FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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 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).

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail