Friday, September 12, 2014

Chapter 16: 100 years of peace. Vol: 1

The Peace Palace in The Hague turned 100 years old in August 28th 2013, and a big celebration was held for this great occasion which should be celebrated all around the world in my opinion.
Nothing is greater and more satisfying than celebrating peace, and getting invited to that celebration and a week of amazing activities connected to it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me.

A dear friend whom I've never met, and a man I look up to, Anas Marrawi was the one invited, and he suggested my name instead of his, and the good people organizing the celebration looked me up and didn't mind.
They contacted me with details, showed me how hospitable they are and how they’ll take care of every single thing. From transportation, to hotels, including the visa.I was very excited about this invitation and extremely honored to be one of ten bloggers they chose from around the globe.I received my invitation on July 25th, and the planned program on the 26th, and they were encouraging us to give suggestions and get involved with the planning of our program a month before the event. Everything was very exciting.

On the 28th, I contacted several of the young men I was invited with, and I had the numbers and emails of the people in charge of the event and helping us out in The Netherlands’ embassy in Egypt and Lebanon. I had to get a date with the embassy in Beirut to deliver my visa application and invitation since getting the visa takes up to 15 days, and when I looked online the only free date was on the 29th, meaning I had to go to Lebanon that very same night! And it was almost 3 PM.
I booked the spot at the embassy, filled out the visa application, and decided to do whatever I can to not let this opportunity go.

It was Ramadan, and Maghreb was few hours away, and since I was in Homs, I had to go to Damascus first since no transportation from Homs to Lebanon was available due to clashes near the border.
Around 3 PM, no buses either, so I called a taxi driver and packed my papers and a couple of things in a small bag. I didn't have time to shower or shave.

At exactly 4 PM I was on my way to Damascus. I knew my name wasn't in the wanted lists at security checkpoints since they raided my house not long ago and checked my ID, but what I didn't have time to do is to check if my name was in the wanted list at the border. I didn't give it any thought because, why would my name be on such list?

Few hours and tens of security checkpoints later, we arrived in Damascus, and that’s when I decided to go straight to Beirut and not have a meal in Damascus. I thought I’d get a room at a hotel, order room service, and take a shower.Until the border everything was going normally for such times, and I even bought the paper that allows me to leave Syria. I wrote my name on it and everything and gave it along with my ID to the officer who is supposed to stamp it and give it back so I can cross. That guy told me to go inside because there is something he wanted to ask me about, and that’s when they arrested me.
They took my bag, my cellphone, and my wallet. Wouldn't let me talk to the driver or make a phone call. I was yelled at and was told to sit still and not open my mouth or else.I sat there listening to my cellphone ringing, and I knew it was my mother wanting to check on me if I crossed the border. I begged them to answer the phone themselves and tell her only that I’m alive! But of course I only got yelled at more.

They brought my file, and the paper that said to what branch I was wanted, and started asking me questions. They said I was born in 1979 while I really was born in 1984. I told them my older brother was born in 1979, and they figured out that my brother is the one they want since he didn't do his military service, but they said there’s nothing they can do and they must transfer me to the branch I’m wanted in.
One of the officers started laughing at us (Me and the others on that bench) saying things like: If you can’t handle the consequences why start a revolution? Then he kept coming over and slapping the person next to me with all he’s got. He slapped him more than 6 times every time he came over.
I found out the guy next to me was trying to cross the border with his brother’s ID to avoid being taken to the military service. Every few minutes they’d come back to him and slap him with all their strength.I was kept on that bench for an hour or more, my phone ringing, and hearing insults, then they put handcuffs on me and the guy next to me.
That was the first time I was handcuffed, but in the next 7 days I was handcuffed more than 6 times and in at least 3 types of handcuffs.We were taken to a room where we had to take our shoes and belts off, then they took us to the cell. Also the first time I see a jail cell. It was dirty, it had rats running inside of it, and it had 4 other people.

When they put us in that cell they wanted to take our handcuffs off, but the key didn't work, so they left them on. Me and the other guy were handcuffed together for a while until they came back and tried several keys until one worked.In that cell there was a plastic chair and I sat on it. I asked if they’re going to feed us and the answer was no.I spent the night sitting down because the mattresses were indescribably dirty.

That was day one without food, sleep, or contacting anyone.

The next morning we were taken out of the cell, given our shoes and belts back, handcuffed, and lead to a bus. We were stuffed there in the last two rows of chairs with our handcuffs on, and I probably was the only one who wasn't beaten on the way in.
The officers then filled the rest of the seats with big bags of cigarettes they bought from the Free Zone market between Syria and Lebanon. Then they did a count for the cartons and how many each of them will take and sell inside Damascus.
They dragged every person to the branch he was wanted in, and I was wanted for a security branch called 251. We arrived there and there was another guy with me being delivered to that same branch, and he’s been to it before so he kept begging the officer to stay with us so they won’t brutally beat us on our way is like they did to him the last time.

Once we arrived the horrible insults started, we were shoved against a wall until they took our papers and then they dragged us in with our heads down and hands still cuffed.
We went down stairs and there they uncuffed us, shoved us against corners of walls, with our hands behind our backs, then they started yelling our names one by one, whenever a name is yelled that person had to go answer the basic questions and give the person in charge everything he has in his pockets or bag.
My name was called, I went towards him, and he was an old man with a small table. He opened my bag and started listing what’s in it. He took my phone and memory stick I had and put them in a paper bag and wrote my name on it. He asked me if I was sick, and I told him I have asthma and heart issues, hoping that would help me get less beat up in the days ahead, but that didn't work as I found I was assured of what I already knew, and that is they don’t care.
I was shoved back against the wall, and more insults of course, then I was dragged into another hall where they told me to take off all my clothes, they checked them and checked me, then they yelled at me to get dressed quickly, while walking towards the big cell where I will be staying.

On the way to that cell, more insults, kicks, etc. They opened the door and shoved me inside. That’s when I found out there are no cells. Just a big hall with hundreds of people like me shoved inside. No bars no windows. Just walls and a door with a camera on top of it. There was a sink with a line to get to it, and I found a place on the floor to sit. No chairs, no mattresses, nothing. Just floor and people, lots of people.The first thing I heard when I came in is a man asking me what time it was when they brought me in, but I had no idea.I spent the rest of that day talking to other prisoners and swapping stories, and watching some of them being called, taken for a while, then coming back after their interrogation during of which most of them were tortured.

The combination of prisoners was very unusual, there were several from every city in Syria, some of them were old and some were young. And by young I don’t mean 18 years old, but 14. There was a 14 years old kid locked in one of the most savage places in Earth, and there were men in their 70’s. There were sick men, injured men, and terminally ill men. One prisoner was mentally challenged, and couldn't speak or walk or eat properly. A few came back from the torture room (or rooms) bleeding, or with extremely swollen body parts, and some never made it back while I was there.By evening, they brought us bread, inedible bread to say the least, I tried a bite and I couldn't swallow it, but when I offered my loaf to others, they took it and divided it and ate it whole. I don’t know how long those haven’t had anything to eat.

In that evening my name was called among many others, and they took us out one by one to take our photo for their files, and while taking my photo they made a couple of stupid jokes about my hair (I had long hair then).

I had to use the restroom, so I had to stand in line for about 30 minutes to get there. The restroom was a tiny room with no light, the toilet had no cover and couldn't be flushed, and there was no shower, just a high valve that drops water all over that room at all times, except when water is out obviously.

All that was fine, until I found out that there is no soap. Hundreds of men, eating, and sleeping together, going to the bathroom, and unable to wash their hands. That's when I knew I'll be sick as hell very soon since I shook many people's hands in there.
Until this day I can't get over the fact that the only thing available in that cell was water, and only during the day I found out later that night.

By I don’t know what O’clock, they said it’s time to go to sleep. A couple of the old timers inside the cell told us to stand in rows with only about 30 centimeters between every two rows, then they told us to sit down in that exact position, then spread our legs and lie down, that way I had my upper half on the person behind me, while my legs were on the sides of the person in front of me and that person had his upper half on top of me. So basically we had to sleep on top of each other. Literally.
Personally I couldn't stay in that position for an entire minute and got up immediately, and spent the night standing up by a wall, and when most people fell asleep, I barely had space for my feet standing up.

That was day two without food, sleep, or contacting anyone.


Second day in this security center started with me extremely weak, and during the morning after guards started calling out names I found a place to lie down to rest, but of course that's when my name was called, so I got up, and headed to the door.

Like everyone before me, I went out barefoot as no boots were allowed, and as I stepped out of the door, I was in an ocean of insults, kicks, and grabs. They lead me to a wall, told me to pick up something from the corner next to me, I did, and it was a blindfold. They told me to put it on my eyes very tightly, and that if they found out I could see they'll kill me.
I put on the blindfold and they tightened it up more, and told me to put my hands behind my back and my head down,

After more kicks, insults, and jokes about my looks, they dragged me upstairs, stopped me facing a wall until the officer who will interrogate me arrived.

The officer didn't drag or touch me, he was holding a stick, poked me with it, told me to catch the other side of it and follow him.
In the interrogation room I was told to kneel on my knees with my hands behind my back, blindfolded still.

The officer started asking me questions, my name, my job, my family, etc.. and during these questions a security guy came from my back and said that he had good news for the officer, and that one of the "terrorists" and after only one slap decided to give up so many information. The officer told him to wait for him until he finishes with me.

I nearly smiled at that badly played charade, but of course I didn't.
The officer then told me to collaborate and that he'll help me a lot if I give him the information he wants.
I said I will fully collaborate with him and be completely honest.

Officer told me he knows I don't carry a weapon and fight (Thanks to the years I spent baking brownies and pizzas I don't have the fitness to fight), but then he elaborated with "We have recorded phone calls of you and several terrorists discussing how and when you'll deliver money to them"

He then started opening my family's file (I could hear the papers flipping) and told me that my brother is a Salafi Wahhabi who sends me millions that I deliver to terrorist groups, and my brother-in-law is a friend of many princes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar and he too sends me millions that I deliver to terrorists, and all I have to do is give him the names of those terrorists, and if I do that he'll help my case, otherwise I'll be sent to the anti terrorism court, in which I will be sentenced to be executed.

He said he'll now give me the chance to "come clean" and that I better take that chance.

My answer was that I did receive money transfers from my brother, but there were no millions, but thousands, and all were used by me and my parents to live, since I haven't worked since 2011.

Hearing that he came at me, dragged me to the wall I was standing by earlier, told me to kneel again, and that's when he started beating me with a cable or a whip, I took the first few whips but then my knees couldn't hold me anymore and I fell on the floor screaming in pain, but he kept on beating my feet and hands with that cable.
One of the security guards came by when he heard my screams and started kicking me and saying the worst insults I've ever heard in my life and telling me to shut up.

I closed my mouth with my hands and they kept on beating me until I was about to faint.
They told me to stand up, which was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, then one of them dragged me downstairs and back to the cell.

Cellmates told me to move and jump so my feet won't get swollen, and I did my best, then they helped me to the shower to wash my feet and hands with cold water, and that helped ease the pain quickly.

I sat in the cell, full of pain and anger, I felt unbelievably weak. I was broken. And worst of all, I knew this was just the beginning.

So many thoughts came to me, I wondered if I'll ever leave this place alive, I wondered how my old parents are doing back home not knowing where I was, and that only made me feel worse, but then I decided to try to make myself feel better.
I tried to accept the fact that I'm here and there's nothing I can do about, that I will  be beaten and humiliated more, and finally that I will stay in that cell for a year, so I shall get used to it.

Few minutes before the first meal of the day, a guy was brought back and his feet were extremely large from all the beating he took, he couldn't even put them on the floor, and once he was shoved inside the cell, a man went to him and started massaging his feet, other brought him water in their hands so he wouldn't faint, and they told him he had to start standing up right away or he might get much worse.

The first meal that day was the same meal they've been serving almost every day in that security branch. The same inedible bread, but this time with some cooked burghul. I tried to take a bite of each and I still couldn't swallow either. I immediately gave them away to other prisoners, but then there was a surprise! They brought us little green pears after the meal! Oh how happy I was with my pear. Finally something I could eat. And I did. I enjoyed every tiny bite of that pear, and I ate it whole.

After this feast the old timers told everyone to stand up and gather near the cell's door and they washed the floor. They had a (akecath?) and a cloth to dry the floor with. They even had some precious dish washing liquid which once I saw I decided I must have some to take a shower with.

Few minutes later names were called again, and surprisingly mine was included. I didn't think they're interrogate me twice in the same day!

I got up and headed to the door, and the exact same scenario happened, except this time I already knew what was coming. 

Blindfold on, head down, hands to the back, kicks insults and jokes. This time the jokes were smarter, in a way. They asked me about my hair and if it's a musician thing, and I said yes, so then they demanded I sing a rap song for them, and that was the weird thing because I thought I obviously looked like a metalhead! But anyway I didn't sing and they didn't really wanted me to, they're just having fun kicking me and making jokes because I look different.

Then up to the interrogation room, with the same officer and his stick.

I was told to kneel on my knees again, and the officer asked me if I changed my mind yet. I told him I'll tell him everything.
He wanted to know about the money transfers I received, so I told him about every single one and how much it was and how we spent it, and that's when he got angry and started yelling. He said these aren't the transfers he's talking about, he wants to know about the millions brought to me by hand and I delivered to terrorists. He said he had witnesses and recorded tapes of telephone conversations. My answer was that I have no idea what he's talking about and that I'm certain there are no such tapes. That's when he dragged me out again and told me that I've seen nothing yet, he told me that I haven't tasted pain, and that he'll send me down there to the torturing room and forget about me for a month, then he'll see if I change my mind or not.

I begged him, please don't, I swear I have no idea what he's talking about and I told him to look at my clothes, shouldn't I wear better clothes if I really had millions coming to me?
He yelled and told them to take me down and "give me a ride". I never was this scared in my life. This is where many were tortured to death. I told him I have something to say.

He sat me down on the floor and told me that he knew I was going to change my mind, and he told me to give him the names I gave money to, and how much and where.
I told him I have no idea what he's talking about and that's not what I have to say.

He told me to say what I want to say then, and I did.
I told him that all the things he said about me and my family are false, we're not financing terrorism or anybody, as we can barely cover our own life expenses, and then I told him that if he doesn't believe me, or if he thinks I'm lying then why send me downstairs and torture me? I won't confess to something I didn't do, so he could take out his gun and shoot me in the head right there, right now.

I meant every word I said. I thought to myself, I'd rather get killed quickly than under torture. I don't fear death, I've made my peace with it long ago, but torture is another story. If I was gonna be killed, let me try to make it fast and painless.

He remained quiet for a couple of minutes, then he told me he'll give me one more chance till tomorrow morning to confess, then they dragged me back to the cell without beating.

Back in the cell, I sat down and repeated everything I went through in my head to see if what I said was the best thing to say or not. I prepared myself for another round of interrogation the next day and decided I should get some sleep, but once again I couldn't get any sleep that night either.

Three nights without any sleep, without contacting anyone, and all I had was a little green pear. I sure wasn't physically ready for the following day.


  1. As a Syrian i find this story a normal one because we heard it a lot but i want to know what happened to you later
    please inform me when you publish the second part
    my name on twitter is @a10robben

    1. Certainly. And yes my story is a normal Syrian story, sadly, and that's why I'm writing it, so non Syrians can understand how we live.

  2. Alaa H: I just found this blog and can't express HOW happy to find out you're still with us. I pray for you and your family daiky. Stay safe and know you are loved!