Fighters of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) carry their weapons at a military training camp in Ras al-Ain, Syria.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I left home in December 2014 to fight in a foreign war. Even then the Syrian conflict could no longer be described as a civil war, it had already been corrupted by the Islamists and turned into an unfolding genocide. A huge swath of territory in the Middle East had been completely overrun by the Islamic State (ISIS) fanatics. The conscripted armies of Syria and Iraq fled and died in their thousands. It was only the bravery of the YPG and the YPJ that stopped ISIS from taking the entire northern part of Syria. Like waves against a rock, the monsters of ISIS broke themselves on Kobane. If the city had fallen and without intervention, little would have stopped ISIS from extending its murderous campaign into Jordan or Lebanon.
As the plane began to land I got my first glimpse of Kurdistan. In an instant something was stolen from me. With my face pressed to the window I gazed down on mountains, valleys and rivers. I was putting my faith, life and soul into the hands of the Kurdish people. I had come a long way for no payment or even the promise of recompense if I was wounded. Instead I would risk everything for the satisfaction of fighting ISIS and helping to restore peace to a small corner of the Middle East.
If my heart was taken by the beauty of Kurdistan, then the amazing people that I met along my journey soon took everything else. Since I no longer considered my life my own, I lost a great deal of fear. All I wanted to do was fight, to inflict as much pain and brutality on ISIS as they have forced onto countless innocents.
I fought for nearly six months in Rojava, though fields, mountains, villages and towns. The YPG and YPJ became the scourge of the fanatics. In my last operation that lasted just over a week we killed over 550 ISIS fighters. When I returned home I never bothered to ask for my life back.
The next battle for me was to campaign in London and Washington for the West to recognize the sacrifice of the Syrian Kurds and to see them as a way to bring lasting peace to Syria.
My efforts to convince British politicians led me to some wonderful places. I visited Parliament, the Foreign Office and numerous smart London clubs. On a few occasions I found myself in the rather opulent Carlton Club where Conservative grandees relax and swirl brandy together. The senior member of Parliament in front of me listened while I gave my thoughts on the conflict and where Britain could help. He waited for the white-gloved staff to leave the room before he announced some words of wisdom.
“I wouldn’t waste any more of your time trying to get the British government to send arms to the YPG. They won’t do anything without the agreement of the Americans.
That being said, if you push Washington you’ll be waiting for a long time, the administration is very hesitant at the moment. If I were you I would look to the Israelis. When they decide to do something, they do it!” Shortly afterward I wrote my first article for The Jerusalem Post. It was a plea for solidarity that struck a chord with a number of Jews from around the world. The advice I got from many of my new friends was that Israel wouldn’t risk the fury of the Turkish government by publicly supporting or arming the YPG. Israel-Turkey relations – that have been so strained in the past – were now on an even keel. Why upset a regional power in support of a small democracy movement? I found the argument intensely frustrating.
Just last year Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described Israel as “more barbaric than Hitler.” Today the ever-authoritarian Turkish government might hold out the olive branch to Israel but in the future, in an attempt to draw Islamist or nationalist votes, Erdogan could turn on Israel in an instant. I’ve said it in the past and I’ll say it again, what Israel needs in the Middle East is reliable friends.
The Syrian dictatorship of Bashar Assad did a lot to promote terrorism in Israel.
The war in Syria now threatens to triple that danger. It is in the interest of the Israeli people to seek an end to the conflict and find a democratic framework that will guarantee lasting peace. So much time has past since I received that sage advice in the Charlton Club that the Americans are now arming and assisting the YPG. After years of failure and after thousands of needless deaths the American government is finally emerging from its stupor. Its about time the Israeli government stepped up and did the same. The lives of thousands depend on it.The author fought alongside Syrian Kurds against Islamic State.