Yarmouk Camp – A Responsibility to Protect

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Palestinian children who were living in Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp before fleeing Syria, hold banners during a protest in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Beirut January 17, 2013. (Photo: Reuters - Sharif Karim)

By: Nour Samaha

Published Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What is happening, and has been happening for months now, in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus is criminal. A siege upon any segment of a civilian population is outrageous, but on a civilian refugee population – one enclosed within a camp already living in horrific conditions no less – is beyond deplorable.

One cannot ignore the endless stories emerging from the camp describing how dire the situation has become, the stories of starvation, the stories of restriction of movement, and the lack of access to basic humanitarian aid. Nor can one ignore the desperate pleas from the civilians trapped inside, calling for a chance to escape the battle zone.

As Lebanese we cannot ignore the plight of the Palestinians, and as Lebanese we should remember distinctly the horrors that fell on the civilians of Nahr al-Bared in 2007.

Back then, as the Lebanese army shelled indiscriminately in an effort to rid the camp of fighters from Fatah al-Islam and its affiliates, we, the supporters of the Palestinian cause, raised our voices against the violence endured by the most vulnerable – the civilians caught in between. We made the effort to discern between combatants and civilians, and we expressed outrage at those who refused to do so.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said at the time – and much to the chagrin of the Lebanese who stood firmly behind their army – “The Nahr al-Bared camp and the Palestinian civilians are a red line.”

Yarmouk should also be a red line. Much as we differentiated between fighters and civilians in Nahr al-Bared, we should apply the same standards to Yarmouk.

The responsibility lies first and foremost with the Syrian regime and the rebels, who have a moral duty to protect a vulnerable population. Yet as supporters of the Palestinian cause, as fighters for the Palestinian cause, it is also our duty to defend and protect the rights of those most vulnerable – those who are forced into an untenable position between two opposing sides.

We have a responsibility to raise our voices and demand action against these atrocities. We have a responsibility to distinguish, and to remind others who forget, the difference between the oppressors and the oppressed.

The civilian population should not have to suffer from the battles between the regime and the rebels. They should not be held hostage by fighting groups. They should not be made to suffer for their fractured and incompetent leadership (something the Lebanese are all too familiar with). More importantly, they should not be collectively punished for the actions of a few.

We are all aware of how difficult the plight of a refugee is, whether they are Palestinian, Syrian, Iraqi, or Sudanese. We are also well aware of how badly refugees are treated in Lebanon – for many, the choice of staying in Yarmouk still seems better than coming to Lebanon. Does that make them responsible?

We are all responsible for those civilians in Yarmouk, and it is our responsibility to ensure their safety, their access to basic food and medication, and their safe passage out of the camp.

Whatever we may think of either side in the Syrian war, we must not wash our hands of the thousands of civilians left behind.

Nour Samaha is managing editor of Al-Akhbar English.

Comments

Thank you so much, in the name of the Palestinian civilians... And also, the Lebanese civilians. Great text, nothing to add. I've already share it on FB

"......But there is hope that relief may come. Against the backdrop of accusations and condemnations being circulated, many are looking to Russia to step in and, much as it did when it induced the Assad government to get rid of its chemical weapons, pressure the government to at least lift its own part of the siege.

There are critics of the idea, however. Mr. Ibrahim Amin, Editor in Chief of Lebanon’s Al Akbar daily newspaper, argues that somehow because Palestinians have been given many more civil rights in Syria than, for example, Lebanon—which to Syria’s great credit is true—then the refugees must somehow be at fault for their own slaughter and siege at Yarmouk. It is nonsense, of course, as also is his statement that, “In Syria, Palestinians were citizens.”—nonsense because, for example, Palestinians cannot vote in Syrian elections. Amin should know this, and he should know that they have never been made citizens of Syria, for this is common knowledge.

Nevertheless, writing in the January 13 issue of his newspaper, Editor Amin piles blame on the victims, rather than the perpetrators, by seeming to argue that they deserved it—the babies dying of malnutrition, the people suffering from dehydration and disease caused by the siege of their camp. He demands to know, “What pushed Palestinians in this camp to believe in toppling Bashar al-Assad? No sane person ever figured that much of the camp would raise their weapons in the face of Syria.”

More nonsense from the Editor-in-Chief since virtually every Palestinian organization and leader, and virtually every resident living in any one of UNWRA’s 54 camps, including the ten in Syria, have repeatedly proclaimed their non-involvement in the Syria conflict. Presumably in his line of work Mr. Amin would know this. And presumably, if he took the time to speak to any Palestinians about the conflict in Syria, he would likely be advised that they are grateful to the Syrian people for hosting them. He might also be advised that they regret that some of their leaders got involved with the conflict in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, since innocent Palestinian civilians paid dearly, and that they will not repeat the mistake in Syria. It is a fact that some individual Palestinians, following the intense December 12-17, 2012 shelling and bombing of parts of Yarmouk, turned against those who were blamed for targeting them.

“Those who stayed are the ones who refused to go through a new displacement, as well as members of armed groups and their families,” Mr. Amin states, though without offering any evidence. He goes on: “In a few months the camp was transformed into a haven for groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front.” Again his assertions are false and politically motivated. Those who stayed are overwhelmingly those refugees who cannot escape. The Syrian army to its credit has not invaded the camp, but it does surround and seals most of it. Some rebel groups are hiding inside and terrorizing the camp.

It is egregious for Mr. Amin to misrepresent the facts of Palestinian neutrality in Syrian camps; it is doubly egregious for him to do so apparently wishing to gain approval from Syrian or Resistance leaders. Neither is likely to be other than embarrassed by Mr. Amin’s gross misrepresentations or his gratuitous ad hominem attacks on refugee camp victims of war crimes. The Editor-in-Chief’s distortions do not help the Resistance but rather harm it. As does his insistence that the murder of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri eight years ago was done with a ‘secret missile’ fired from the Zionist regime occupying Palestine. There are a fair number of “Resistance groupies” and bloggers, well-meaning perhaps, but who in many cases actually aid enemies of the Resistance through their clumsy attempts at water carrying while ignoring reality.

But there is good news awaiting Mr. Amin if he will accept an invitation from one who considers himself to have been “Hezbollah” long before the 1985 “Open Letter” announcing the organizing of the Party of God next to where this observer gets his motorbike repaired in Ouzai. That is to say “Hezbollah” in the sense that since studying international law in law school this observer has supported the liberation of Palestine while rejecting the last of the 19th century’s colonial enterprise still occupying Palestine, and in the sense that this observer shares Hezbollah’s resistance goals and their declared responsibility to continue the struggle until achieving the full Right of Return. Oh yes, to be sure, this observer is not a card-carrying member of the Resistance, as I want to remind dear friend Jeff Feltman, who swore at an embassy Christmas party a while back that “Lamb faces ten years hard time in the feds when he dares to set foot on American soil for hobnobbing with terrorists”—though given the fact that Jeff had been imbibing some Christmas cheer when he made that statement to an embassy staffer, he has perhaps forgotten it now, which would be good news.

But at any rate, for Mr. Amin, here is what a fellow supporter of the Resistance is willing to do to possibly help him re-assess his conclusion about what is going on in Yarmouk: I invite Mr. Amin to appear in the lobby of the Dama Rose hotel in Damascus at 9 a.m. sharp on January 24. I will buy him breakfast, and as we dine, two contacts from Yarmouk will brief him on our morning program—a program that will include Mr. Amin discretely accompanying us to the south side of Yarmouk, where, depending on conditions that morning, we will arrive in front of the Zakerin Mosque in Al-Buweida, maybe 300 yards from the Az-Zain neighborhood. Mr. Amin will then need to join us crawling through a rather claustrophobic and smelly 30” diameter drain pipe that is approximately 40 yards in length. We will at this point hopefully end up safely in the basement of “Abu Ali’s” remaining half-house, where several refugees are still trapped. Mr. Amin can also visit with others next door. He should bring some cash, however, because his host doesn’t have much and we may need a bit to bribe a couple of gun-kids from one of the militias to facilitate our exit in case we are ratted out, so to speak.

