International hunger strike for Syria launches
Congressman Keith Ellison, FOR Executive Director Kristin Stoneking, and Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb are among a national group of U.S. leaders who today launched a rolling hunger strike in solidarity with Qusai Zakarya, which has been organized by Syrian-American peace activists.
Stating “I want to live free before I die,” Zakarya is a Syrian in Moadamiya now in the 25th day of a hunger strike to protest the siege of over 30 towns in Syria. The action by these U.S. human rights leaders is the first phase of an international solidarity action.
Syrians are dying daily of malnutrition because military blockades have prevented food and medicine from coming into their areas — approximately one million people are affected. “Starvation is a much worse weapon of war than sarin gas,” Zakarya points out. “Dozens of women and children have died from malnutrition in the last few months. The world has to raise their voices together and say ‘Stop using food as a weapon of war.’ My hunger strike will continue until the siege is broken and aid convoys enter the besieged towns of Syria.”
Qusai Zakarya’s hunger strike is a dramatic challenge to the violence-torn conflict, said FOR’s Kristin Stoneking. His articulation of the struggle for “both bread and freedom” highlights the radical commitment of those who seek nonviolent change amidst war and violent revolution, and those of us who seek to offer solidarity from afar must “wrestle with the reality on the ground,” she argued. Engaging these tensions, Stoneking said, “is important to the current discourse and important moral and ethical struggle for those of us who advocate nonviolence.”
This effort is a “rolling” strike where at least one person participates in the hunger strike each day. Minnesotans have taken the lead in developing the U.S. solidarity response. Today, December 20, a community of Minnesotans are fasting, including members of Friends for a Nonviolent World, to show their solidarity with the region’s Syrian-American community, which has sent doctors to help in the refugee camps, raised money for refugees and medical aid, and led widespread educational efforts throughout their state.
Congressman Ellison from Minneapolis will fast this coming Monday, December 23. Mazen Halabi, a Syrian-American in Minnesota whose friends and family in Syria are caught in a crisis that has been described as the worst humanitarian catastrophe since World War II, expressed his particular appreciation for Rep. Ellison’s participation in the hunger strike. “Congressman Ellison has always been there for us — to listen and to try and find a way to resolve the Syrian conflict. We are grateful to have a compassionate, involved representative in Congress.”
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, coordinator of the Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence and a FOR Freeman Fellow, stated, “Food should not be a weapon. Syrians are asking for free passage for food and medicine to Syrian civilians, and a binding U.N. resolution to make this so.”
A petition supporting Zakarya’s strike was created by the human rights advocacy group Avaaz last month. The petition calls for a binding resolution from the U.N. Security Council requiring the regime in Syria and all armed parties to allow humanitarian organizations immediate unfettered access to aid the civilian population without discrimination, including cross-border access and access across military lines.
A full list of initial participants in the solidarity fast is posted as a file attachment (PDF). Peace and human rights activists are encouraged to join the fast for one or more days.