The human cost of war

Steven Sotloff freelanced for The Jerusalem Report from Mideast hot spots, finally meeting a tragic death in Syria, a country he cared for deeply.

Steven Sotloff beheading (photo credit: REUTERS)
Steven Sotloff beheading
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Seven hour breadlines and winter with no heat and electricity has exhausted residents. People are selling off all their valuables and sending children to cut down trees for heat,” Steven Sotloff wrote to me in January 2013 from Aleppo in an email pitching a piece for The Jerusalem Report on the humanitarian situation in the war-torn Syrian city.
It was one of many emails we had exchanged during the period he had freelanced for the magazine. He first published in The Report in August 2010, an article from Doha, Qatar about the looming Iranian threat.
When I heard the shocking news of his gruesome execution at the hands of Islamic State (IS) militants in early September, I went straight to my Inbox to see what remained of our correspondence. Eerily, nothing had been deleted. In fact, the corre - spondence went back before I had become The Report’s editor.
Sotloff wrote over a score of articles over a three-year period for The Report as a freelancer. We never met or even spoke on the phone; our sole means of correspondence was via email.
He reported from hot spots around the Middle East, including the 2011 revolution that toppled Muammar Gadhafi in Libya, and from Egypt, where he submitted his final piece for the magazine, a cover story, published in August 2013, reporting from Cairo shortly after Mohammed Morsi was ousted from power by the army, and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Tamarud movement were competing for the heart of the street with rival demonstrations. Ironically, by the time it came out he had already returned to Syria and had been taken captive by rebels. It is unclear by which group, but according to a family spokesman he was later ‘sold on’ to IS.
He also wrote for the Report from Bahrain and Qatar but it was in Syria that one could sense he was deeply and personally touched by the plight of the civilian population.
Filing from Aleppo, Steven wrote about Muhammad Sidqi, a 12-year-old foraging for wood on a cold winter’s day, about Hisham Maliki, a doctor with no antibiotics available for his child patients and Hamid Hillal, a father desperately trying to find food for his infant daughter.
Sotloff’s next email was prescient. He was deliberating whether to go to the regime stronghold of Latakia or to Idlib province, which he warned was “becoming increasing unstable” and had “seen a number of journalists kidnapped.”
We told him to watch his back, but Sotloff was clearly fearless. He brushed off our warnings; his pluck came across clearly, as did his gracious and outgoing personality.
In the end he decided to stay away from Idlib and headed to the Latakia area, al - though he made it only as far as the mountaintop village of Salma, as the regime wasn’t letting through journalists coming from rebel held areas. From there he reported on how a paradise had been shattered by violence and how foreign jihadi fighters were fomenting sectarian hatred.
“The human cost of a war that will not end soon is becoming increasingly unbearable,” he concluded his report from Aleppo. Syria’s suffering meanwhile drags on as he predicted, and, as he foresaw, the foreign jihadis have become ever more prevailing in the conflict. How ironic that he should die at their hands trying to report the plight of a people he cared so deeply about