We Want Both Bread and Freedom in Syria

“Freedom.” It’s not just a word. Mouhammad Bouazizi knew that.

He set himself on fire for lack of freedom. The people came pouring out for him, in Tunisia. People poured into a square named freedom in Egypt. Ever since then, our lack of freedom became unbearable to us in Syria. We started protesting for freedom and dignity in Syria in March 2011. I’m the same age as Bouazizi, and I want to live free before I die.

Everyone who has an atom of goodness knew this was right, this was the day for freedom. We went out and shouted “Freedom!” and it was like we were alive for the first time, saying what we really thought, at the top of our lungs.

I want to live. I love life. I am a man in love. I want to marry my sweetheart, have children, and have them live in a world where they are not in danger of being tortured in prison for living free honest lives.

Thirty months later, this is where I find myself: My hometown, what is left of it, ringed by Syrian regime army. Bombed because we want freedom from this dictatorship. They want to starve us out of our need for freedom.

Out of Syria’s dozens of besieged cities, Moadamiya is the most sealed. Not a single bag of bread can get in since July, and our reserves are gone. I saw a toddler named Rana starve to death before my eyes. She is not the only one. I’m witnessing the children die here, and I have little sisters. I see my little brothers’ faces in their thin faces.

I grew up in Moadamiya, an olive-growing town in the farmbelt around Damascus called the Ghouta. I’m a Palestinian Syrian, and this is the only hometown I have ever known. My parents were displaced from their olive-growing village by the fighting in 1948. “Just leave for a few days while we liberate the land,” the Arab Liberation Army told their families. A few days….

I know what a lifetime of displacement means. We are 8,000 left, of an original 53,000. I helped to negotiate four evacuations, the last group shot at by the regime army, and no one trusts evacuations anymore. My townspeople in Moadamiya want to stay, live, eat, and be free.

What the regime is doing is illegal. Ddepriving whole towns of food and medicine is a violation of international law. The regime is using the cover of fighting the FSA to punish civilians.

I won’t kid you, I have thoughts of getting a rifle and joining the front at the edges of town. I did, for a week in August. I’m not a fan of armed struggle and I know the ills it has brought this revolution, but there are moments when a man feels reduced to a choice between dying in bed or dying fighting, and of those two I prefer the second.

But I made a third choice. I began a hunger strike on November 26, 2013. If children are going to starve, if we are all going hungry here anyway, I will make my hunger purposeful. Like the women hunger striking in Homs, another besieged city, I want the world to know what this is about: not just the right to food, but the right to freedom. We are only human, made of flesh and blood, and we need both to eat bread for the body, and to be able to live and breath as free human beings.

There has to be a way out of this impossible stand-off in Syria, for the world to choose. Choose life. We chose it. Find a way to help us.

Photo: Flickr user Freedom House, creative commons licensed.