We help those who need our help – regardless of religion or politics
The Arab Spring, a series of social protests and military conflicts that took place in the Arab countries in the years 2010-2013, erupted as a result of discontent with life conditions, unemployment, corruption and nepotism of the authorities as well as with limiting civic liberties by autocratic regimes.
In Syria, protests turned into a civil war, waged between those faithful to President Bashar al-Assad and the armed opposition. Their fight evolved into a regional conflict. The escalation was caused by involvement of the neighbouring countries and world powers. The situation is further complicated by the presence of the Islamic extremists of the ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; in short: the Islamic State) as well as by the conflict between various groups within the opposition.
The lasting conflict resulted in one of the largest humanitarian crises in the modern world. 13.5 million people are seeking help. The situation in the country is extremely difficult. The families fleeing danger – over 10.5 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes – live in tents or ruins, with the things they managed to collect and take with them. They suffer from shortage of drinkable water and toilets. A quarter of schools are defunct, the healthcare is significantly limited. Many Syrians are trying to escape to Europe, which is both dangerous and costly.
“I was running towards an ambulance, holding a wounded man,” says Malath Khafsheh. “I put him on the stretcher, […] and tended to his wounds using basic means. […] He asked me: ‘Am I going to die?’ Being an emergency worker, I ask myself this question every time I pull someone out of the rubble. […] the ambulance and hospitals are frequently under fire, we are often short of the right medicines. However, there are people, like the one I mentioned, who conquer death. I smiled and said to him: ‘You are not going to die, you conquered death, we conquered it together.’ That is why I joined the Civil Defence.”
Bakers, tailors, engineers, painters, students and people of many other professions help civilians in war-torn Syria. They are active within the Syrian Civic Defence Centre and are known as the ”White Helmets.”
Someone joins the movement because his son, who perished in the war, had been active in it. He perished, and the father is trying to honour him by engaging in a rescue organisation. Somebody else remembers running helplessly with his wounded wife to the hospital where she died. The organization was established in 2013 and is based on an international network of activists who aimed at reactivating the non-existing units of civil service. The first members were trained in Turkey, along with the volunteers who helped the victims of earthquakes. They are financed with donations of Internet users. The initial funds for starting-up their activity arrived from the United States, Great Britain and Japan – hence the accusations that the organization is not independent politically.
“We rescue people from both sides of the conflict – we vow to observe the rules of the International Civil Defence Organisation: Humanity, Solidarity, Neutrality. They guide us through each and every action – let the Syrians regain hope for salvation at the time of genocide” – they state on the webpage. “We help those who need our help – regardless of religion or politics.”
They rescue people from bombed buildings and transport them to hospitals. They often organize funerals for those they tried to save. They compare the scope of destruction and level of threat in Syria to fifty earthquakes of magnitude 7,6 on the Richter scale per day.
They are guided by the sentence: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire,” which they believe comes from the Koran. The same sentence, taken from the Talmud, is used by Jews to describe the Righteous Among the Nations.