Janine di Giovanni writes: Last month, a convoy of aid trucks reached Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, where an estimated 8,000 residents and 1,000 rebel fighters have been slowly starving for four years. Before the Syrian civil war started, Daraya had a population of almost 80,000. But that was before Bashar Assad’s troops encircled the town and his planes began the daily bombardments that have reduced much of the city to rubble and devastated the wheat fields and farmlands that once sustained it. Many who are left in Daraya subsist on grass and grape leaves, whatever they can forage.
The United Nations has been trying to get food through for a while now, but Assad has blocked it every time. On this occasion, for no stated reason, he waved the U.N. through. When the trucks finally reached the center of Daraya, they were swarmed by desperate people, who quickly became angered when they realized the trucks were packed with mostly inedible things like mosquito nets and anti-lice shampoo.
Ten days later, the U.N. sent another convoy. This one, at least, was carrying food, though it wasn’t sufficient to feed everyone. But it was enough for U.N. officials to claim that they had tried. One senior U.N. official, off the record, told me wearily that it was “impossible to get the numbers right of how many people are actually inside.” This fatalist excuse roughly translates as: People are going to starve, but there’s nothing more to do.
As soon as the aid convoy left the town, the barrel bombs started again. Twenty-eight of them, by the count of Ahmad, a 23-year-old former engineering student, whom I spoke to by Skype Messenger. Ahmad works as a volunteer in the “media center” in Daraya. I asked him if he had gotten any of the 480 rations of food.
“No, I have not eaten today,” he told me. “I don’t understand how the world can watch this,” he said. “We’re starving.”
The truth is that the world, at least much of the United States, is not watching.
For Americans, caught up in a circus-like presidential election driven by fear and anger — about lost jobs, about terrorist attacks, about immigrants — Syria is simply part of an indefinite mass of Middle Eastern chaos and danger. Though Syria has endured five years of war, and suffered more than 400,000 dead, it manages to arouse as much suspicion as pity. And when it has been discussed at all by presidential candidates often it has been to argue over the need for an immigration ban on all Muslims to prevent terrorists from hiding among the trickle of Syrians entering the country. No one talks about Daraya, or the 18 other besieged towns across Syria just like it where starvation is being used as a tool of war. [Continue reading…]