Syria: The Deliberate Bombing of Medical Facilities Demands an Interfaith Response
Summer and Labor Day have come and gone. Religious leaders of all faiths are welcoming their flocks back from vacation, with no lack of topics to discuss. However, there is one – the “weaponization” of healthcare in Syria – that simply demands the attention of religious leaders and their congregations to speak out against a “strategy of war” that defies every notion of human decency.
The statistics in Syria are mind-numbing. In nine years, over 500,00 have been killed; 6.6 million internally displaced; 13.1 million inside the country are in need of aid. Recent bombing in Idlib by Russia and the Assad Regime, has forced 750,000 from their homes, often to live in the open, without tents or shelter of any kind.
This “new normal” in Syria now evokes scant international press coverage, and remarkably little public attention. Syria is just too complex; an insoluble morass. So many international interests – Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Turkey, HTS, the remnants of ISIS, the Kurds, etc. – and so little focus on the people of Syria.
In a conflict that’s seen the torture of children, the use of barrel bombs and the deployment of chemical weapons, there is yet another outrage that requires the condemnation of all people of faith and conscience. The UN Security Council is now investigating what Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has documented as the deliberate targeting of medical facilities. Since 2011, there have been 566 l attacks on 350 separate health care facilities. 890 medical personnel have died. This spring, the United Nations gave Russia and Syria the GPS coordinates for hospitals in and around Idlib, to keep those locations safe and off limits to the bombing. Yet, unbelievably, at least 14 of those locations were subsequently bombed. In May and June, 18 hospitals destroyed. As we celebrated the July 4th, rockets obliterated the Kafranbel hospital in northeastern Syria, and on August 21, the Rahma hospital in Tel Mannas, alone, was struck four times.
The result? The medical infrastructure has been decimated. Many surviving medical professionals have fled the country, hospitals have closed, or even relocated underground or in caves. Medication, medical supplies, and basic hygiene are all in short supply, and pregnant women have arranged cesarean deliveries in record numbers to avoid travel through hazardous conditions.
Russia and Syria have challenged the authority of the UN to investigate, contending that some hospitals in Syria have been taken over “by terrorists.”
If you’re a Syrian trapped within the country, death is ever-present. It can find you in your home, at a camp for the internally displaced, at a public market. As horrible as that is, by all rules of human decency, we simply cannot, through a lack of response, now allow military engagement to encompass the deliberate targeting of the few remaining facilities treating the sick and the wounded, or bringing new life into a shattered landscape.
In Congress, Representatives Adam Kinzinger (R.IL) and Brendan Boyle (D.PA.) have sponsored H.Res. 395, condemning the intentional targeting of hospitals and medical personnel in Syria. It calls on all parties to end the attacks on medical facilities, cease targeting medical workers and allow unhindered medical and humanitarian assistance.
However, neither a UN inquiry, nor a House Resolution or press reports alone will bring this barbarism to an end. They need a groundswell of public support. Only our religious leaders – of all faiths – have the moral authority to mobilize and move congregants across the political spectrum to condemn these attacks. Religious leaders cannot remain mute in the face of acts that trample on the most fundamental moral underpinnings of their religious beliefs. To do so, means that those principles exist only as abstractions – with no relevance or impact in the real world.
In their own unique and powerful way, each of the world’s great religions commands that, “Thou shall not stand idly by…” in the face of the suffering of your neighbor. Will future generations ask if we simply “stood by?”
Silence cannot be our response. We urge religious leaders and their congregations to join MFA in calling on members of the House to support H.Res. 395.