Mona decided to flee her native city of Homs when teachers in the school she ran started to disappear.
One after another, they were abducted by militia forces loyal to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and Mona figured she might be next.
She crossed the border, together with her children, to neighbouring Lebanon, while her husband stayed behind to run the family-owned bakery. Then her husband was abducted too, and tortured. A good friend of his was killed.
Mona recounted her ordeal to Dana Manor, an Israeli humanitarian volunteer, who visited her this week in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, where hundreds of thousands of refugees are taking shelter.
When the political instability followed Mona to Lebanon, she decided to go back to Syria, and flee again — this time to Jordan. By then, her husband was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the right half of his body trembling involuntarily to this day.
They had to walk the whole way, for 48 hours. “We hid behind rocks and trees, wherever we could,” she said. A few hours after they crossed a ravine, a terrible massacre took place — 1,500 fleeing refugees were killed by Assad forces. “That was the trip of the valley of the deaths,” she said, “I could not believe Assad’s cruelty.” She saw bodies of dead on her way, and many wounded as well.
Mona was not alone, said Ms Manor, who works with IsraAID, the largest international Israeli humanitarian aid organisation. Since 2001, IsraAID has been on the ground in over 20 countries, including Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Kenya, Haiti and others, bringing Israeli expertise in emergency medicine, mental health and search-and-rescue, to disaster areas around the world.
“I am used to working in disaster areas,” said Ms Manor after crossing the border from Jordan back to Israel, “but in this case, the misery is man-made.” IsraAID is distributing food and other basic products to the refugees.
Mafraq, just one-and-a-half hours by car from the Israeli border, is overwhelmed by refugees, even though the locals are very welcoming, Ms Manor said. Bare tents can be seen everywhere, with no running water or electricity. In one, Ms Manor saw a young man and his elderly mother share a piece of dry bread. At night, they said, they keep the bread in a plastic bag, so the cockroaches will not eat it. Most of them are extremely afraid: “Assad has a long arm,” they said, “it can reach us here and slaughter us all”.