An anti-war delegation from the United States visited Syria the week of Sept. 16 to see for themselves what is happening there. The delegation included human rights lawyer and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark; Cynthia McKinney, a former six-term congressperson from Georgia; Dedon Kamathi of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party and Pacifica Radio; and Johnny Achi of Arab Americans 4 Syria in Los Angeles. The International Action Center, which pulled together the delegation, sent key organizers John Parker from Los Angeles and Sara Flounders from New York.
Below are reports from the delegation, condensed from emails and a phone interview conducted by Andrea Sears of WBAI radio with Flounders and Syrian youth organizer Ogarit Dandash. It can be heard online at leftvoices.net.
Sara Flounders: “Today [Sept. 17], we are visiting a youth resistance encampment called Over Our Dead Bodies on Qasioun Mountain. It is the site of TV and communication towers overlooking Damascus. This is a human shield commitment made by hundreds of youth every day and at least 100 every night against U.S. bombing. It was begun two weeks ago, when it seemed a U.S. strike was imminent.
“What we’re involved in on this trip is people-to-people resistance, meeting people from neighborhood defense teams, also meeting people at a displaced persons center whose homes had been destroyed by the U.S.-supported rebel forces.
“Today, we visited such a center of about 300 people — 65 families in a public school in the Mezzeh neighborhood of Damascus. Families of from six to 10 people share one classroom. It is crowded! But at least families are assured shelter, good food for the kids, medical care and meds, and classes.
“We also visited a military hospital where victims of gas attacks and sniper and shrapnel fire were being treated.
“We earlier had a meeting with the Grand Mufti of Syria. He is the top Sunni religious leader and stands with the government in defense of a secular state for all religions. Because of his position and because he refused to join the Islamic right-wing jihadists, his son was publicly assassinated almost two years ago.
“He had planned to visit the U.S. this past summer to hold meetings with many Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders on the importance of a society based on tolerance. But the U.S. denied his visa.
“Day and night, we hear the boom of civil defense mortars and some heavy explosives, but most parts of Damascus are secure. It is a beautiful, modern, clean city with wide boulevards. Everything here is still well lit, even street lights all functioning. The infrastructure is pretty incredible. The housing blocks everywhere we have been are very modern. Everywhere are Syrian flags and enormous patriotic fervor.
“Women are especially outspoken about what is at stake here, when they compare it to what the future holds in Iraq or Libya.”
Ogarit Dandrash: “I am usually a journalist, but now I am an activist. The experience in Iraq has taught us. We don’t trust the U.S. government. Only when the Syrian government says we have an agreement and it is safe now will we go back to our schools or our jobs. Until then, we will stay at the encampment here.”
John Parker: “There was great relief when it seemed that President Obama had called off the attack. But over the last few days, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have made it clear that an attack is not off the table. A U.S. attack on Syria would destroy what is a very modern, developed country with results like what we’ve seen already in Iraq and Libya, which once had the highest standard of living in Africa and is now in chaos.”
Delegation members have played a big role in organizing anti-war actions in the U.S. since the U.S. government began threatening Syria during the last week of August. They intend to use their experience in Syria to strengthen their anti-war organizing among the U.S. population, which is overwhelmingly opposed to U.S. military action against Syria.