On October 26, 2016, nearly forty people were killed in Hass, a rebel-held town in the Syrian city of Idlib, when airstrikes deliberately targeted and destroyed a school building at approximately 10:30 AM.
The attack utilized the infamous “double tap” tactic, in which the fighter plane responsible for the first bombing circles back moments later in order to devastate the same location for a second time. According to The Guardian, most of the victims in the Wednesday attack were children, with over 100 other civilians injured.
Images of the attack’s aftermath were ineffably dreadful. In one video, mothers cried hysterically over the dismembered corpses of their children. In another video, children wept in agony, begging to be reunited with their families as they were taken away by aid workers to receive medical attention. Perhaps the most widely shared photo of the tragedy was that of a child’s arm, severed completely from its body, yet still grasping onto a school bag.
Bissan Al-Ghareeb was one of the children who died during the attack. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, Bissan was eight-years-old, born and raised in Hass. Like most of the other children who continue to die at the hands of President Bashar Al-Assad and his Russian allies, Bissan’s entire life was defined by the war that ultimately claimed it.
Although the attack in Hass was covered by many mainstream and alternative media outlets in the West, Bissan’s name (and the names of her schoolmates, both dead and alive) received virtually no attention. Compare this to the case of Omran Daqneesh, who became a global symbol of Syrian suffering when he was pulled out alive from under the rubble of his Aleppo home by the White Helmets in August.
For several reasons, many in the West were obsessively focused on Omran. While his injuries were not life-threatening, the fact that Omran did not cry, let alone make a single sound after being saved, made his story as exceptionally unique, as it was agonizing. On the other hand, Bissan’s fate, like the fate of her schoolmates, was not as “cinematically” compelling. Spilled brains and vaporized body parts do not make for good headlines.
The truth, however, is that Bissan’s experience is a much better example of daily life in besieged areas of Syria. As haunting as it is, the image of a silent, disheveled child sitting hopelessly in the back of an ambulance does not accurately capture the true nature of Syria’s tragedy. What truly defines everyday disasters in Syria are the images of dead children in a decimated schoolyard, lying amidst scattered limbs in pools of their own blood, as survivors scream and pray for death.
In the absence of any real accountability for its crimes, the Assad regime will continue to reproduce these calamities. The bombs regularly dropped on hospitals, schools, and homes will inevitably destroy the lives of countless other Omrans and Bissans. In January, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said he could “shoot somebody” in the middle of the street without fearing the loss of a single vote. Assad appears to be following a similar line of reasoning. As long as he continues to convince the world he is “fighting terrorists,” he can murder children without fear of any real consequences.