This photo, taken on August 23, 2015, depicts the emergency room staff in my hometown, Douma, just a few miles east of Damascus. They were appealing to the world to stop the airstrikes by the Assad government, stop the killing of civilians, stop the bloodshed.
I have worked side by side with every person in this photo. Since the early days of the Syrian conflict, all have been volunteering to save the lives of the endless stream of victims. Dr. Sief, in the middle with the green shirt, used to live in Europe but went back to Syria in 2011 to help. Now, after 1,500 days, they still have the same message: Stop the killing.
This photo was published widely. Something about its innocence and candor struck people. It was taken just as the hospital staff were working furiously after an airstrike in Douma that targeted a market and produced a massacre. The photographer, Mohamad Badra, went to the hospital the next morning, where he found the staff very tired. To his surprise, they asked for dinner.
Badra laughed: “What dinner? It’s time for breakfast.” The doctors had been working in a basement, where their ER is located because it’s much safer than anything above ground. They had been working nonstop around the clock and had lost track of whether it was day or night.
Apart from the frequent bombardment, Douma is also besieged by government troops: cut off from food, water, electricity, medical supplies, fuel, and Internet for three years. Eastern Ghouta, where Douma is located, has an estimated current population of 400,000. It has been under siege since November 2012.
But the siege is the least of their concerns, as Sief explained to me: ”We do not need food. We need some rest. We need to stop the airstrikes for a while just to get some rest.”
Everybody laughed, because the world seems to be doing nothing to stop the airstrikes, nothing to stop the killing in Syria.
So they wrote their words on pieces of cardboard and asked Badra to take their photo next to the hospital.
Government airstrikes—barrel bombs, missiles, and vacuum explosives—are responsible for some 90 percent of the people killed over the summer. On top of that comes the collective terror of the chemical attacks—chlorine barrels in 2015 and 2014, sarin in 2013. What did the world do to stop the killing? It sent jets to bomb the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) but did nothing to stop the far greater killing of civilians by the Syrian government’s airstrikes. For my Syrian colleagues, IS pales as a problem next to Assad’s attacks on civilians. If the world would stop these attacks on civilians, we Syrians could stop the estimated 10 percent of the killings committed by IS.
The hospital in Douma has been targeted many times. Somehow, they have avoided a direct hit. But we do not know if they will survive the next attempt. Which is why the world must act to stop the killing.