Abu Wisam hasn’t slept for five days. He has barely eaten either.
At night, he paces across the cold stones of an old Jerusalem courtyard, minutes from the bustling pedestrian malls in the center of the city, the sound of the muezzin nearby occasionally interrupting his worried thoughts. With daybreak, he continues walking back and forth, well aware that the same sun heating the stones under his feet could soon rob him of his entire world.
Abu Wisam’s family might die of thirst or starvation this week. They, along with 200,000 other Yazidis, Shiites, and Christians, are trapped in the Iraqi heat without food or water on Mt. Sinjar in northwestern Iraq, while members of the Islamic State army kill hundreds of those who stayed behind.
He hasn’t been able to talk to them in days, he told The Times of Israel on Thursday. Unable to save them, and with no home to go back to, Abu Wisam is growing desperate.
“They are on the mountain, thousands of families, without water, without water, with nothing,” he said. “I ask that all good people, everyone with a good heart, help us.”
‘We are being slaughtered’
Yazidis are monotheists who follow an ancient syncretic Kurdish religion influenced by Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. They number around 500,000, mostly in northern Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. Yazidis revere an archangel, Malek Taus (the Peacock Angel), whom they believe God entrusted to run the world after he refused to bow down to Adam.
Local Muslims, however, call them devil worshipers, because according to the Islamic version of the story, the angel who refused to bow down to Adam, Iblis, was cast down to hell, where he became Satan. Yazidis have long been persecuted by Muslims, and are often looked down on as uneducated and dirty. They do not let their children marry Muslims, and their society has seen high-profile honor killings of girls accused of pursuing relationships with Muslims.
The Yazidis’ tense history with Muslims makes them a prime target for the Islamic State. On Saturday, IS issued an ultimatum to tens of thousands of people from the Yazidi community to convert to Islam, pay a religious fine and flee their homes, or face death. The UN mission in Iraq, known as UNAMI, said as many as 200,000 civilians, mostly Yazidis, fled to Mt. Sinjar, but were surrounded by militants and endangered. At least 40 children from those displaced from Sinjar were killed in the violence, UNICEF said Tuesday. A resident in Sinjar said the Sunni militants blew up a small revered Shiite site and two Yazidi shrines.
During a parliamentary session Tuesday, a Yazidi lawmaker broke down in tears as she urged the government and the international community to save her people from being massacred or starved into extinction.
“We are being slaughtered; our entire religion is being wiped off the face of the earth. I am begging you, in the name of humanity,” said Vian Dakhil.
‘Sharon needs to help us’
Abu Wisam came to Israel in June to seek medical care for his baby son, Wisam. A Kurdish NGO connected him with the Jerusalem-based Christian NGO Shevet Achim, which brought him to Israel and provided him and his son a place to live. (The Times of Israel wrote about Shevet Achim last June, when this reporter accompanied 4-year-old Nadrah, a Syrian refugee in Jordan, to Israel for a life-saving operation.) The NGO brings sick children from the Muslim world into Israel for heart surgery, and has been active in locating children from the mostly-Kurdish regions of northern Iraq in order to arrange access for them to Israel’s pediatric heart surgeons.
He had heard frightening reports about Jews from media and on the street back home. He also knew he would lose his job once word got out that he had visited Israel, but the health of his son trumped all other considerations. Still, he refused to have his picture taken from the front.
It didn’t take long before Abu Wisam was won over by the country. “In the hospital, how people act, it doesn’t matter what religion you are; people here have freedom, the Jews give freedom.”
Like most Israelis this summer, Abu Wisam had to run to shelters when Hamas rockets flew overhead. “Thank God, the missiles fell far from here,” he said. “This is nothing compared to Iraq…I’ve been bombed many times.”
A week after Abu Wisam arrived, he heard that Mosul had fallen to IS. Five days ago, his brother called to tell him that the Kurdish peshmerga forces had left his hometown of Sinjar, and that the 20 members of his family were heading for the mountains. some Yazidis set out on the five-hour drive to the city of Duhok, within the Kurdistan Region itself. But Abu Wisam’s family has no car, and the Islamic state’s gunmen could run them down of the road.
That was the last time Abu Wisam spoke to his brother.
Now, Abu Wisam’s wife, his three sons and two daughters, his brother, his mother and father, and several cousins, are surrounded by the Islamic State. He last spoke to them directly three days ago.
Abu Wisam did speak on Thursday with his brother in Germany, who has been in recent contact with the family members on Mt. Sinjar. Abu Wisam heard from him that their brother on the mountain was going to venture down to try to buy food. The mission is much more dangerous than it might sound. Two boys who on Wednesday tried to return to Sinjar to procure food were caught by IS and decapitated, Abu Wisam said.
“They can die from hunger, or they can die when they go down to try to find food.”
His brother told him that hundreds of Yazidi men were killed and hundreds of girls were raped. “Two hundred fifty men were killed while IS men stood around holding a flag that says, ‘Allahu Akbar.’ How can 250 people be killed in the name of God? Three hundred girls were taken and sold, ISIS did this in the name of the Koran. And they say we’re heretics?”
He said there are Kurdish PKK fighters from Turkey on the mountains with the civilians, but no one else. “The peshmerga sold us out,” he said bitterly.
Abu Wisam’s fears are growing as reports begin to surface of children succumbing to the heat on top of the mountain.
“I ask, in my name, and in the name of the Yazidis, that Israel and Europe help us against the Islamic State,” he pleaded. “I ask that the State of Israel protect us from the Islamists, tens of thousands of people, my family alone is 20 people. Put it on Facebook, put it on YouTube.
“The whole world needs to see who these Islamists are. [Ariel] Sharon needs to help us.”
“Sharon is dead,” I told him. “It’s Netanyahu now.”
“Allah yerhamo (God have mercy on him),” he said. “Netanyahu then… I wish I knew where the government’s offices are. I would go to them and ask them to help us. Yesterday, 60 children died of thirst.”
Abu Wisam is desperate to reach his family, but wants them out of Iraq as quickly as possible. “Iraq is a graveyard for us,” he said.
He would be happy to bring them to Israel. “I wish Netanyahu would let us live here. I wish he would give the Yazidi some land.”
“Take some from the Palestinians and give it to us,” he added, only half-jokingly. “I’d rather be a street cleaner here than go back there with the Islamists, who murder and butcher.”
News agencies contributed to this report.