FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Palestinian Refugees in Syria

by RAMZY BAROUD

“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 PalestineChronicle.com. 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 PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 07, 2016
Michael Schwalbe
What We Talk About When We Talk About Class
Karl Grossman
The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons
Kenneth Surin
On Being Caught Speeding in Rural America
Chris Floyd
In Like Flynn: Blowback for Filth-Peddling Fascists
Serge Halimi
Trump, the Know-Nothing Victor
Paul DeRienzo
Flynn Flam: Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor
Binoy Kampmark
Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing
Tom Clifford
Trump and China: a Note From Beijing
Arnold August
Fidel’s Legacy to the World on Theory and Practice
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix a ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
John Kirk
Cuba after Fidel: Interview with Professor John Kirk
Jess Guh
Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans
Eric Sommer
Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewable of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
Mark Weisbrot
Castro Was Right About US Policy in Latin America
David Swanson
New Rogue Anti-Russia Committee Created in “Intelligence” Act
George Ochenski
Forests of the Future: Local or National Control?
December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail