Yarmouk Camp – A Responsibility to Protect
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.