Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Palestinian Refugees in Syria


“The flames are quickly approaching Yarmouk (as) someone is trying to drag the Palestinians into the fire,” reported Palestinian commentator Rashad Abu Shawar (as cited in Israeli Jerusalem Post, July 20).

Yarmouk is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. Its inhabitants make up nearly a quarter of Syria’s entire refugee population of nearly 500,000. Despite the persistence of memory and the insistence on their right of return to Palestine, the Palestinian community in Syria is, on the whole, like any other ordinary community.

Of course, ‘ordinariness’ is not always a term that suits misfortunate Palestinian refugees in Arab countries. Ghassan Kanafani, a renowned Palestinian novelist, once wrote: “Oh, Palestinians, be warned of natural death.” He proudly articulated how his people are prepared for all possibilities. Kanafani himself was murdered, along with his niece, in a car bombing orchestrated by the Israeli Mossad in Beirut in July 1972.

Palestinian refugees in Syria also cannot expect to exist outside a paradigm of danger and unpredictability. Their brethren in Lebanon learned the same lesson years ago. Palestinians in Kuwait were also victimized on a large scale in 1991, along with other communities accused of being sympathetic to Saddam Hussein. True to form, the small Palestinian community in Iraq also received its share of maltreatment following the US invasion in 2003.

This is not to say that the Palestinian community has been the only one to suffer during times of war. But due to their lack of options, the state of Palestinian refugees is often the most perilous and desperate. They are stateless. Most Arab countries intentionally grant them precarious legal status under various guises to keep them contained and easily controlled. The problem is compounded,
however, by wars which fuel mass exodus. Stateless refugees are always stranded, leaving them vulnerable to perpetual suffering and abuse.

Before 2003, a small community of 35,000 Palestinians resided in Iraq. They were hardly ever associated with political controversy. When the US invaded, however, they became an easy target for various militias, US forces and criminal gangs. Many were killed. Others ran in circles seeking safe haven elsewhere in Iraq, to no avail, and thousands found themselves stranded in refugee camps at the Jordanian and Syrian borders. It highlighted how the Palestinian refugee problem was as real and urgent as ever. The plight of Palestinians also shamed the Arabs, who never ceased to declare verbal wars on Israel, yet failed to host fleeing refugees. Even Palestinian factions, busy with their own infighting, offered only safe pitiful statements of support.

The situation in Syria promises to be even worse. Historically, there has been bad blood between Syria and some Palestinian factions, including Fatah, the party dominating the PLO, and also the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA). While Damascus played host for various Palestinian leftist factions throughout the years, Hamas didn’t relocate to Damascus until its break-up with Jordan.

In recent months, Hamas quietly vacated its offices from Damascus. It was impossible for the Islamic movement to function in a situation where it was firmly pressed to take sides. Its attempt to reach an acceptable middle ground – supporting the Syrian people but warning against foreign attempts to weaken Syria – fell on deaf ears. Some Arab governments insisted on pressurizing Hamas officials to reach a conclusive decision regarding a conflict not of their own making – and eventually forcing them to part ways with Syria.

The political discourse regarding Syria has been the most polarizing of all narratives related to the so-called Arab Spring. Palestinians have been caught in that polarization. Al Jazeera has done a disservice to Palestinian refugees by insisting on contextualizing Palestinians as part of the larger Syria discourse. The television network knows well what happens to stateless, vulnerable Palestinians when conflicts end. Reporters had done a good job documenting the humiliation suffered by Palestinian in Iraq. Even if for purely humanitarian reasons, Arab media should try to neutralize Palestinian presence in the Syrian conflict.

Palestinians are already being targeted. 300 Palestinian deaths have been reported in Syria since the conflict began. The PA says it is in contact with Syrian authorities to ensure the safety of the large refugee population. Many of the killings are reportedly taking place in Yarmouk. Arab media opposing the government of Syria’s Bashar Assad are blaming Syrian security forces for the targeting of Palestinians. But other media are telling a different story.

“In the worst incident, 16 members of the Palestine Liberation Army, which is backed by the Syrian authorities, were killed after gunmen stopped their bus and kidnapped them,” reported Khaled Abu Toumeh in the Jerusalem Post on July 20. “The bodies of the Palestinians, whose throats had been slashed, were later discovered in an open field in the suburbs of Damascus.”

A statement issued on July 16 by the Free Syria Army joint command, and cited by AFP, called “pro-regime Palestinian leaders on Syrian soil…‘legitimate targets.’” Considering that cooperation between various PLO factions and Syria goes back decades, the call resembles a death note to numerous Palestinians in Syria. The Palestine Liberation Army, for once, has more or less served a symbolic role. It was barely involved in any military action, whether in or outside Syria. The heinous butchering of these men points to a decided attempt at punishing innocent Palestinians.

Palestinian refugees might well find themselves on the run again as the situation is so perilous. Palestinian factions must place their personal interest aside and unite, even if temporarily, to protect Palestinian refugees in Syria. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, whose primary purpose is “to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees”, must act now to ensure the safety of Palestinian refugees in any future grim scenario. The Arab League, which has done little to protect Palestinian refugees when caught in past regional conflicts, must act this time to redeem past failures.

There is nothing worse than being a refugee on the run, except being a refugee on the run again and again, with a legal status of perpetual statelessness, and with no country in which to seek shelter. As for Arab media, they should know well that their insistence on representing Palestinians as a relevant party in the bloodshed in Syria equals to setting them up for a major disaster, to say the least.

Ramzy Baroud is editor of He is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle  and  “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases