Yesterday we discussed how ISIS is getting desperate. Today we feature Joanna Palani, a girl who left her cushy life of studying politics and philosophy in college to travel to war-torn Syria to fight ISIS and make them even more desperate.
At 22-years-old, Joanna left her college in Copenhagen, Denmark to join the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and later the Peshmerga (Kurdish for “one who stands in front of death”) to fight ISIL in Syria.
Palani has it in her blood to battle these menacing forces, she is the daughter and grand-daughter of Peshmerga fighters. Joanna is an Iranian Kurd who was born in a United Nations refugee camp in Ramadi, Iraq in 1993, after her family was forced to flee their home during the Gulf War. Her family moved to Copenhagen when she was a toddler. Joanna fired her first rifle at 9-years-old, and one of her favorite hobbies was shooting targets.
“I love it, it is my life,” Joanna told Vice. “It is very normal for Kurds to learn to use weapons like this.”
She left her “normal, comfortable life” to venture to Syria to defeat ISIS and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military, and “fight for human rights for all people.”
On Joanna’s very first day she came face to face with the horrors of the devastating civil war.
While on night patrol with a foreign fighter from Sweden, the pair were attacked by a sniper who had seen the smoke from a cigarette and shot her comrade between the eyes. She describes how the embers from her companion’s cigarette remained lit as he died, his blood soaking into her new uniform.
Things didn’t get any easier as she witnessed horrific atrocities day after day.
Palani was a member of a battalion that liberated a village near Mosul, Iraq. There they discovered a large group of children who were sexually abused by ISIS monsters. These exploited children were in a “holding house,” where young girls were locked up, raped, and loaned out to Islamic State fighters.
“All the girls were under 16—some were really young,” Palani said. “I met this girl in the hospital we had to bring them to. She was a Syrian Christian and she died holding my hand because she was 11-year-old and she was pregnant with twins. Her little face was so swollen. It just wasn’t right. I remember the doctor crying and yelling at me and my first soldier.”
Palani received excruciatingly tragic letters from tortured young girls. “Even though I am a fighter it is difficult for me to read about how a 10-year-old girl is going to die because she is bleeding from a rape.”
The harrowing experiences didn’t scare off the extraordinarily brave Joanna, it only fueled her to desire to destroy ISIS.
“I never thought, ‘I want to go home.’ Honestly, there were some times I was afraid. There were times when I wished I would survive, yes. But there wasn’t one single second where I wished I was home again. I knew I was in the right place,” Joanna said.
Joanna continued battling Daesh and Assad’s “killing machines” on the front lines. She had a talent for shooting and keeping quiet at the right time. She detailed the differences between the soldiers.
“ISIS fighters are very easy to kill. ISIS fighters are very good at sacrificing their own lives, but Assad’s soldiers are very well-trained and they are specialist killing machines.”
Last year, Joanna was given 15 days leave and she went home to Copenhagen to reunite with her family. However, after three days she received an email from the Danish government stating that her passport had been revoked and any attempt to leave the country would result in a jail sentence of up to six years. Her passport was made invalid because the Danish government is weary of citizens getting radicalized by ISIS propaganda, traveling to Syria, receiving military training and returning to unleash jihad in Europe.
“This put me in a bad situation—as many people were very disappointed in me,” Joanna says. “I was training some girls in weapons, so it meant I let these girls down as it was not complete.”
Palani is currently studying politics and philosophy in Denmark, but she hopes that the laws will change and she will be able to return to Syria to help obliterate ISIS.
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