February 10, 2022
Photographer and Humanitarian Rescuer
“To save one life is to save all of humanity.” This is the slogan of the Syria Civil Defence Force, also known as the White Helmets. In Syria, a country ravaged by civil war and constant aerial bombardments, the White Helmets risk their lives to protect others, regardless of religion or politics. The White Helmets consist of over 4,000 brave volunteers who act as first responders in the absence of core government services. They are credited with saving the lives of over 100,000 civilians between 2015 and 2020.
Anas al-Dyab, a college student whose studies were interrupted by the Syrian civil war, was a photographer for the White Helmets. Al-Dyab’s photographs expose the human cost of war and shine a light on the violations of international humanitarian law happening in Syria. Published internationally, al-Dyab’s photos capture the terrible destruction of war while also illustrating the humanity and courage of those affected by it.
In July 2019, al Dyab was tragically killed in a Russian air strike while documenting the bombardment of his hometown, Khan Sheikhun. He was 23 years old. Al-Dyab was one of nearly 300 White Helmets killed by direct targeting or double tap strikes while doing life-saving humanitarian work. A double tap strike is the practice of following an airstrike with a second strike shortly after to target first responders rushing to the site to help. In testimony recorded before his death, al-Dyab said, “Maybe if my camera fails, the minds and memories of millions of Syrians who have lived through this war and have experienced this Syrian reality will not fail or lie.” Anas al-Dyab dedicated his life to an ideal – that all people are equally deserving of dignity and rights. His bravery and selflessness will live on in the hearts and minds of the people he worked to protect. Al-Dyab and his fellow White Helmets are an inspiration to us all.
Adapted from Carrie Booth Walling, Human Rights and Justice for All: Demanding Dignity in the United States and Around the World (Routledge 2022).