The red carpet

The Editors

Introduction to the Autumn 2019 issue of Syria Notes.

When the makers of the film For Sama took their documentary to Cannes, they made their appearance on the Cannes Film Festival’s red carpet holding up signs saying ‘stop bombing hospitals’. Co-director Waad al-Kateab told Syria Notes that this message was especially for Russia and the Assad regime, together responsible for over 90% of attacks on medical facilities in Syria, according to Physicians for Human Rights.

Waad was joined in the demonstration by co-director Edward Watts, and by her doctor husband, Hamza al-Kateab. Hamza said that this message, ‘stop bombing hospitals’, was ‘just something no-one can say no to.’

The film For Sama shows life and death in a hospital during the 2016 siege of Aleppo. Today in nearby Idlib, the bombing of hospitals is the biggest challenge to the health sector, Dr Munther al-Khalil of the Idlib Health Directorate told Syria Notes. But medics are not best placed to prescribe a solution to military aggression. ‘Politicians should know what to do, not me,’ Mohamed Katoub of the Syrian American Medical Society told us.

For Waad and Hamza, their film’s purpose is to bring change. They found the experience of bringing the film to the United Nations in New York frustrating. UN officials ‘thought they were doing their best,’ because ‘they are using strong language with the regime and all of that,’ Hamza said.

The campaigners and diplomats supporting their visit told them that the most they could aim for at the UN as an achievable goal was to open an investigation. ‘It was very disappointing for us,’ Waad said. ‘How can you think the world still needs to open an investigation to know who is bombing these hospitals? It’s a very huge gap between the reality and what’s happening in the corridors of the UN.’

‘We still, both of us, struggle between what we want to happen really on the ground, and what are the achievable things,’ Waad said.

Looking beyond the limits of the UN, they see hope in how the film has connected with audiences, and they are working to develop ways to help audiences turn emotional engagement into practical action.

Illustration by Amany Alali.

Dr Munther al-Khalil suggested to Syria Notes that people in Britain can help to show the extent of the crimes happening in Syria. Beyond the urgent need to stop the bombing, he pointed to a lack of medical staff because they had been killed, maimed, or had fled. Doctors in the UK can help by getting involved in NGOs working in Syria, Dr al-Khalil said, or by training medics in Syria via the internet, or by giving courses in neighbouring Turkey.

Most donors have suspended projects in southern Idlib, Dr al-Khalil told us, leading to a severe lack of medical services, as well as of other services which help people stay in an area. The need isn’t only for medical support, he said, as there is now a lack of projects which support stability generally.

‘A focus only on projects tied to humanitarian donors has weakened the structure of the government in the area, and weakened its capacity to govern the health sector and coordinate emergency responses,’ Dr al-Khalil said. ‘We believe that it’s not possible to have an effective humanitarian response and protect these interventions without stability in the structure of the government, especially given the complicated and really difficult situation in the area.’

But stability requires an end to bombing. On the call to stop bombing hospitals, Waad says that she and Hamza want ‘to put this red line back, to make that not acceptable any more.’

That phrase ‘red line’ is a loaded one for Syria, evoking the chemical weapons red line which the UK and US failed to enforce in 2013, and which is now the sole element of Assad’s killing campaign where they set a boundary.

In this issue we look at what we might expect from the recently announced United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry, and how NATO and Coalition members like the UK might help provide vital evidence.

We also look at how hospital attacks fit into Assad and Putin’s wider strategy, and ask what a red line on hospital attacks might require.

And we talk to a mother in Idlib, to a dentist, and to doctors: the people on the front line of Assad and Putin’s war on civilians.

In this issue:

Editor: Kellie Strom. Contributing Editor: M. Yafa. Published by Superpower Partners®. Printing of this issue part funded by Lush Charity Pot. All contents are copyright © the individual contributors.

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