In the early hours of August 20, al-Haj Ali Abu al-Joud’s wife called him to ask when he would be home. Fighting had broken out near the rebel-held al-Qaterji neighborhood where they lived, part of Aleppo’s old city. She was afraid. Al-Joud said he would be home in 10 minutes.
Minutes later, a regime barrel bomb was dropped on east Aleppo city. Al-Joud, a 35-year-old citizen journalist and photographer, had seen this scene many times before. It was his job. He visited the sites of attacks, took pictures and posted them online.
But on August 20, the heap of debris and twisted metal in front of him was his home. And this time, it was his family—his wife, four young children, second wife and her elderly father—who were down there, somewhere, underneath the stones.
“I’m homeless now,” al-Joud tells Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier. “I sleep in my office, without a family.”
It took two days for Abu al-Joud and Civil Defense rescue workers to find the bodies of his children, wives and father-in-law. After that, he searched through the remains of his home for family pictures, toys, anything to hold onto.
“When there were bombings at night, my children used to run to me and sit next to me. And when there were planes during the day, they watched them,” said Abu al-Joud.
“They spent their time playing with the neighborhood children, but they always kept their eyes on the sky.”
Aisha was 12. All photos courtesy of al-Haj Ali Abu al-Joud.
Q: Where were you during the bombing? How did you learn what happened?
I was visiting my friend at his office in Aleppo’s old city, and there were clashes around the Aleppo citadel. My wife called me to tell me about the nearby fighting. I told her: “There’s nothing, just sporadic clashes, don’t worry.” She asked me if I would be late, and I told her I’d be home in 10 minutes.
It was 15 minutes later when I heard the sound of a helicopter. A few minutes later, it dropped a barrel bomb. It was very close, and I thought it would fall on the office, so I said the shahada. There was a sudden, strong explosion.
Moments later, a friend called me and said: “The barrel fell on your house.”
I was in shock. I couldn’t say anything. All I could do was pray. I took off running as fast as I could to the house. I was crying. I couldn’t see anything in front of me. I got to my house, and I didn’t see it. All I saw was rubble.
Muhammad was 11.
It was a huge blow. I got ahold of myself and started praying. I had witnessed many scenes like this. I was shocked, because my wife had been speaking with me a half hour before, and now she was under the rubble. That was when a group of Civil Defense personnel came and started working to remove the debris.
My family stayed under the rubble for 48 hours before they were able to extract them. It was God’s will. All the members of my family died, and we worked for two days to get them out from under there.
Afraa was seven.
Q: Can you tell us more about your children? How did they spend their days, what did they like to do?
In Aleppo, we are living in a siege. The children can’t choose favorite foods. They eat whatever is available. My kids used to like watching children’s television programs, but they couldn’t do that either, because the electricity was cut off. It only came back on rarely.
Obaidah was eight.
They spent their time playing with the neighborhood children, but they always kept their eyes on the sky, afraid of the bombing.
Q: Why didn’t you leave Aleppo city, given the repeated bombings?
My family had the chance to leave for the Idlib countryside. They told me: We’ll stay with you. We’ll die together. We will either be martyrs or we will triumph, with our heads high.
This was their decision, to stay with me.
Abu al-Joud’s children.
When there were bombings at night, my children used to run to me and sit next to me. And when there were planes during the day, they watched them in the sky.
Q: Will you keep working as a citizen journalist?
[After the bombing], I stopped working for three days, then started again. I’m homeless now. I sleep in my private office, without a family.
Before the revolution, I worked in visual imaging and photography. When the revolution began, in the early days, I photographed the peaceful demonstrations. When the regime resorted to force, I moved to documenting regime massacres and Russian hostility with my camera. Then, I would post about the events on social media.
I never expected that my own camera, which recorded many massacres against the people of Aleppo, would also document my own tragedy, the death of my family.
Those moments were cruel and painful. I didn’t comprehend what happened to my family, my home. But despite my huge loss, I’m continuing my work. I won’t stop recording the massacres. I had expected this day would come, that Russia, the regime and all its militias would, in their hate, target everything civilian, women, children and infrastructure on a daily basis.
Abu al-Joud’s east Aleppo home after a reported regime barrel bombing.
The most important message that I hope to shed light on are the rest of the massacres that are being committed, in Aleppo specifically and Syria in general. What happened to me is a small and inseparable part of that.
Before all, our faith in God, fate and victory is strong. When the land that I was born in is violated by occupying gangs, of course I’ll stay here, so it can be liberated, so a society can be built that loves one another. And the land, whose earth was created with the blood of its children, and the scent of the perfume that emanates from all its streets gives us strength and hope.
I know that my family died, but I wouldn’t leave them under the rubble. I brought them out and honored them with a burial.