Activist Razan Zeitouneh has recounted the details of a visit to East Ghouta after it was hit by chemical weapons.
Writing with clear pain and sorrow, Zeitouneh described what she saw first hand, as well as recounting testimonies from paramedics and activists on the ground.
From the images of mass graves, Zeitouneh is struggling to retrieve the details of the day. They unfold, too slowly, perhaps, to trigger the cries and screams of a normal response to death. She describes feeling a terrible numbness in her chest and fog over her thoughts as the successive images roll over in her mind.
“A tangle of bodies, laid next to each other in the long dark hallway, bodies wrapped in white shrouds or old blankets…nothing of them seen but their bluish faces with foam frozen in the corners of their mouths…sometimes mixed with a string of blood. On their foreheads, or written on their shrouds, is a number or a name – or simply the word “unknown,” Zeithouneh says.
“At each medical point that received the martyrs along the villages and towns of Ghouta, tales and memories are repeated. The remaining paramedics who survived the effects of toxic gases repeat again and again how they took off the doors and entered homes to find children sleeping quietly and tranquilly in their beds, in everlasting sleep.”
“Most of the children died while dreaming. A few of them arrived at medical points and medics were able to help them.”
“The exodus of families is the most gripping image. Mothers, fathers and their children, taken from their beds to mass graves."
Zeitouneh describes a father standing over a seemingly endless long grave in a Zamalka graveyard: “He was saying: Here I buried my wife and child, beside them the family of so and so, and the family of so and so.”
Zeitouneh wonders, “Does this father envy the families whose members all went to those narrow graves and did not leave behind someone to endure the loss?”
“Close to the place, the sound of heavy clashes could be heard, but no one was intimidated, they were too engrossed in digging and covering their beloved.
“The man overseeing the burials explained how corpses stick to each other in this small cemetery containing 140 corpses.”
"’Film it, film it!,’ he says, announcing the names and numbers of the family of so and so. We look as if we should see the family and salute the parents and play with children, but we only see uneven dust, and a few dry twigs of myrtle plant thrown over it haphazardly."
“In rooms allocated for the collection of the bodies in each town, people gather to search for their children and loved ones. An elderly lady enters, begging the attendant to guide her to the bodies of her sons and brothers if they were martyred.”
“The young are helping her, lifting the cloth covering the faces of anonymous martyrs who are waiting for someone to recognize them. One after another, she passes them, sobbing as she stops at one, then restraining herself as she realizes it is not who she is looking for. She finishes her search, and thanks God with a shivering voice, as the chances of the death of her loved ones are one now at least one medical facility less.”
"The vast majority of cases are family members dispersed at medical points all along the Ghouta. Those who are healed and have regained their strength began the journey from town to town to find their families. Everyone was angry, could barely control themselves, until their tears fall when they fail to find their loved ones in the hallways of the wounded and the martyred or in the lists of names that administrators were able to register.”
“Injured cases are not much better, especially children. As soon as you say a word to a child, he turns his small lips and tries to suppress his cry, as though are were going to punish him if he expressed himself and cursed the whole world.”
“He begins by asking about his parents and no one has the answer. No one has the strength to answer. No one understands what is happening already. This is – as they say – the country of fantasies and twists of fate, that seem impossible gain in frequency, yet have become habitual.”
“One man, standing next to one of the medical points, weeps and waved his hands. He saved three women and took them to the hospital on the road. But because of the urgency and confusion, he ran over another man, killing him. When he arrived at the hospital, he parked his small truck in front of the hospital, waiting for news of the person he had run over, when minutes later a Mig aircraft attacked, choosing the exact point where his truck was parked.”
“Who can stand similar events in the space of a few hours of his life, and remain in the belief that the world is not in a state of resurrection? Who can keep his strength and cohesion, and not explode in a wave of anger toward himself and others, because hundreds of martyrs could have been saved if more drugs were available, or if the donor states had provided assistance to prepare medical points for chemical weapons injuries?"
“Even doctors are angry at themselves in having to choose between one or another in the lottery of life and death in revolutionary Syria.”
The activist reports that a doctor named Majid wrote on Facebook: “I cried and I cried the day I received donations from the generous people, who were not convinced that the project which we presented four months ago for preparation for chemical injuries, was necessary. Today they are convinced after hundreds of martyrs were made. I cried and I signed approvals to get the money that we paid for with images of martyrs.”
The problem is, Zeitouneh says, “our belief that everything is possible, and that the only way to confront it is to prepare for it; for the bombing, the hunger, the chemical. This is all we can do."
“We now have to have the following conversation with our children before going to sleep: My son, wash your teeth and go to bed as it is late. Don’t drink plenty of water before going to sleep. If you hear the roar of the plane, down to the basement, and if you smell an abnormal smell, go up the roof. And if you can’t do anything, know that I love you so much. The world is dirty and savage. You will understand one day when you grow up, if you got the chance to grow up, son.”
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer