FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How We Disowned Palestinians in Syria

by RAMZY BAROUD

A worst case scenario is unfolding in Syria, and Palestinian refugees, particularly in the Yarmouk refugee camp, are paying a heavy price for Syria’s cruelest war. They are starving, although there can be no justification, nor logistical explanation for why they are dying from hunger.

Spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Chris Gunness, told AFP that “at least five Palestinian refugees in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk have died because of malnutrition, bringing the total number of reported cases to 15,” since Sep. 2013. Other estimates, especially those reported by local residents, say the number is significantly higher.

The camp, which is located south of Damascus, had once housed nearly 250,000 Palestinians that included 150,000 officially registered refugees. Three years of a brutal war later, Yarmouk is now nothing but ruins, and houses only around 18,000 residents who couldn’t escape to Lebanon, Jordan or elsewhere.

Reporting for the BBC from Damascus, Lyse Doucet quoted aid officials: “Aid officials in Damascus recently told me ‘the gates of Yarmouk were slammed shut in July’ and almost no aid has been allowed to enter since then.”

A minor Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – the General Command, has tried to control Yarmouk on behalf of the Syrian government, an act that the refugees rejected. There has been a semi-consensus among Palestinians that they should not be embroiled in Syria’s war. However, the warring parties – the Syrian government, the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other Islamic groups – desperately tried to use every card in their disposal to weaken the other parties. The result has been devastating and is taking place at the expense of innocent refugees.

Aside from the 1,500 reportedly killed Palestinians and thousands more wounded, the majority of the refugees are once again on the run, although in more perilous circumstances. According to a statement by UNRWA on Dec 17, “of the 540,000 Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA in Syria, about 270,000 are displaced in the country, and an estimated 80,000 have fled. 51,000 have reached Lebanon, 11,000 have identified themselves in Jordan, 5,000 are in Egypt, and smaller numbers have reached Gaza, Turkey and farther afield.”

Not that other Arab countries have proven kinder than Syria, for the UN agency reports that “those who have reached Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt face risky legal limbo compounded with living conditions so difficult that many decide to return to the dangers inside Syria.”

Yarmouk has been at the heart of that tragedy. The refugee camp was established in 1957 to shelter thousands of refugees who were expelled from Palestine at the hand of Zionist militias in 1947-48. Despite the fact that it was located in Syria, Yarmouk remained close to the pulse of the Palestinian tragedy, as hundreds of men were killed fighting against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Although Palestinians in Syria were generally treated well, if compared to the very poor standards set by other Arab countries, thousands of men found themselves victims of occasional political purges of the Syrian government. An example of this followed the 1983 fallout between late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But the latest disaster is the worst to strike the refugee camp. In Dec 2012, rebels of the FSA tried to gain control over the camp. Fierce fighting ensued, followed by aerial bombardment of Yarmouk by government airplanes on Dec 16. Dozens were reportedly killed, and thousands fled for their lives.

Despite the obvious signs of danger surrounding Palestinian presence in Syria, only then did the Palestinian leadership attempt to negotiate a special status for Yarmouk so that the stateless Palestinians were kept out of a conflict that was not of their making. Some Palestinian factions were used by other regional powers to declare political stances regarding the conflict in Syria. The refugees should have never been used as fodder for a dirty war and all attempts at sparing the refugees have failed.

The failure has been across the board. Typically, the so-called international community is at the forefront of this shameful episode. “There’s deep frustration in the aid community that a world which came together to deal with Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal cannot do the same when it comes to tackling a deepening humanitarian crisis,” reported Doucet, quoting an aid official: “I have never seen a humanitarian crisis on this scale which does not have a Security Council resolution.”

The same could be said of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah which is chasing after another ‘peace process’ mirage that is surely doomed to fail. Why hasn’t PA president Mahmoud Abbas put all of his frivolous talks and appointments on hold and lobby the international community to save Yarmouk?

The disgrace hardly ends here, for some in the Palestine solidarity movement had ceased to think of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return as an issue that is at the heart of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. They only mobilize around the same issues which are located within the territorial and political parameters imposed by the Oslo accords. According to that logic, Palestinians in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and so on, are hardly a top priority for action and mobilization, even if they are killed by the hundreds or starve to death.

By paying greater attention to Palestinian refugees in Syria, one is hardly calling for ignoring the horrible reality under which the Syrian people continue to suffer. But Palestinian refugees have no legal status, no political representation, no serious international support, no leadership truly concerned by their plight, no place to go to nor place to return to. They have nothing, and now they are starving.

There can be no rationale to explain why the Syrian government and the rebels insist on embroiling the Palestinians into their war which is accumulating into an assortment of many war crimes that refuse to end.

The international community and Palestine solidarity groups everywhere must place Palestinian refugees on the top of their agenda. Food should never be a weapon in this dirty war, and Palestinians should never be starving to death, no matter the motive or the logic.

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:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail