in hand with legitimate cries for appropriate security measures. And our President, the founder of Tanenbaum’s Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees project, had something to say about it.

Take a look.
Please stand with us, and fight the hatred that breeds violence and hate,

Joyce S. Dubensky,
CEO

Click here to stand with us and support our work

Combat Extremism – November Resources from Tanenbaum

Dear Friends,

Last week, ISIS sought to shatter our sense of security by striking at the heart of Paris, Beirut and Baghdad. As we mourn the loss of so many innocent lives, we remain resolved to defy ISIS and terrorism by firmly upholding our shared values – that we must treat others as we wish to be treated.

And when we abide by that Golden Rule, we build an inclusive, pluralistic society that does not marginalize those who are different.

One key strategy for doing this is by learning more about one another and seeking out ways to stand together. Today, we’re proud to continue our Combating Extremism campaign by sharing more practical resources you can use in your daily life or in a classroom.

Today, our focus is on the work of Tanenbaum’s Syrian Peacemaker in Action, Hind Kabawat:

  • QUESTIONS for Students and Educators: A question sheet that may be used by educators and creative parents alike alongside Hind Kabawat’s Testimony about strategies to pursuing peace in Syria! Using the primary documentation provided by Hind’s testimony, these materials may be useful for educators teaching about current events, conflict resolution and peacebuilding, The Cradle of Civilization and geography.
Read, download, and share! With these resources, you can gain a unique perspective into the Syrian conflict and examine Peacemaker in Action Hind Kabawat’s solutions. Challenge students and children to ask questions, research the answers, and take action by starting a discussion within your community or family. To learn more about Hind’s next project (to work with women who will rebuild Syria) click here.
Together, let’s work to prevent violent extremism. Peace begins with us.
With hope for a better future,
Joyce S. Dubensky,
CEO

P.S. Your signature makes a difference! Sign and share our Peacemaker’s Statement Against Extremism.

Click here to support our work with Hind, her fellow Peacemakers and our 2016 intervention in Syria.

Proclaim Enough – Paris Reflections

Peace for Paris

Illustration by Jean Jullien

Dear Friends,

Today is a day filled with sorrow. As once again, our hearts are broken for the more than 120 innocents murdered across Paris. We ache for them, for their families and friends, and for their nation which is under siege.

Today is a day when we stand in solidarity with the French people from all walks of life and diverse beliefs. In one voice, we denounce the violent extremists – apparently ISIS followers – who claim “credit” for butchering people just going about their lives in restaurants, concerts and as they moved across their city.

We also mourn and draw attention to the over 40 Lebanese deliberately slaughtered only days ago – including Sh’ia Muslims, Christians and Druse – by two ISIS suicide bombers in Beirut.

We remember in profound sorrow the Israelis and Palestinians – Jews, Christians and Muslims – who are dying amid a rapidly escalating cycle of condemnation, division and violence in their homeland.

We recognize the Muslim and Christian Syrians who are desperately seeking to escape from the horrors that ISIS and others are inflicting on them in what was once a thriving nation.

And we must not allow ourselves to forget Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who we all mourned, when he washed onto a beach as his family sought to escape the constant terror that Syrians now face.

Today, with one voice, we must remember the horror of Paris and horrors across our globe. But we must do more. We must reaffirm our commitment to the core values in our many traditions and beliefs, and to our shared humanity.

There are many possible responses to today’s horror in Paris. Sadness fills us. But this is also a time to recommit to one another. To standing together amid our many differences, to honoring our neighbors and joining with them to stand against the aberrant extremism that threatens us all.

Let us stand together and, with strength, proclaim enough!

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO