Hamza al-Khatib: The Face of the Syrian Revolution
An article published earlier today regarding the Arab Spring in Syria and Libya said that " while adults fight for political power children and adolescents are faced with an increasing number of dangers." True - children are in danger of landmines and other "unexploded ordinances," and the fate of many are almost too common in that they are "killed in crossfire, lose their parents, become refugees or go hungry."
But, with particular reference to Syria, one must not lose sight of the fact that children are the cause, not just the effect(ed).
The face of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib has, in fact, become the face of the opposition movement in Syria. Hamza's family defied threats from police and made his story known:
Hamza was always aware of those less fortune than him, and would often ask his parents to give money to the poor and repressed. A report published in Aljazeera quoted a friend of Hamza's as saying: I remember once he wanted to give someone 100 Syrian Pounds ($2), and his family said it was too much. But Hamza said, 'I have a bed and food while that guy has nothing.' And so he persuaded his parents to give the poor man the 100.
Young Hamza, however, was evidently not shown the same compassion when he was detained by police at a protest in Saida, 10km east of Daraa, on April 29th. When Hamza was finally returned to his family almost a month later on May 24th, all that was left of him was an almost indistinguishable, mutilated corpse.
A video released to Aljazeera and now circulating on YouTube depicts Hamza's swollen body with lacerations, bullet holes, bruises and burns, a broken neck and severed genitals. His wounds are consistent with techniques of torture that have been documented by Human Rights Watch in the past three months since the Arab Spring in Syria began, including the use of electric shock devices and of being whipped with cables.
But Hazma isn't the only youth affected; lest we forget that the Arab Spring first began when protesters gathered in the southern city of Daraa following the police torture of youths who were caught writing what was deemed anti-regime graffiti. These youths were also detained and held illegally for about a month while their parents were told nothing of their whereabouts and denied any type of legal process.
Torture, abuse, and even the death of one child among this group of children ages 10-15 set off the first wave of protests in Daraa on February 17th. Despite the brutal force of police and fear of imprisonment or even death, almost four months later the protests continue. Indeed, Hazma’s death and the torture of his fellow adolescents have served as the catalyst that has propelled the Arab Spring and strengthened the rebellion in Syria.
In honor of Hazma’s death, the scheduled protest on June 3rd was adequately themed Marching for Children. While an even greater crackdown seemed likely, something extraordinary happened as flags depicting the face of Hazma waved throughout the crowd: "Police and soldiers turned on their commanders, and control of the town slipped out of government hands.” Associated Press
Despite the regime’s attempts to pit regions, sects and ethnicities against one another, the movement has taken on a national character. And the repression has not deterred the masses, who each week take to the streets, knowing well and good that those among them may not survive the afternoon.
To those soldiers who mutinied against their commanders, to the people who participated in demonstrations and strikes, and most importantly, to the adolescents who were brave enough to stand up against the regime, it is because of you that the Arab Spring in Syria has captured the attention of the rest of the world, inspired those around you, and lives on.
Heather Martino is a recent graduate of the Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University.