Will 1,000 American ‘human shields’ stop another criminal war?
Arriving first in Syria
by FRANKLIN LAMB
A sort of roller-coaster atmosphere pervades Damascus these days, with both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ news rippling through the airwaves every quarter hour or so. Much of the population monitors it all closely. People listen; they read; they discuss their interpretations of the latest media reports or the rumours circulating – wondering, surmising, deliberating on the timing of the now-assumed American attack on their country.
In the very popular Abaa coffee house, on the edge of the old city, in what is called the Sarugha section, customers, many of them students, enjoy the fine cool mist that is sprayed from ceiling pipes, providing welcome relief from the 37 degree celsius temperatures prevailing outside.
You want a Damascus tradition? Gathering at the Abaa is it. Many are glued to their laptops or else in animated conversation, analysing the extent and likelihood of the strike upon their homeland by those who profess to be acting out of ‘humanitarian’ concerns.
This observer often meets interlocutors in the Abaa because it’s very pleasant. It is large with dozens of tables. It is also cheap and two blocks from my hotel. I have noticed that common greetings are changing from “kif hallack” (how are you?) and “Arak lahekan” (see you later), to “Get home safely” and “Good luck with the checkpoints.”
But there is also a growing esprit de corps, a coming together of much of the population, as the countdown to the firing of the American missiles begins. Much in evidence also is a rallying around the Assad government – the opposite, one would presume, of what the White House had hoped would result from its threats.
A good friend from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society (SARCS) described how her friends are preparing for the American attack. “We gather our important documents, birth, marriage certificate and passport and make photo copies. Then we leave them with friends in ‘safe’ areas or even bury them somewhere. No one knows how bad the Americans will bomb us. At work we have been told during our final practice drill that the next siren will be the ‘real thing’ and we will do as we have planned for.”
SARCS, by the way, has been providing some amazing rescue and medical services for Syrians and Palestinians during this expanding crisis.
“Many of my friends and family are leaving,” she added. “But it’s not easy, and is very expensive now to go to Lebanon, and they don’t want us – and my family has decided to stay in our home no matter what happens in the coming days.”
One topic getting a lot of attention here is the reluctance of the American public to attack Syria, and whether or not Obama will ignore it. “What kind of democracy do you have that your president can ignore the will of the American public?” this observer is frequently asked.
One soldier stationed with his unit outside my hotel seemed to speak from his heart: “You Americans claim you are trying to help the Syrian people. Every child knows, both here and in your country I think, that the coming attack will make things much worse for the Syrian people and many others. The American people are good and we hope they can control their government, but we are preparing for the worst.”
The government is assuring the public that Syria is ready for the American attack and that public services will continue. Round-the-clock images of heroic Syrian army exploits air on local TV channels, along with martial and patriotic music. Meanwhile, youngsters, students, and workers have begun gathering at presumed targets to offer themselves as shields while challenging President Obama to bomb them.
Interestingly, an international human shield movement is also coalescing, say informed sources here. One initiative reportedly will bring 1,000 Americans, along with thousands of others, to Syria within the next ten days to guard likely bomb sites – not so very different from efforts to protect Palestinian homes from bulldozing in Occupied Palestine.
Here are some descriptive specifics that have been disclosed to this observer from an international organising committee working round-the-clock to bring the human shield initiative into being:
“International Human Shields coming to Syria in solidarity with the Syrian people and in an effort to send a global message and hopefully deter an American attack next week.
“Timing – While moves can be made fast and with all other key elements in place, time is not in our favor. Ten more days for preparation would be ideal. The HS initiative assumes that it must be done in such a way that very little time lapses from the official announcement of the action to the actual arrival of the human shields on the ground in Syria.
“Impact – In order to achieve a significant impact, the objective is to have at least 1000 Americans and several thousand international human shields deployed in Syria. Ideally, this would include at least one representative from every UN Member State, and would serve as evidence of the true ‘international community’ opposing the American attack.”
The US activist-based steering committee is quickly bringing together professionals in IT, marketing, logistical planning and implementation, public relations, accounting, documentarians, and experienced project managers.
Ferries from European ports will need to be arranged to carry significant numbers of human shields from major European cities. Ideally, several jumbo jets will be chartered from some of the world’s major cities to carry those joining the effort.
“HS/Government Relations – The first objective of the enemies of Syria will be to portray the human shields as nothing more than pawns of President Bashar al-Assad. This was precisely what the mainstream media did in 2003, presenting human shields as pawns of Saddam.
“To be effective, the human shields must be seen not only as independent supporters of the people of Syria, but also as representative of the will of the vast majority of people around the world—namely those opposed to the pending US-led western attack.
“To this end, the HS should work with prominent leaders in the civilian sector of Syrian society. No effort should be spared to produce daily news stories of HS and Syrian people working hand-in-hand to protect the country from the ongoing foreign-instigated aggression. Once again, many details here need to be discussed and agreed upon if any action is to reach its full potential.
“Strategy – The sites that HS deploy to must be very well publicized and must be identified as protected sites under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
“The White House is saying that they are not going to attack infrastructure (as they did with Iraq in 2003), but in point of fact, the infrastructure must be attacked if the goal is to drive Syria into the stone age and to make it so weak that Israel, through its Takfiri agents, will eventually take the country over. Moreover, it is well known that the Syrian people and military cannot be defeated without massive attacks on the infrastructure.
“Therefore it becomes absolutely vital that human shields deploy to all power plants, water treatment facilities, bomb shelters (should they exist), civilian communications sites, food storage facilities, and any other sites critical to the civilian population.
“As for military sites, although I personally feel such deployment would be morally defensible, the power of HS in the public relations realm would probably be significantly compromised, and intelligent public relations is absolutely critical.
“At this point, a comprehensive list of protected sites needs to be produced immediately, and the sites will need to be verified by the most independent sources we can manage to obtain. UN representatives or former representatives, human rights attorneys, legal experts, and others of this type all could render invaluable assistance in this.
“Deployment to sites not specifically listed in the Fourth Geneva Convention should also be undertaken, including ethnic and religious minority communities whose members are deathly afraid of the foreign invaders/terrorists. Special emphasis should be placed on christian populations as the western audience, sadly, has more sympathy for christians than muslims.
“Public Relations - It cannot be over stated that smart public relations strategies are the key to success.
“Our goal is to personalise the people of Syria and show their suffering through the eyes of the HS. This can be done with effective daily reports to be uploaded on the internet and reported by legitimate news agencies such as Press TV, RT and Telesur.
“A massive effort must be made to educate the public about the reasons for the Fourth Geneva Convention (FGC) and the imperial powers’ undeniable record of knowingly destroying the lives of ‘protected persons’ as defined in the FGC. Essential to this effort are well-spoken Arabic/English speaking spokespersons.
“We should be ready to provide evidence of any attack on such sites the moment it happens, and to have legal briefs prepared so as to immediately charge the aggressors with war crimes. This is why it is critical that the HS are almost exclusively at sites that are protected by the FGC.
“We cannot necessarily stop them from doing what they intend to do, but we can make their aggression harm them far more than Syria and its people in the end. Herein lays the power, using the enemy’s momentum against him in the most advantageous way possible.
“Note: a contract has been drafted to protect human shields in their home country courts against the accusation that they are aiding and abetting and providing material support to a foreign power that is considered hostile. Human shields are acting in a manner consistent with, and in promotion of, international law and to save innocent, civilian lives.”
Time will tell which Americans will arrive first in Syria, the military or the American public. Many Syrians are today praying it will be the latter and have pledged to join them to defeat the coming aggression.
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon and can be reached c/o email@example.com