Tonight, I watch a short film: Aleppo, City Under Siege. It’s filmed by independent cameramen who follow the White Helmets as they work to rescue people injured by the Syrian and/or Russian helicopters dropping barrel bombs. In the silent moments, they wait for the call: an airplane (or helicopter) has been spotted. They wait til the bombs fall, then figure out from the black smoke which neighborhood has been hit.
In the quiet moments, they may look for something to eat in a city where the price of bread has increased from 15 pence to 150 pence. Fuel is scarce. One volunteer has stopped driving his cab because of the scarcity of fuel. A local generator, which can serve up to 150 homes, has just enough fuel for a week, so the hours of operation are cut back to extend the availability of electricity. A few hours a day is better than none.
Those left behind could not afford to leave. They stay and watch the skies and try to keep their children out of harm’s way. One White Helmet says, “All the best doctors have left.” Still, some few doctors survive and work even as their hospitals are bombed.
The bombs are falling now, and in the aftermath, the narrator tells me, 15 persons lie dead, 11 of them children. Later, on a makeshift playground, two young girls smile into the camera. One of them has the eyes of my granddaughter, Moriah, and I can’t stop myself from weeping. But I stop myself. What do I have to weep about? I am safe, well-fed, shamefully idle and grossly entertained. When I look up at the sky to follow a plane’s flight, I do not think of bombs falling.
It is hard to contemplate this election for the next president. One candidate is a narcissist, perhaps sociopathic, the other wedded to power and its instruments. Both promise that bombs will continue to fall and fall and fall.
If you look into the children’s eyes, you will see their innocence fading. And you wonder, Who will they be in ten or twenty years—assuming (and it’s a huge assumption) that they survive? Our friends, our enemies? What will lie within their hearts? Will hate consume them, will despair? Will they accept the past and let their hearts fill with hope for the future, hope for themselves and other survivors like them? One of the White Helmets on camera is taking good-natured teasing from his friend: he’s decided, against the backdrop of death and destruction, to marry his sweetheart. “Life goes on,” he says with a smile.
In a small shop, a man fills children’s party balloons with helium, tying them up with string. At the end of each string, he affixes a nail—it looks like a 10D, 2 ½ or 3 inches long. Speaking to the camera, he says with great optimism, “When a helicopter hits the balloon, the nail will break the blade” and send the ‘copter into a death spiral.
It’s hard not to think of the proverb that begins “For want of a nail”. Juxtapose the nail against the helicopter or the Russian fighter jet, against the barrel bombs and the incendiary bombs that have set Aleppo afire. Against the Syrian cannon fire and tank assaults.
I go online and look it up: some 250,000 people—an inconceivable number—are trapped in the city’s eastern section. The question I want to ask is, Why isn’t anybody doing anything to save those people? But of course I know why. Attacking the Assad regime will only incite the Russian Federation to react. Will bring even more brutal men into power. So diplomacy, so-called, plods on. Perhaps when the 250,000 lie in graves, we will come up with an appropriate response.
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Reuters News Agency reports as follows:
Russian or Syrian warplanes knocked a major Aleppo hospital out of service on Wednesday, hospital workers said, and ground forces intensified an assault on the city’s besieged rebel sector, in a battle that has become a potentially decisive turning point in the civil war.
Shelling damaged at least another hospital and a bakery, killing six residents queuing up for bread under a siege that has trapped 250,000 people with food running out.
The World Health Organization said it had reports that both hospitals were now out of service.
The week-old assault has already killed hundreds of people, with bunker-busting bombs bringing down buildings on residents huddled inside. Only about 30 doctors are believed to be left inside the besieged zone, coping with hundreds of wounded a day.
By Ellen Francis and Tom Perry / Beirut