It is a well-known fact that since the first day of the Syrian uprising, the narrative of the Syrian regime constructed of plots about Jihadists, Saudi/Qatari conspiracies and foreign fighters seeking the destabilization of Assad secular kingdom. The legitimate demands of the Syrian people were never acknowledged, furthermore the regime worked hardly to construct its own narrative, one of its tools were to liberate Jihadi fighters from its prisons, not to only join but also establish ISIS, the famous radical group that has been fighting the Free Syrian Army, terrorizing the inhabitants of the liberated north of Syria and recently the south of Damascus, and above all, cooperating with Assad in secret oil deals.
With the rise of ISIS in Iraq, I started to recall my memories about childhood friends who joined the “popular resistance” to fight the American troops; one of those friends was Hossam who died in the famous Fallujah battle. Those who returned to Syria where taken to the security service prisons, whether they were among the freed Jihadists in 2011 or not, a link I can’t establish at the moment. This text is a testimony and a story of free spirits, of kids who were recruited by the Syrian intelligence services to fight a losing battle.
In the summer of 2003, tens of young Palestinians went to fight in Iraq, from my neighborhood at Yarmouk Camp for Palestinian refugees, I remember at least five young men, one of them was Hossam who had one of those childish faces that hides nothing yet bespeak of an immense story and a persistent inward-moving spirit that is filled with a plaint, youthful sort of curiosity that still lingers strongly in my head.
I still very well remember how excited my eighteen years’ old friends were to become fighters in Saddam Hussein’s forces against foreign troops, even after the collapse of the Iraqi regime and the deployment of the NATO and US troops by the Iraqi-Syrian borders, hundreds and may be thousands of Syrian and Palestinians young men continued to cross to the Iraqi side to fight alongside their Iraqi brothers and sisters, a holy fight where most of the time their lives will end before starting it
It was the summer of 2003 when the 13 years old me was sitting in front of my family building,- that same building my grandfather built in the sixties after the Israeli displacement of my family in 1948- Hossam who was eighteen at the time and has just finished his high school asked me if I would like to go for a game of counter strike at Faisal’s – the computer shop close to the main street at the Yarmouk camp – at counter strike he has his player called ” Al- Kafi” or the sufficient that is also the name of a famous Arabic dictionary, a language he was very fond of, like all eighteen year olds; he would get angry when his player is shot down out of the game by mine who I have given the name Phantom.
For my generation and those who witnessed it, the fall of Baghdad was a moment not to be forgotten, I remember sitting at home with my father that afternoon and for the first time I see him speechless, we have been through a lot but the sight of the rockets falling on the ancient city that day was something else, meanwhile the Syrian street was in the middle of wait and anticipation as rumors grew of a US attack against Syria that eventually never happened, some say, Thanks to Israel.
A couple of weeks after Hossam’s departure to Iraq as I was on my way to Faisal’s shop for a game of counter strike, there was this wall erected with many names written on it, I came closer and those were actually arbitraries for those who went to Iraq, most of the friends I used to play with and right down at the bottom of the war was Hossam’s name. A wall told me that many of the kids I used to play with, I shared laughter and dreams with are no longer there and even those who weren’t announced dead disappeared for years – that is to be known later – were held by the Syrian security forces on the basis of being terrorists, that same security apparatus that facilitated and even encouraged their endeavor to begin with.
Hossam as many other Palestinian and Syrian youth was a victim to the Syrian regime who encouraged him and his peers to cross the borders and fight the holy war, who encouraged a bunch of teenagers to go have a combat against the American troops and bring dignity to their land, a regime that promised them a reason of being and a chance to change history and decide on the world’s status quo for years to come, just to leave them die there and those who would make it back be accused of what they were promised to be their way out of helplessness and defeat.
Eleven years later I still remember the brightness in Hossam’s eyes as he talks about a better tomorrow that is worth the fight, a fight that is yet to be defined though the casualties have already started for more than a decade. A fight for the survival of dictatorships, sectarian regimes and war loards, from Assad to Maliki. Those who manufactured ISIS.