Finally Mr. Amin will be able to see for himself, and listen to direct testimony, about what presently is, and has been, happening inside Yarmouk. He can ask the weakened residents about the conclusions he confidently presented in his Al Akbar article in which he claimed that the Yarmouk tragedy and crimes are their fault, or, as he so confidently put it, “Today, the unfolding events (in Yarmouk) are 100 percent a Palestinian responsibility.” He may be surprised at what he learns about camp residents still trapped there, people scrabbling to feed themselves, and who have had no say or active role in the deplorable events that have overtaken them.

Just maybe, then, Mr. Amin will be motivated to edit a bit his earlier ridiculous broadside attacking the victims of the Yarmouk siege. And should he feel any contrition, maybe he will devote some of his energy and space in his newspaper to actually working for two elementary civil rights for Palestinians in Lebanon—the right to work and home ownership. Their achievement will benefit Lebanon and the Resistance, both of which Mr. Amin claims to support"

Franklin Lamb in a visiting Professor at the Damascus University Faculty of Law. He is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com

This is the managing editor of Al-Akhbar English? Very disappointing.

It's not the Syrian "regime" that pulled Yarmouk camp into the fighting. There are many Youtube videos available showing proudly how the freedom-fighting rebels attacked Yarmouk. Seeing the writing of this "managing editor", she seems to be a frequent reader (and believer) of mainstream Western media, so I am sure she has extensive experience with watching Youtube videos about Syria.

It's not the Syrian "regime" stopping food from going into Yarmouk and starving the people.

It's not the Syrian "regime" that is holding the Palestinians AND SYRIANS of Yamouk hostage.

Palestinians are integrated into every aspect of Syrian life. Media, culture, labor, state, everything!! But to satisfy these so-called "fighters for the Palestinian cause", I guess the Syrian "regime" has to start a war alone with Hizbullah on the Zionist entity and their puppet superpower backers. Even then, those so-called "fighters for the Palestinian cause" would not be satisfied. Let's just ask, what have these "fighters for the Palestinian cause" done more than the Syrian "regime" did for the Palestinians? Talk is cheap and meaningless.

it seems that my previous negative comment on the editorial has forced some despicable people to come out from their hiding behind the palestinian plight showing their true confessional color and disgusting nature("Nusayri","shabeeh","batini heresy"..).As for the tears shed for the Sunni Syrians,and the propaganda attached to it,it won't change the fact that a brief look at the senior posts in the SAA government and services will show that the syrian sunnis are the majority!!This" regime" as called by the pseudo "friends of Syria"is the legitimate child of the Sunni community in Syria ,any other appellation is delusional,it could not have resisted almost three years without the support of the majority of the population including first and foremost the sunni bourgeoisie and clerics.

Don't be silly. The SAA was previously majority sunni (of course not the top) but today it is minority sunni. The alawite occupiers showed how ungrateful they were for the loyality of the sunnis.

Thank you Nour! I hope your piece is translated to Arabic and published in Al-Akhbar.
And I look forward to more of your writings.

Sharon dies and all anyone can talk about it "Sabra and Shatila."
More people died during the siege of Nahr al-Bared. But that is no fun. It was not done with Israelis watching from the sidelines. No Jews even peripherally involved. So, no one outside Lebanon knows the name Nahr al-Bared (hope I spelled that right).
And Syrians starve Pals to death and still, no one cares. Because it is a Muslim war.
Thanks for proving every intellectual stereotype right every single time.

Berry, what are you talking about? During the nahr el bared war between 40-50 Palestinian civilians died. How is that worse than the sabra and chatila massacres and brutal rapes that occurred? Thousands were killed, raped or injured!! How desperate are you zionists? Your lies have gotten so pathetic and your propaganda is all worn out.

This is just the dilemma of how to deal with hostage-takers generally, but written on a particularly large scale. The best answer would be to persuade the Syrian govt and army to bring a really decisive technical and personnel advantage to the task of invading and reoccupying the camp themselves. They will say they can't spare the technical and personnel resources necessary, but you can point out to them that this is worse than a PR disaster: it's an invitation to those abominable women, Susan Rice and 'Sam' Power, to stage an R2P crusade.

come down to earth!Al-Amin is right albeit what he said should have been said a long time ago!Have you seen where the Yarmouk is situated?Have you ever been to Damascus?Put yourself for once in the shoes of the SAA:should they turn their back and ignore the camp completely so as to facilitate the massacre of syrians in Damascus?Is the life of Palestinians more valuable than that of damascenes?The SAA has been right all along not to enter the camp and to simply besiege it.It is the less dangerous option for everybody.I have another question for you.Where did the majority of escapees go from the Yarmouk?some found their way to Lebanon but the majority has relocated itself to Damascus.Your editorial is extremely self-righteous,we are all horrified at what is happening to Palestine but it is past the time to incriminate a state who is under siege thanks in part to ungrateful palestinians related or not to Hamas or better said representing a fraction of Hamas.It is now that we must condemn those who have received all their civil right in a country and have betrayed it so as to isolate them for the sake of the majority of palestinians.

Correct Al-Amin - the responsibility for the suffering of residents of Yarmuk lies with the jihadi thugs who infiltrated and then took over the camp by force and their deluded local Hamas supporters. What were they thinking ? That somehow the Palestinian cause and their situation in Syria would be advanced by attacking the very State which gave them refuge, and ALONE amongst the Arabs actually supported various resistance movements including Saíqa, PLA and PFLP-GC ? And now these takfiri foreign Wahhabi Wanabees are slowly being pushed back by the local militia, PFLP-GC, NDF and SAA they are crying for help ! Over a year ago Al-Akhbar reported :
A prominent leader of the PFLP-GC told Al-Akhbar that the “situation is extremely dangerous. The FSA has taken over large parts of the camp, including areas that once belonged to the General Command, forcing many of our fighters to retreat.”
He added that the living conditions in the camp have completely collapsed, without any possibility of sending in supplies and medical aid, not to mention that the whole area’s electricity has been cut.
“If the camp falls under the control of the FSA and the jihadi Islamists,” he said, “it will become a launching pad for military operations, and it is the camp residents who will pay a heavy price.”
Report by Anas Zarzar, Marah Mashi – AL-AKHBAR English- 17 DEC 2012
Well the PFLP-GC has been right all along . The solution to the plight of civilian suffering is simple - the armed jihadi thugs and gangs should stop their insane war, lay down their weapons and surrender. Those who want to die for jihad should go to Israel.

Yes indeed, the blessed and angelic SAA which waged and is waging numerous wars against Syrian and Palestinian Sunnis is under siege because those ungrateful Palestinians refused to support the Nusayri genocide against Syrian Sunnis and I look forward to the ungrateful Assadi regime giving back the billions that the Khaleeji idiots gave to them or Hezbollah giving back the 100 million that Qatar gave it. You must have blinders on, the shabeeh Amin is placing the blame on the Palestinian people for refusing to cuddle up to Bashar.

'It is now that we must condemn those who have received all their civil right in a country"

Palestinians were treated better in many Arab countries other than Syria and I don't remember those countries waging numerous wars of subjugation against the Palestinians. These Assadi nutters and their bootlickers are attacking the Palestinians as "nakitheen" as if this was the Battle of Jamal and Bashar is Ali ibn Abi Talib, ignoring his and his shabeeha's kufr and Batini heresy

And it's your beloved Ibrahim al-Amin and his ilk who are blaming the Palestinians for refusing to stand with Bashar and his mafia and declaring Hamas more treacherous than those who rode to power on American tanks.

Excellent article!!!

Thank you for this article Nour, a reminder what really matters when both sides have stooped to conquer in the worst way imaginable. I too might start reading Al Akhbar religiously again after its Arabic counterpart went down the drain.

What Anonymous said. Maybe some of the English pieces - beginning with this fine rebuttal - should be translated and published in the Arabic version.

Nour Samaha, bravo. This is a brilliant riposte to your own editor in chief. I really hope this indicates a growing distinction between Al Akhbar Arabic and English.

Perhaps you could stop translating all those stories without any named sources at all? They read terribly in English, but are ok in Arabic

100% agree with this comment!

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