Syrian family living in Yankton monitors family's safety onlineYANKTON (AP) — Several times a day, Rola Binder checks her Facebook account to see if her family is still alive.
By: DEREK BARTOS, Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan
YANKTON (AP) — Several times a day, Rola Binder checks her Facebook account to see if her family is still alive.
Binder, who lives in Yankton, was born in Syria and has several family members who still live in the country, fighting for survival in the midst of a conflict that kills more civilians every day.
"They live hour by hour," Binder said. "They say, 'We're OK now, but in an hour we don't know what will happen.' It breaks my heart, and my kids' hearts. They don't know if their grandma will be alive tomorrow or not."
The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 after public demonstrations across the country developed into a nationwide uprising calling for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad and his government. The Syrian government deployed its army to quell the uprising, resulting in many besieged cities and civilian fatalities. The attacks have drawn criticism from several countries, the United Nations and many human rights organizations.
While her immediate family remains safe for now, Binder said she has had relatives injured and killed as a result of the violence.
"My cousin was killed. They bombed his house and he died," she said. "And my second cousin, they shot him and he died. And one cousin, they shot him, but he is alive now. They saved him."
Through Facebook and phone calls, Binder has been communicating with her family about the uprising, a conflict that has resulted in more than 15,000 casualties, mostly civilians, since it began last spring, according to Syria Human Rights Monitor. Her family has sent her several videos and pictures of the violence, many showing the dead bodies of women, children and elderly killed by Syrian government forces.
"Bashar is killing them because they cannot fight back, and he is leaving all the strong people to kill each other," she said.
Binder said the most appalling images are those of the dead babies, who are most often killed with knives.
"(Bashar) wants to kill the future in Syria, and the future is kids," she said. "Then there would be nobody against him."
Binder said her family must be careful with the information they send online and with what they say over the phone, as they are always fearful of the Mukhabarat, the Syrian intelligence agency. She said up to one-third of the Syrian population is rumored to be on the Mukhabarat payroll, and residents are afraid if they speak ill of the Syrian government, they will be captured or killed.
"It's what we've been told since when we were little," she said. "Nobody really trusts anybody, only your close family. You cannot speak one word about the president or government. 'Everything is perfect,' you have to say."
Binder said that type of censorship resulted in her father's death in 1984, when he refused to sign documentation agreeing with then-President Hafez al-Assad, who used many of the same policies that his son Bashar uses today. She said the continuation of such practices for more than four decades is what has led to the recent uprising.
"It's been that way for 42 years, and now the people don't want that. They want their freedom. They want to live like everybody else," she said. "This is why he's killing them. He doesn't want them to live like other people."
Binder, who was born and raised in Syria, used a job opportunity in Kuwait to escape the troubled life when she was 24. She then met her now ex-husband, who was from Yankton, and eventually moved to the United States to start a family. Now 46, she has returned only once to her home county, when she took her two daughters, Ashley, 15, and Jodi, 11, to see her family in 2001.
With Syria now in a more troubled state, Binder said she would like to return to the country, but her responsibility lies with her children.
"If I don't have my kids now, I would be there a long time ago," she said. "I would stand by the people, because I don't agree with what is going on and how people are being killed."
As the violence continues, Binder said she hopes the U.S. will become more involved in the conflict, not necessarily to support the rebel army, but to find a way to help protect innocent civilians.
"They should protect the people, especially the kids and the women and the old people, because they cannot fight him back. They need help," she said. "They deserve it. They are human like everybody else."