Is “Saving Syria’s Children” a PR stunt for a Muslim Brotherhood ‘charity’ and a British Government attempt to ensure there is an ongoing dirty war in Syria?
Are these young men genuine victims of a Syrian air-force ‘napalm attack on a school’, or do they have a role in a propaganda piece? And have they been inspired by too many zombie movies?
The inspiration for this questioning of a BBC documentary is Robert Stuart’s meticulous research and analysis of the second half of the film in which Pannell presents the alleged ‘napalm’ attack. Robert Stuart is a British peace activist who has followed up his research with official complaint letters to the BBC. Craig Murray, a former British ambassador, has also written on his blog that he suspects the scenes in the second-half are fabricated.
An Order of the British Empire
The Panorama documentary is presented by BBC reporter Ian Pannell and filmed, produced and directed by Darren Conway OBE. On the British Gov.UK webpage, this is written about Conway, the receiver of an Order of the British Empire:
Over the past 20 years with BBC News Darren Conway has built up a reputation as the foremost television cameraman of his generation, working in almost every major war zone, including being embedded with British troops in Iraq in 2003, deployments to Afghanistan and most recently Syria. He has covered major conflicts for the BBC including Kosovo, The Congo, the Arab Spring..
The fixer and translator for ‘Saving Syria’s Children” is a man called ‘Ali Mughira Al Sharif’, a mysterious figure, but possibly the Mughira Al Sharif who was featured in a 2011 article as an ardent supporter of the armed ‘revolution’ in Syria. He was then apparently a 20 year-old computer engineering student from Derra residing in Turkey.
The Doctors – the Stars
There is a Wikispooks page on Dr Hallam that raises many questions. Also, in the BBC report, Dr Hallam tells us she left Syria as a child. Many members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood insurgency of 1979 to 1982 fled to Britain with their families after the terror campaign of those years was brutally crushed in Hama. Is Dr Hallam part of the Syrian diaspora which won’t let go of its intentions to overthrow the secular Syrian government through violence or has the Brotherhood reformed? In 2005, Dr Wafa Sultan, another female Syrian doctor living in the diaspora concluded in an article titled, “The Muslim Brotherhood: Who Are They Trying To Fool?”
The Syrian people are exhausted from the oppression and despotism of the [Ba’ath] regime which has borne down on them for more than 40 years. We suffered a great calamity when the Assad family and their band seized power in Syria, but we will suffer an even greater calamity if, when we get rid of this band, we find ourselves face to face with the Muslim Brotherhood – ‘God forbid’. Are the [Syrian] opposition and secular and democratic parties, both in Syria and overseas – are they aware of this truth? Will they be able to thwart the Muslim Brotherhood’s plan to corrupt the new Syria? Assad’s monopoly on power was a violation of the rights of the people and has led us to a miserable life; however, we do not want to replace it with something even worse.
According to Wikipedia, Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric who was based in Qatar and had a weekly program on Al-Jazeera, has had “a prominent role within the intellectual leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood”. Sheik Qaradawi declared on Al-Jazeera in 2011 that “if it is necessary to kill one third of the Syrian population to overthrow the heretical regime, that is OK.” Unfortunately, “Saving Syria’s Children” does not examine what ideology or what religious figures inspire the two British doctors from “Hand in Hand for Syria”.
The other doctor, Saleyha Ahsan, is an ex-British Army Captain, the first Muslim woman to graduate as an officer from Sandhurst. She is also a freelance film-maker and a presenter on the BBC program, “Trust Me, I’m A Doctor”. (This program is also broadcast on ABC TV.)
Dr Ahsan’s family are originally from Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2011, on a visit to a rebel clinic in Libya, she told Bill Law, a BBC Radio 4 reporter, “I want to become another little link in that massive chain that has sprung out of the revolution”.
Surviving Lawless Syria
In order to survive the wild-lands of Syria they would have to rely on minders with authority and leverage. Furthermore, they themselves would have to be trusted to align themselves with the interests of the nebulous armed ‘revolution’. If their fixer does reside in Turkey he would have developed close links with foreign fighters who cross from Turkey into Syria. He may even have been given a ‘give free passage to ____’ card by Turkish intelligence so they could go through the checkpoints of any of the hundreds of militia groups operating in Syria. This would help explain how two British reporters are unscathed still, while many other foreign reporters have not been so lucky.
Protesting the Abduction of Journalists
Most media outlets would not allow their journalists to set one foot inside rebel-held Syria; the odds of them returning alive are so minimal. Jonathan Baker, Head of Newsgathering at the BBC, is a signatory to a letter addressed “TO THE LEADERSHIP OF THE ARMED OPPOSITION IN SYRIA”, which expresses alarm at the disturbing rise in kidnappings of journalists.
Prince Charles, Conway and the British Empire
It was Prince Charles who presented Conway with his OBE. When Conway received it, he declared self-effacingly, “Our entire reason for doing our job is about giving a voice to others”.
The Syrian People
Which ‘others’ are Conway and Pannell giving a voice to? “Saving Syria’s Children” certainly does not present the views of the general Syrian public seen in the images below.
The Secular State of Syria
Although situated in the Middle East, Syria is a secular state that prior to 2011 was an oasis of religious tolerance. Though many Syrians were cynical about the Baath Party dominated government, they valued the security they enjoyed and the country’s independence. Women particularly benefited from that security. They were very active participants in life outside the home. It was only their family or the community around them which could sanction what they did. Thus, one can presume that, like any population, Syrians do not welcome religious extremism or an armed revolution.
