“Peace is not in the cards for us unless the world moves to establish a safe zone.”

A diary entry by Muznah al-Jundi, a young woman who works at a women’s center in Idlib.

I look at the sun every morning for a little while because it gives me energy, strength and hope to withstand another day in Syria.

The people of my town start their lives anew every morning when everything looks normal, when there is still quietude and a measure of beauty in the world. We’re lucky if we get through the day so we never think about tomorrow. Most civilians walk around with wireless receivers that allow them to stay in touch with the designated person monitoring the comings and goings of government warplanes. They turn those receivers on as soon as they wake up, before they even have breakfast,and the nervous anticipation begins. Yet there is plenty of movement in the streets, there are cars everywhere and people are going about their day until Abu Baher, the man who monitors the movement of warplanes, yells that a Mig plane or a helicopter transporting barrel bombs or a Sukhoi has taken off from Hama’s airport (most warplanes which target our town take off from Hama’s airport). That’s when people slow down and, transfixed by Abu baher’s intermittent updates,listen closely to this plane’s trajectory as
if mesmerized by a suspenseful scene in a horror movie. Within minutes, the plane is in my town’s sky hovering over our heads. Abu Baher screams that its target appears to be in the town of Maaret al-Noaman. People scramble for cover in a panic. But where can they possibly go?

There is no shelter or basement that can shield one completely. My town hasn’t forgotten that massacre that left 20 people dead because they had taken shelter in the basement of a four storeyed building that collapsed on them when it was completely destroyed by a barrel bomb, burying people under the rubble of their own homes. None of them survived. My husband, who was among those who tried to rescue them, told me: “we heard a young girl’s voice. She was screaming like crazy. We tried to get her out, but there were piles of stones and debris on top of her body.” They didn’t have the right tools to dig through the rubble. They started frantically digging with their hands but they didn’t have any sharp tools to cut the iron, so the child was exhaling her last breaths when they finally extracted her. These things, we have witnessed them dozens of times already. Enough times to grow indifferent to the gory details but not enough times to come to terms with the tragedy.

These routine massacres began after my town was liberated from government forces in November 2012. Helicopters and warplanes started launching daily strikes starting at 6am every morning and they would go on until sunset, up to 15 airstrikes a day! We’ve experienced barrel bombs, vacuum bombs and sometimes they even use cluster bombs. The government is intent on depopulating swathes of land no longer in its grasp. Anyway, aren’t those weapons, or at least some of them, banned by international law?

Seven months ago, warplanes launched missiles at a crowded market near my house. The makeshift hospitals couldn’t accommodate all the wounded. My father, who’s a doctor, told me that they amputated a young man’s leg in a hallway because there was no operation room available in that moment. The market was strewn with body parts.

I work at a civil society center here, along with ten other women. Our goal is to help local women become self-reliant by teaching them a useful trade and providing psycho-social support. The women always show up ready to learn even when there’s shelling.
It’s true what they say, people can become resilient to almost anything. The men downstairs begin to yell: “Be careful, there’s a helicopter coming!” We gather in the place that seems the safest to us and we wait in silence. Then the men yell: “He carried it out, he carried it out!” (meaning the helicopter has dropped its barrel bomb). This is when that moment of being suspended between life and death envelops us.

The barrel bomb starts its descent and its terrorizing sound, the sound of coming death, becomes louder and louder as it gets closer and closer to earth, our hearts start beating faster and faster, the children start compulsively reciting verses from the Quran as the men turn their heads toward the sky and chant: “God is great!” The inevitable moment of collision is upon us, it’s like a devastating earthquake, only it’s man-made, and the pieces of shrapnel start to fly in all directions in an arbitrary almost cruel way. They can travel very far those pieces of shrapnel.

The attack has occurred. Dust and the smell of gunpowder fills the air of the city for some time. People head to the site of the collision to rescue survivors. The hospitals fill up and we resume our work at the women’s center as if nothing happened.

People now suffer from various nervous disorders, they get migraines and panic attacks and they suffer from high blood pressure even at a young age. Despite all of this, we still love life for everything it has to offer whether it is hope, grief or joy. We don’t want any foreign aid whether it’s food, money or more weapons. We want peace.

Your governments know what is happening to us in all its painful details, that we’re being killed and displaced in myriad ways, but they want to look after their own interests Peace is not in the cards for us unless the world moves to establish a safe zone free from the planes of the government that is bent on destroying everything that defies it.