Image above: A Palestinian woman in a refugee camp some distance from Damascus. Image taken in 2009.
Image below: A Palestinian artist and writer working in his shop in the old city, Damascus, 2009.
Response to Mariam Barghouti’s article, End the silence — Support Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk which was published in Mondoweiss, 26 January 2015.
As most mainstream media articles do, Mariam Barghouti presents a skewed view of the siege of Yarmouk and of the situation in Syria, so one has to question the intentions of the writer, a young American activist in the West Bank. The article inevitably supports further killing and destruction in Syria as in the eyes of the writer and those she purports to represent, the Syrian army is the enemy. But she also points the finger at Palestinian political groups and Palestinians who do not support the armed take-over of Yarmouk. By encouraging further bitter divisions and ongoing clashes between Palestinians, the writer does not support the cause of Palestinians as she purports to.
For an alternative and more credible account of what has been happening in Yarmouk and other Palestinian camps, I would encourage readers to check Sharmine Narwani’s article published in November 2014, “Stealing Palestine: Who dragged Palestinians into Syria’s conflict?”
Narwani’s article concludes,
“There is little doubt that some were supportive of Syrian opposition aspirations. They mirrored, after all, Palestinian ambitions to achieve liberty and establish good governance.
But between my two trips to the camps – in 2012 and 2014 – there has been a marked hardening of Palestinian sentiment. These populations, many of them displaced several times over now, have washed their hands of Syria’s “rebellion.” They have at times felt exploited and bullied by all parties, but have suffered most at the hands of opposition rebels.
Neutrality is their mantra today. And like Syrian civilians everywhere, they want some peace.”
Also, I would encourage readers to check a May 2013 SkyNews report, which presented the side of ordinary people trying to return to their homes in Yarmouk and coming under fire from the ‘rebels’ who had taken control of the camp (see below). Tim Marshall’s report, “Syria: Civilians Come Under Fire From Rebels” is one of the few in the mainstream media that presents civilians in Syria who oppose the ‘rebels’.
“The demonstrators were predominantly Syrian Palestinians, many from the Yarmouk district of Damascus who had fled when it was taken over by opposition forces eight months ago.
(Note that in the SkyNews report, there are many women wanting to return to their homes in Yarmouk and we see them running for cover as ‘rebels’ fire at them. )
In December 2014 when one man with a gun and a banner took hostages in a cafe in Sydney, special forces went into to the cafe guns blazing although there had been a determination by police to end the siege peacefully. Two hostages and the gunman were killed. Perhaps this was the best possible outcome given the intentions and mental state of the gunman, perhaps not. What would Australian special forces do if gunmen took control of a suburb close to the centre of Sydney and held the locals hostage or brought in their own families to support them? What if they also attacked other suburbs from this base they had set up? There are not a lot of options. Two obvious ones are 1. to try and prevent supplies from going into the armed men (and so to the civilians with them), or 2. to bomb the area. There should be other options, such as diplomacy and negotiation. But in regards to Yarmouk, are the armed men controlling the area and the outside powers who fund and arm them open to negotiation? Or is their agenda the destruction of Syria? And the innocent civilians in Syria who are caught up in a siege? Hopefully, they survive. But they, like the hundreds of thousands who fled and live in refugee camps outside Syria in the harshest of winters and summers, are victims of an ongoing war which some countries continue to pursue because they want Syria brought to its knees and its people destitute and dependent for decades. And this war would not continue unless there were media outlets and individuals presenting a skewed view of it, a view which encourages outrage and support for anonymous armed men.
How long can a country stand still, watch its people being killed and have its future determined by other governments and outside forces? What are the options of the Syrian government and army? Dilemmas are faced by any country and army at war, and there are always tragedies, always horror, and always victims. War is the crime. But how can the number of victims be limited and the country survive, so its people can again struggle to improve their lives in peace?