Images of Syrian women taken before the war:
There were no religious police in Syria. However, now there are – in ‘liberated’ Syria, so presumably in the rebel-held territory Conway and Pannell report from.
The Children of Syria before the War
Syria’s children could enjoy a free education, religious freedom, security in the streets and pleasure in living.
Western Saviours in a Dirty Lawless Land
Virtually all of the Syrian women and children in “Saving Syria’s Children” are props or extras in this British documentary, unwittingly involved in a propaganda piece for war in their country. The men we see are men with guns or doctors who treat wounded militants.
The film presents a distorted image of Syria and its people. For western eyes, Syria is reduced to a dusty, dirty, lawless country and Syrians are destitute victims.
History is a Set of Lies
History is ‘a set of lies that people have agreed upon’, according to Napoleon Bonaparte. Is the BBC determining tomorrow’s history of Syria for British textbooks? Or can we hope to see some truth?
In 10 years’ time, will the following story of the war in Syria gain credence?
A large number of Syrians had been dragooned into the militia groups. Many were young conscripts abducted by armed men, while many others were from the rural poor. They were given the choice of ‘kill or be killed’. Wives and children of many fighters were held hostage in refugee camps. The ‘rebel’ groups included criminals and thugs exploiting the chaos of war. While, other ‘rebel’ fighters who freely joined the armed ‘revolution’, professed beliefs and condoned tactics of war once only associated with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Their terror was an abomination, but the Syrian people suffered it for some years as the west’s silence condoned it. The war could not have been prosecuted without the recruitment of tens of thousands of non-Syrian fighters from across the world lured there by propaganda and/or an extremist ideology.
The Big Questions raised by “Saving Syria’s Children”:
- Is the BBC Panorama report part of Britain’s 21st century war arsenal, a tool that assists the prosecution of a dirty and cheap war, with the unwitting collusion of a war-weary British public?
- By choosing not to inform viewers about the impact of terror on the lives of millions of Syrians from all religious backgrounds, is the BBC deliberately manipulating the responses of non-Syrian Sunni Muslims to the conflict?
- Is support for a ‘jihad’ in Syria from Muslims across the world vital in a NATO-supported war of attrition against secular and independent Syria?
- If this award-winning BBC report has indeed been fabricated, how much of mainstream media reporting on Syria can be trusted?
- Do the journalists and fixers who worked on this report represent a new-breed of 21st century British foot-soldier, ‘soldiers’ now fighting for a defunct imperial power that can’t shake off its bad habits of divide and rule and that can’t help but risk the security of its own population because of the friends it makes and the lines it crosses?
THE TRANSCRIPT, THE QUESTIONS
Below is a transcript of “Saving Syria’s Children”. There are questions raised within the transcript. For example,
3.30 (Q: The flag of the militarized opposition is waved at the camera by a boy living in the camp which ‘Hand in Hand for Syria’ helped set up. Are we likely, therefore, to hear Syrians express support for the army? Will there be BBC ‘balance’? )
BBC’s PANORAMA, “SAVING SYRIA’S CHILDREN”
Introduction: There have been many stories about the conflict in Syria and the terrible cost to innocent civilians. Tonight we bring you a report which highlights just what that means on the frontlines of medical care.
REPORTER: Ian Pannell
Two British doctors 2,000 miles from London are on a mission to bring relief to the suffering of Syria’s children, working for a British charity setting up clinics inside Syria for families who don’t have access to medical care.
The civil war has triggered the greatest humanitarian disaster of this century. A third of the entire population has been forced from their homes beyond the reach of most international aid agencies.
ROLA HALLAM: I dare any of them to come and just spend one day in this camp to live. Just one day.
Working in hospitals they witness the dangers faced by local staff.
They see first-hand how their life-saving work is giving hope to the most vulnerable and witness the truth about the war’s child casualties after a shocking attack on a school.
SALEYHA AHSAN: I think there has been some kind of chemical attack.. There are dozens of people that have just been rushed in covered in burns and some white powder dust .. Their clothes are hanging off them.
ROLA HALLAM: The whole world has failed our nation and it is innocent civilians who are paying the price.
This is Atma Camp in Syria, right on the border with Turkey and the prospect of sanctuary. But the gates are closed and the people here can’t travel the final few metres to safety.
(Q: We are not told who put up the barbed wire to stop people from crossing into Turkey. We do not see any guards. If there is real ‘safety’ in Turkey, who don’t people simply remove the barbed wire? Presumably it is not the Syrian army that guards this part of the border as they are in rebel-held territory.)
For two-and-a-half-years Syria has been at war and millions are on the move – half of them are children.
ROLA HALLAM: Approximately 20,000 people here, mostly women and children. And it has just grown massively since the last time I came.
(Q: If they are mostly women and children in the camp, where are the men? Are the men fighting with the rebels? If so, are they doing it because they believe in ‘democracy, freedom and dignity’ or because they have been dragooned into the rebel militias and their families are held hostage in the camp? Are the families fed if the men fight? The children and adults we see in the background look as if they are from the rural poor. There are no signs of educated Syrians from the cities or larger towns. Why do none of the women speak to the British doctors? Only children show interest in them.)
These two British doctors are here with ‘Hand in Hand for Syria’, the UK charity that helped set up the camp, now the largest inside Syria.
(Q: If the doctors represent ‘Hand in Hand for Syria’, why are there no adults showing their gratitude towards them?)
ROLA HALLAM, HAND IN HAND FOR SYRIA: I’ve got about 17 people trying to hold my hand….my adopted children, little munchkins.
Rola’s family is from Syria and she lived here as a child, now she is an intensive care doctor in London specialising in paediatric medicine.
(Q: When did Rola’s family leave Syria? Did they leave in the early 1980s after the crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood terror across Syria? Did her father fight with the Muslim Brotherhood? Her father has been connected with the Syrian National Council, which has strong links with the Muslim Brotherhood.)
ROLA HALLAM: Unfortunately a lot of kids have started to have horrible nightmares, some crying inconsolably, some scream, some have gone mute.
(Q: Why? What have their experiences been? Have they witnessed beheadings and floggings committed by Al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Syria, or have they seen soldiers attacking ‘rebel’ strongholds?)
Saleyha is an A and E doctor at Queens Hospital in Essex. She’s volunteered in war zones before, but none of them compare to Syria.
(Q: Why isn’t it also noted that Saleyha was an officer in the British army before she studied medicine, and that she is also very media savvy. She has apparently worked as a freelance reporter for the BBC and has made films for Channel 4. She is also a presenter on the BBC show, “Trust Me I’m A Doctor”.)
(3.54) SALEYHA AHSAN: Kids are, I’m sure despite the best efforts by their mums, are filthy. Their hair is matted with dust and dirt. You can see all these temporary little ditches draining from the latrines. It is summer, it’s hot, a perfect incubation environment for disease.
(Q: Shouldn’t the charity, ‘Hand in Hand for Syria’, take some responsibility for the poor sanitation? )
ROLA HALLAM: I was asking the kids if they like the camp. Funnily enough, it was a resounding “no”.
It’s a tough place to grow up even harder to be new born here. Every tent holds a tragic story. Ahmed’s 6-year-old daughter was killed, his home destroyed by government war planes. His wife was pregnant at the time with twins…
(4.47) AHMED: “The tent feels like hell inside… we don’t have cash. We don’t have anything”
(Q: The producers of this program do not verify Ahmed’s story about his daughter being killed and his house destroyed by government planes. It may or may not be true. Considering he is so destitute, it is possible he would tell any story for a meal for his family. )
I’ve been reporting from Syria for two years. By travelling with the doctors, I’m hoping to see the humanitarian crisis through their eyes. But we can only film their work in rebel held areas.
(Q: Pannell will show the crisis through these British doctors’ eyes, not the eyes of local Syrian people. Can we assume the local people all support the ‘rebels’? Are the intended audiences non-Syrian, so Pannell and the doctors have no intention of investigating who local Syrians support?)
Our journey begins just two days after the chemical attack in Damascus. Over two million people have left Syria. Almost 5 million are refugees in their own country. That’s nearly a third of the population made homeless.
Here, you’d normally expect to see a lot of big foreign charities working in places like this, but because the country has become so dangerous very few of them dare to tread across the border, meaning people are now desperate for any kind of aid or medical support.
(Q: At least 34 Syrian Red Crescent workers have been killed in Syria. Imams and priests who have spoken out for peace and reconciliation have also been killed. Who makes genuine non-partisan humanitarian work in Syria dangerous? )
Despite the risks, Rola and Saleyha have been asked by their charity to check up on the hospitals it runs. It is trying to provide regular health care in places where the medical system has collapsed.
ROLA HALLAM: Mahmoud, where does it hurt?
Mahmoud has been in a car crash, he shows signs of brain injury.
ROLA HALLAM: That is quite a nasty bump. Everyday life stuff still happens, you know, road traffic accidents still happen and the last couple of years the focus has been so much on trauma and war injuries that actually everything else has gotten forgotten and now we found ourselves two-and-a-half-years down the road, our whole healthcare system has essentially been destroyed.
(6.70) SALEYHA AHSAN: Okay, we’ll….Some pain killers will be helpful, can I get some IV Paracetamol? No Paracetamol? You don’t have Paracetamol? Had a tumble and a fall, bang to the head – If he was with me at Queens, he would be going for a CTC scan.
(Q: Although Saleyha and Rola have just dropped in to the clinic for a visit, they have taken charge of this medical case. Is it for the camera only or are they truly needed to offer assistance?)
But this isn’t her British hospital. It is one in Aleppo Province. We can’t say exactly where because clinics have been targeted by government forces and on occasion shot at by rebel troops. There’s no scanner here and Mahmoud will have to be moved.
(Q: Pannell admits ‘rebel troops’ can shoot at clinics.)
(7.39) We’ve got no phone connection to speak to the receiving hospital and they tend to only really receive war injuries, so there is a bit of discussion whether we can do that or not.
Eventually a vehicle is found – it’s not so much an ambulance as a transit van.
SALEYHA AHSAN: Not the most comfortable way to go, it’s a sponge mat on the bottom of an empty van. Who is travelling with him?
ROLA HALLAM: One of the emergency nurses is with him. I’m actually giving him our trauma kit.
SALEYHA AHSAN: Good idea.
Rola wants to assess what the clinics on the ground need. She has her first item.
(8.22) ROLA HALLAM: It seems we need an ambulance.
In a system overwhelmed by war injuries, civilian cases are not a priority and in the end, Mahmoud doesn’t get his brain scan.
The doctors are heading deeper into Syria where the needs are greater and so too are the dangers. It’s the first time Saleyha would have gone this time into the country.
SALEYHA AHSAN: “Should I be worried?”
ROLA HALLAM: “The area does get shelled from the air” (9.00) “Sometimes every night, sometimes every other night.”
SALEYHA AHSAN: “One of the doctors said, ‘We’re afraid of the sky’”.
ROLA HALLAM: “Yeah, absolutely… The very nature of being here is that it is unpredictable. “
We’re heading to the rebel-held parts of the north, an area I’ve reported from often in the past.
Rebel-held Northern Syria is a patchwork of territory that constantly changes hands. The Syrian Government says it is rooting out terrorists and foreign fighters, bombing rebel bases. But its air campaign means civilian areas are heavily pounded.
The doctors want to see what medical care is available for children closer to where the fighting is.
(Doctors put on flak jackets.)
There are reports of fighting ahead and the team’s security guards are worried.
ROLA HALLAM: “…They’re concerned about safety for the location we’re going to…”
Western journalists have been targeted in Syria, so I have to travel with my own security. The doctors are able to be more low-key and take their own vehicles. The war in Syria is now in its third year. Sectarian differences and extremism have taken hold on both sides and the conflict threatens the stability of the region.
Travelling around Syria has never really been more dangerous. Both foreign journalists and foreign aid workers have been targeted. (11.10) Some have been killed. We’re just going through a check-point now. Put the camera down a bit.
Rival rebel factions now fight each other as well as the government. Lawlessness prevails in areas that once safe can become dangerous almost overnight.
(Q: If it is admitted by Parnell that lawlessness prevails, shouldn’t that indicate the importance of determining who is responsible for massacres, the exodus of people from their towns and villages? towns etc? Note: 11.25 a voice in car says “yeah, keep going” in what sounds like an Australian accent)
(11.27) This is an ISIS group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, this is a group that is affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Increasing numbers of jihadis have come into Syria. They’re setting up check-points, so it means that any foreigners in particular travelling around the country run the gauntlet of these check-points every few miles or so. And the worse thing about driving around is you’re never sure what lies behind the next corner.
(Q: Pannell travels with security guards who don’t hide their weapons. Doesn’t this make him a more obvious target unless his time in Syria has given him an understanding with all the different rebel groups, even the ISIS extremists who stop him at a check-point? If he is embedded with militants accepted by the extremists, how can this impact on what he is allowed to film? And it begs the question: who is he? )
The doctors have heard that the front line clinic is short on paediatric supplies.
ROLA HALLAM: “I just want to get a sense of what is there. See are they providing, what they aren’t providing. I’ve no idea what we are going to see because we’ve been hearing a huge amount of shelling overnight and in surrounding areas, so ..”
(12.25) As they get closer, it is clear the reports of fighting are accurate.
SALEYHA AHSAN: “What did the guy at the check-point say?”
ROLA HALLAM: “The road that we’re meant to be taking has been closed off because ..and CandT barrels have been dropped on it all morning. It’s destroyed the route and it’s now closed off.”
SALEYHA AHSAN: “And that was just from this morning?”
ROLA HALLAM: “Yeah, from an hour ago… We could have been on that road an hour ago.”
The route to the front line goes through Sarakat, a town that’s been consistently targeted by government forces because rebel fighters have used it as a base.
(13.09) We were hearing on the local radio from the fighters that they could see a helicopter up in the sky and he has just dropped what is frankly the largest bomb, creating the biggest explosion I’ve seen in two years of covering Syria (visual of smoke)
The barrel bomb was dropped from a helicopter. What it hit wasn’t a rebel base at all, but the local court house. Media activists have filmed similar attacks on the town. In the centre of the screen, you can see one of these TNT barrel bombs tumbling to the ground, deadly and also indiscriminate.
(Q: If it is a rebel-held town, couldn’t the court house be a rebel base as it is no longer a Syrian government court? NB: it is not possible to see connection b/t helicopter, bomb and the ground explosion. People filming say, “Allah Akhbar”)
(14.00) It’s not surprising so many have fled their homes.
(14.08) As our convoy arrives at the front-line clinic, a fighter jet is spotted overhead.
(VISUAL: an ambulance in the background and men looking up at the sky. A few of them start pointing up, presumably at a plane. Cut to what is presented as a brown contrail of a plane in a blue sky.)
SALEYHA AHSAN: “Where’s a tree?”
(14.18) We’re told to take cover.
SALEYHA AHSAN: “So apparently, there is a MIG flying above us and I’ve been told to go and run and get under a tree. (14.57) It’s a kinda tiny tree. But I can’t see it. I can hear it, but I can’t see it. “(SOUND: more like a tractor with engine trouble than a MIG at high altitude.)
(Q: Why can’t Saleyha see the plane that the men were pointing to earlier? Why didn’t the men run for a tree?)
ROLA HALLAM: “Everyone is very nervous. Everyone is very agitated. We can see smoke from just on the road behind us. Everyone is telling us to get in, get the cars off the road. Try and get out of here as soon as possible. ”
(14.50) Abdul Malik recites the Koran for the doctors. His dad is a surgeon here. With no school to go to, the 8-year-old spends his days watching casualties come through the door.
(Q: Why is it accepted without question that such a young boy can be at a front-line hospital? If children are at the front-line, they will inevitably become casualties.)
SALEYHA AHSAN: “Do you want to be a doctor when you grow up? …Translation: Yes, because I want to save people.”
This is the only place for miles around where sick children can get help.
(15.20) ROLA HALLAM: “This is their entire paediatric supply of medication: 20 odd bottles, similar to paracetamol, along with a not very useful medication. It’s not an anti-biotic. It’s not going to save a life, basically, nor is a pain killer.”
It is not just medicine that is in short supply. There are few willing to work here. (15.49) Those that are, get little time off.
ROLA HALLAM: “They’ve all been on call for 18 days continuously. No rest, living in the hospital. They can’t go. Too many people arriving, not enough of them.”
(16.09) Four days later, we see the area being pounded by the Syrian Air Force.
The clinic is over-run with casualties. (16.33) Rebel fighters wounded on the front-line. Supplies are so short that the medics are giving blood to keep their own patients alive.
Doctor: “We have a man injured in the belly. He’s bleeding badly. He needs blood, so I’m donating my blood because I have the same blood group. All these men are here to donate blood.
Parnell: What’s it like working in this hospital?
Doctor: We’re working in very tough conditions. Jets can bomb us at any time.
(Night: someone reciting the Koran or religious ‘music’ 17.39
(17.40) Children are at the forefront of this conflict. They have sung, protested and even fought in the war.
(Q: The UN has condemned the recruiting of children by the militias for the war in Syria, but this is not explored in Pannell’s report despite its being called “Saving Syria’s Children”.)
On both sides of the divide, children are becoming orphans and refugees.
(18.02) The next morning, we move to a village a few miles west of the front line. It’s home to hundreds of families who have been uprooted.
11-year-old Wada joins the scramble at the village well for dwindling resources.
(18.19) Wada:“Bashar Assad orphaned these kids. There’s no one to raise them now. He killed them. He destroyed our houses and burnt them. There is no hope of returning.”
(Q: Why have no adults so far made these claims?)
Thousands of schools have been closed since the war began. Children used to come here to study; now they live here as displaced families make homes of classrooms.
Rola is delivering the charities food parcels just up the road from the well. She wants to hear first hand what families and children have been going through.
ROLA HALLAM: “I haven’t heard about the massacre. Tell me about it.”
(19.09) Woman: “Suddenly the shelling started. First a rocket hit us and many people died. Some had their legs blown off. What can I tell you? My two nephews died. More than 15 people were killed in front of our house.
(Q: The woman certainly appears to be a genuine witness to shelling and a ‘rocket’ attack. However, she is not asked to explain who fired the shells or any other pertinent questions, so we don’t know if it was the army or Al-Qaeda affiliated groups or other militants. Rola’s sympathy doesn’t look so genuine.)
ROLA HALLAM: “Did the kids see it?”
Woman: “They were there. They saw it.”
(VISUAL: Rola lifting a box with a young child.19.40)
ROLA HALLAM: “Let’s go this way. This is heavy.”
(19.42) There are 50 people living at the school. Yusuf Saatoun is 85-years-old and he has been left with nothing. His home has gone. His family dispersed and his health is deteriorating.
Yusuf: “All we want is to stay alive. We keep moving from one place to another. We don’t have the strength for this anymore.”
ROLA HALLAM:“They are just saying that their village was attacked three months ago and they had to leave with just the clothes on their backs. These are all their families. They have all sort of moved en masse here.”
(Q: Rola doesn’t ask Yusuf who attacked their village and why? Again, was it an Al-Qaeda affiliated militia group, another ‘rebel’ group, or government soldiers? This surely is an important question.)
(20.22) The old man can barely see. He has diabetes, but he hasn’t been able to get his medicine since the war began.
Woman: “Our kids haven’t gone to school for 2 years.”
ROLA HALLAM: “Two years, no school, no education what so ever. Saying they’ve had no immunizations also for two years.”
(Q: We can infer that the before the war, the state provided security as well as cheap medical care and education to these people.)
(Now the village wants to reopen the school. They have been told they have got four days to leave.
SALEYHA AHSAN: “And where will all the people go that live here?”
ROLA HALLAM: “Don’t know.”
(21.10) ROLA HALLAM: “I was quite blown away by the elderly gentleman’s emotion. A food basket, although it is better than nothing, it is such a drop in the ocean, isn’t it? It’s not a home; it’s not your health; it’s not your medication you need. It’s not your dignity back. It’s not your broken heart mended. I’m quite scared about what we are going to see in the rest of the schools now. But we had better go.
The doctors keep getting moved on. Their guards are worried that if they stay anywhere too long, they will become a target.
(22.04) The next stop is at a new children’s hospital set up by the charity. Rola wants to check supplies and see what level of care the mums and babies are getting.
ROLA HALLAM: “Shall we go down the stairs? So we’ve cut the ward (visit) a little bit short because an artillery shell has apparently There was a very loud bang.
An artillery shell has landed near the hospital. Our guards come in to tell us to leave.
ROLA HALLAM: “It sounded quite close. It sounded like it went down very close to where we were distributing our food basket earlier.”
“All the babies are coming down. Mums are going. They are trying to go.”
ROLA HALLAM: “Don’t go outside. It’s safer here.. Just stay awhile”
(23.00) Male voice: “They might shell the square”
ROLA HALLAM: She wants to try to leave to go home, but I think we should just stay indoors for now, while we just .. OK we’ll go. Let’s go.
(23.16) It soon becomes clear that our presence is making people nervous.
ROLA HALLAM: We have been asked to leave with immediate effect due to a real concern that we have been targeted or rather the area is being targeted because of us, and I think we should do that.
(Q: There is no sign from any of the Syrian women in the hospital that they welcome the two British doctors. They look very wary of them. Would this be so if they believed the doctors were genuinely there to help them?)
(23.40) It is not clear what the shell was aimed at, but the UN has accused the government of systematically targeting hospitals and medics. The regime has denied this.
(Q: Is this Pannell and Conway’s attempt at ensuring ‘balance’ in this BBC report? By referencing the regime’s denial, they can claim the report is “balanced”, while the faces and views of millions of people who choose not to support the rebels are ignored.)
(23.50) ROLA HALLAM: It is so not unheard of, unfortunately. Medical facilities, hospitals, doctors, have been targeted from day one of this war. Let’s go.
(24.30) At night, the lights of government controlled cities in the distance seem to taunt rebel-held towns where the power has been cut.
(24.38) At another school in the village, food parcels are handed out in the dark. Some are upset that their names are not on the list. But despite the desperation, there is still warmth and a token of hospitality.
ROLA HALLAM: They baked bread, which is just delicious, so..
But fear is never far from people’s minds because sometimes when the electricity goes out, it is a sign that regime forces are going to strike.
WOMAN: You know I’m originally from Homs.
ROLA HALLAM: The world isn’t aware of the disaster we’ll living through. My dad’s family is from a very similar background to most of the people we were meeting. Maybe we open each other’s wounds up. The one who said she lost her son, her cousin or her dad, and I just think of all the family members we have lost. They’re sort of bringing it up to the surface, and with that they bring up my emotions to the surface, as well. (26.00)
Back near the Turkish border, crowds gather outside a children’s hospital set up by Hand in Hand. This is the only place to get free childhood immunizations.
(26.29) While Rola is here, she is approached for help. Rabia used to be a nurse; now she lives in a nearby camp with other displaced families.
26.42 WOMAN: We’ve run out of medicine. There’s no medical centre. They make promises, but nothing happens. It’s a real tragedy.
(Q: We are not told who makes promises and who is responsible for the shortages. Is it charities such as ‘Hand in Hand’ which support the rebels?)
ROLA HALLAM: It’s alright. Don’t get upset. God will help…
ROLA HALLAM: I’d love to guarantee. I think we should do that.
(27.01) The camp where the nurse lives has about 160 tents housing 250 families. It is one of many squalid makeshift sites dotted around the border area.
ROLA HALLAM: She wants me to come in and see this patient here.
(27.26) MAN: All the camp is sick. Come and take a look. There is a child with a fever in every tent.
ROLA HALLAM : There is someone with fever, diarrhoea, headaches, in pretty much every single tent. And it sounds like it is pretty contagious, because one family member after another is getting unwell.
(27.44) MAN: It’s coming from here. The septic tank has flooded the entire camp.
ROLA HALLAM: Is this sewage from the toilets?
MAN: It’s blocked and flooded.
ROLA HALLAM: It smells really quite awful. This sewage water goes all the way past the water well which is marked by that triangle of metal.
MAN: We don’t have a choice. Drink dirty water or no water at all.
(28.20) And this is why so many children here are getting sick. Raw sewage is mixing with their only source of drinking water.
ROLA HALLAM: It’s absolutely disgusting. I’m not surprised everyone in their tent is sick. I’m surprised everyone isn’t dropping down dead. I mean they describe multiple cases of typhoid fever. It’s very contagious. They’ve been visited and inspected by many international NGOs and .. nothing. I dare any of them to come and live in this town and spend just one day in the town and see how they’d like that. The bureaucracy of the international NGOs is just incredible. I’ll be having some words.
The threat of death hangs over Syria even for those whose lives have just begun.
(29.10) All the more remarkable to see what is happening just two miles up the road. The door of a dusty porta-cabin opens onto a rare moment of ultra-violet brilliance.
ROLA HALLAM: There little one.
(29.29) The high-tech incubation unit funded by Rola’s charity.
( Q: The incubators are ‘2 miles up the road’ from the camp they visited which had raw sewage running through it and where, as Dr Rola says, “I’m surprised everyone isn’t dropping down dead”. Why does the charity spend money on incubators for babies when it is seen in the film that there is a great need for basic medicines in the clinics and sanitary conditions in camps are dire and this could lead to the deaths of many children? It is also noted earlier that an ambulance is needed by one clinic. The cost of incubators and their benefits would have to be weighed up against the cost of medications, ambulances etc and better hygiene in camps. Are the incubators presented for the emotional impact they can have and the boost to the ‘humanitarian’ credentials of Dr Ahsan?
Australian research done in Turkey and Ethiopia suggests that cot-nursing can be just as beneficial as incubator care. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/cochrane_data/grayp_01/grayp_01.html)
ROLA HALLAM: Those little fingers are so small. Ah… you’re waking up. Ohh. A big yawn and a big stretch.
(29.50) The stress and the depridation of war has led to a huge rise in premature births.
If you hadn’t managed to raise your money, and you didn’t establish this facility?
ROLA HALLAM: Before the hospital, we just had no way of dealing with them. And a lot of them did die. Ohh… I don’t think you want to eat that darling.. Little one, I don’t think you should eat my glove. But I think you should eat.. You’re hungry. Is that why you are so grumpy? She was born yesterday. Brand new. It’s amazing to see this from the inception of an idea to a full birth of a special care baby in it. 30. 30 That is for us is so exciting. It’s that glimmer of hope in what looks like an endless sea of despair. The bit that makes you think right, it is all worth it. You know. Keep going.
(30.54 VISUAL: scene in empty hospital clinic in late afternoon, early evening. )
The doctors return to the Aleppo hospital where their journey into Syria started. No one could have imagined how this day would end. All the terrible events that would unfold.
(NOTE: The following section of “Saving Syria’s Children” has been the focus of complaints to the BBC by British peace activist Robert Stuart. For Robert’s very important work, go to http://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/
If this BBC report is fabricated, how must journalists, politicians, people in the peace movement and concerned citizens respond?)
SALEYHA AHSAN: Careful with the face, don’t hold the face so hard, he’s burnt. You irrigate, hold this, good hold.
A 7-month-old baby boy has been brought in with severe burns. No-one’s quite sure what happened.
SALEYHA AHSAN: Have you got a cannula? A small cannula for a baby? This is too big. The baby cannula, this is too big. Oh, oh, oh. Okay.
ROLA HALLAM (Translation): Get a vial of Fentanyl and one of Morphine.
SALEYHA AHSAN: This is crazy….half the kit we need I’m not getting or I don’t have access to – everything is adult size and not paediatric size. Okay, here we have someone else.
ROLA HALLAM: There are more ambulances coming.
Some kind of air strike seems to have taken place. Most of the casualties are teenagers. They’re saying – “A bomb has landed” – in their school playground.
SALEYHA AHSAN: Dozens of people have just been rushed in covered in burns and some white powder dust. Their clothes are hanging off them.
It’s only 5 days since the chemical attack in Damascus and everyone is terrified there’s just been another one.
ROLA HALLAM: It’s just absolute chaos and carnage here. We’ve had a massive influx of what looks like serious burns – seems like it must be some sort of chemical weapon. I’m not really sure.
Rola orders all casualties, anyone who’s touched the victims, to be doused in water. There were no shrapnel injuries typical of most aerial bombs. Instead, they cause napalm-like burns, consistent with an incendiary device, rather than a chemical weapon. 13-year-old Ahmed is in shock. He’s one of the youngest victims to come in. The emergency ward is so full he’s told to wait in the corridor. Within minutes, the hospital is overwhelmed.
ROLA HALLAM (Translation): Let’s take these off. Wait until I move her. One, two, three. It’s okay brother.
SALEYHA AHSAN: He looks like he’s about 13, 14 or 15, just a kid.
With her emergency experience, Rola and Saleyha take charge, dealing with the most serious cases.
ROLA HALLAM: Let me do that – get an IV line into him if you can.
SALEYHA AHSAN: Oh my goodness. Looking bad. Oh my goodness. So we know we are in coz the chest wall is rising, so that’s fine. Okay, okay, okay.
ROLA HALLAM (Translation): Get anyone who isn’t a patient out of here. Get them all out of here please.
SALEYHA AHSAN: Has he had any painkillers? Pain killer? Morphine? Okay, that’s better than nothing. Okay.
ROLA HALLAM (Translation): Who is handling the oxygen? Get me that monitor.
BOY (Translation): Cover me, cover me.
SALEYHA AHSAN: How are we doing with the painkillers? I think there’s more coming. I think there’s more coming. As you can see, it’s just chaos.
ROLA HALLAM: He’s already tubed, he’s already tubed, he’s fine. He needs someone to be supporting his airways. We can do first aid and any resuscitation required but no specific treatment.
MAN (Translation): This is my daughter, my daughter.
BOY: I’m so bad, so bad.
SALEYHA AHSAN: I know you are, but you’re in the right place. You’re in the right place, okay.
GIRL (Translation): Leave me alone, daddy!
18-year-old Siham had been sat in a maths class when the blast ripped through the window.
FATHER (Translation): Treat her like your own daughter.
ROLA HALLAM (Translation): Please stand aside so I can work.
SALEYHA AHSAN: I’m improvising in ways that I’ve never been forced to do, because of lack of equipment. You know, as you can see, there’s nothing coming up on this foot for me to put a cannula in. Oh, this is heartbreaking.
ROLA HALLAM: Most of the people have got 70-90% burns. They will start to lose a lot of fluid. Some of them will start to have difficulty breathing. They will need intensive care therapy, basically, which we’re not able to provide in the context of a field hospital. They will have to go to Turkey.
SALEYHA AHSAN: They all need transfer. They’re all 50 and above. He’s 86.
ROLA HALLAM: Okay. So, fine. So first the ambulances are going.
I thought it was just never going to end. We lost a gentleman on transfer. I’ve never seen a burn that bad. I think his face is going to actually stay with me for quite a long time.
SALEYHA AHSAN: Today was like something out of flippin’ Armageddon. Out of all the war zones that I’ve ever been to, today has been by far the worst. The fact there were children, they were children, teenagers, same age as my nieces and nephews.
ROLA HALLAM: I feel so, so angry. The whole world has been watching us for 2.5 years. We feel like we just don’t matter. Like all of these children and all of these people who are being killed and massacred… We don’t matter. The whole world has failed our nation and it is innocent civilians who are paying the price. It’s an absolute disgrace on the United Nations and all of humanity.
Ten children died in the attack and over 40 suffered serious burns. 13-year-old Ahmed Darwish was described as a hardworking student with a smiley face. We found him a few weeks after the attack in hospital in Turkey with 40% burns to his body. 18-year-old Siham Kanbari was in her final year of school, one of the smartest in her class. She’s also in Turkey for treatment with 70% burns.
AHMED (Translation): Pain, just pain, there’s pain. I’m in a lot of pain. I had a fever all last night and pain. Now there’s pain in my neck and shoulder really hurt.
SIHAM KANBARI (Translation): Give us peace, we need to know the right path, we have had enough, it has been a long time.
AHMED (Translation): We were studying, why bomb us?
The controversy over chemical weapons has died down but the suffering doesn’t stop and the killing doesn’t end. Rola and Saleyha are now back at work in British hospitals. It’s only the efforts of the few that brings any relief to a nation beset by despair. And to the millions of children here, who are alone and forgotten.
DR SALEYHA AHSAN INTERVIEW:
ANJALI RAO: Now I’m joined in London by Dr Saleyha Ahsan, one of the doctors featured in the report.
Saleyha, I have got to say, that was one of the most powerful stories I’ve seen. You described it as Armageddon and your colleague Rola broke down in front of the camers. Tell us what you felt at the end of that horrific day?
DR SALEYHA AHSAN, EMERGENCY DOCTOR: I think I was a bit shell shocked, it was probably one of the worst medical situations that I’ve ever been involved in. I’m an emergency medicine doctor in London. I think just, as the day wore on, and the true facts about the situation became clear and the fact it was a thermal incendiary device dropped on a school injuring up to 40 people, 29 of those teenagers, students at the institute, just blew me away, really cruel.
ANJALI RAO: The memories must still be so vivid for you. How have you dealt with the trauma?
DR SALEYHA AHSAN: I think being able to speak about it, being able to engage with medical colleagues, trying to be pro-active about trying to find solutions, and about highlighting the fact that healthcare and humanitarian aid in Syria is being deeply hampered. The impact of it you can see through the film on the really sort of limited things that we were able to do for those very, very seriously injured patients, those kids, sadly, I’ve just found out that one of those patients, Siham, a girl that features in the film, who’s saying, “This has to stop, how much more can we take” – I found out that tragically two days ago she died.
ANJALI RAO: I’m incredibly sorry to hear that. This must be so difficult for you also to try to process that when it was somebody that you took care of, now I understand also that you are in touch with some of those injured as well. What did they tell you?
DR SALEYHA AHSAN: I’m in touch with the headmaster of the school and some of the teachers. They keep me updated. In fact it was one of the former teachers of Siham who broke the news to me this morning. They say some of them are pulling through very, very slowly, they’re being cared for in Turkey because Syria doesn’t have at the moment in the areas these people live, adequate health care to deal with these kinds of injuries, these multitrauma, highly categorised injuries that these people are suffering.
So I hear that some of them are pulling through and some are going home. I’m worried about follow-up. If we were dealing with such patients, we would have proper follow-up plans. That kind of infrastructure doesn’t exist in Syria any more, not in the areas, not in the north outside of the regime control. These things don’t exist anymore. I’m fortunate. I’ve come out of the situation. I’m reflecting and dealing with it, but I’m very concerned about the doctors – the Syrian doctors – who we have left behind, who are having to deal with this day in, day out without any respite. I’m really, I really do worry about how they will cope with this. Hopefully one day when it ends.
ANJALI RAO: Saleyha, what do you want people watching this program, to take away from the story that you told?
DR SALEYHA AHSAN: I think that this, the cruelty of what’s going on and the fact that there is at this moment in time a lack of – a practical international support – for people who are working really, really hard on the ground, to provide some form of health care, humanitarian care. It doesn’t need to be left just to Syrians who bravely stayed behind. More needs to be done and also, the impact of targeting schools and hospitals – I mean, these are things that are categorically breaches of international humanitarian law and I think we need to be more serious about our shock and horror of this. There needs to be more practical things. Something needs to be done.
ANJALI RAO: The United Nations has found that the Assad regime is targeting hospitals. As a doctor and one who may go back to Syria, how does that make you feel?
DR SALEYHA AHSAN: Obviously I’m afraid. One of the doctors said to me, the thing that they are afraid of most is the sky. When you are targeted by a jet that is dropping bombs, there’s little you can do. You cannot defend yourself. You are hugely vulnerable. There’s no option to negotiate, nothing, not fight back. I think, I’m still coming to terms with the, with the evil of that, how can you have in your mission plan that day that you will be going out to hit hospitals? Who does that? I mean it’s insane.
ANJALI RAO: Dr Saleyha Ahsan, thank you so much for sparing the time to speak to us today, obviously there are countless people who are terribly grateful to you. Thank you very much indeed.
DR SALEYHA AHSAN: Thank you.
ANJALI RAO: There is a link to the Hand in Hand Syrian Charity on our website plus there is a link for a new SBS video diary called Exit Syria, following the lives of people in a giant Syrian refugee camp housing 120,000 people in Jordan.
Filmed, Produced and Directed by
AL MIGHIRA AL SHARIF
FERAS W. AHMED
Studio Interview Researcher
An October Films and BBC Panorama Production
22nd October 2013