Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
How Yarmouk Came About:
Role in the Syrian Refugee Crisis
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, September 28, 2015
|Palestinian refugees coming
out to the street during a break in fighting in 2014, in which a
UN convoy reached out to them with some food.
When Zionist Haganah militias carried out Operation Yiftach, on May
19 1948, the aim was to drive Palestinians in the northern Safad District
which had declared its independence a mere five days earlier, outside the
border of Israel.
The ethnic cleansing of Safad and its many
villages was not unique to that area. In fact, it was the modus operandi
of Zionist militias throughout Palestine. Soon after Israel’s
independence, and the conquering of historic Palestine, the militias were
joined together to form the Israeli armed forces.
villages, however, were completely depopulated. Some residents in
Qaytiyya near the River Jordan, remained in their homes. The village,
located between two tributaries of the Jordan - al-Hasbani and Dan rivers
- hoped that normality would return to their once tranquil village once
the war subsides.
Their fate, however, was worse than that of
those who were forced out, or who fled for fear of a terrible fate.
Israeli forces returned nearly a year later, rounded the remaining
villagers into large trucks, tortured many and dumped the villagers
somewhere south of Safad. Little is known about their fate, but many of
those who survived ended up in Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria.
Yarmouk was not established until 1957, and even then it was not an
‘official’ refugee camp. Many of its inhabitants were squatters in Sahl
al-Yarmouk and other areas, before they were brought to Shaghour al-Basatin,
near Ghouta. The area was renamed Yarmouk.
Many of Yarmouk’s
refugees originate from northern Palestine, the Safad District, and
villages like Qaytiyya, al-Ja’ouneh and Khisas. They subsisted in that
region for nearly 67 years. Unable to return to Palestine, yet hoping to
do so, they named the streets of their camp, its neighborhoods, even its
bakeries, pharmacies and schools, after villages from which they were once
When the Syrian uprising-turned-civil-war began in March
2011, many advocated that Palestinians in Syria should be spared the
conflict. The scars and awful memories of other regional conflicts - the
Jordan civil war, the Lebanese civil war, the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, and
the US invasion of Iraq wherein hundreds and thousands of Palestinian
civilians paid a heavy price - remained in the hearts and minds of many.
But calls for ‘hiyad’ – neutrality – were not heeded by the war’s
multiple parties, and the Palestinian leadership, incompetent and
clustered in Ramallah, failed to assess the seriousness of the situation,
or provide any guidance - moral or political.
The results were
horrific. Over 3,000 Palestinians were killed, tens of thousands of
Palestinian refugees fled Syria, thousands more became internally
displaced and the hopeless journey away from the homeland continued on its
Yarmouk - a refugee camp of over 200,000
inhabitants, most of whom are registered refugees with the UN agency,
UNRWA - was reduced to less than 20,000. Much of the camp stood in total
ruins. Hundreds of its residents either starved to death or were killed in
the war. The rest fled to other parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey
The most natural order of things would have been the
return of the refugees to Safad and villages like Qaytiyya. Yet, few made
such calls, and those demands
Palestinians officials were dismissed by Israel as non-starters.
In fact while
countries like Lebanon had accepted 1.72 million refugees (one in
every five people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee), Turkey 1.93 million,
Jordan 629,000, Iraq 249,000, and Egypt 132,000, Israel made no offer to
accept a single refugee.
Israel, whose economy is the strongest
in the region, has been the most tight-fisted in terms of offering shelter
to Syrian refugees. This is a double sin considering that even Syria’s
Palestinian refugees, who were expelled from their own homes in Palestine,
were also left homeless.
Not surprisingly, there was no
international uproar against a financially able Israel for blatantly
shutting its door in the face of desperate refugees, while bankrupt Greece
was rightly chastised for not doing enough to host hundreds of thousands
According to UN statistics, by the end of August of this year, nearly
239,000 refugees, mostly Syrians, landed on Greek islands seeking passage
to mainland Europe. Greece is not alone. Between January and August this
year 114,000 landed in Italy (coming mostly from Libya), seeking safety.
Around the same time last year, almost as many refugees were recorded
seeking access to Europe.
Europe is both morally and politically
accountable for hosting and caring for these refugees, considering its
culpability in past Middle East wars and ongoing conflicts. Some are doing
exactly that, including Germany, Sweden and others, while countries, like
Britain, have been utterly oblivious and downright callous towards
refugees. Still, thousands of ordinary European citizens, as would any
human being with an ounce of empathy, are volunteering to help refugees in
both Eastern and Western Europe.
The same cannot be told of
Israel, which has alone ignited most of the Middle East conflicts in
recent decades. Instead the debate in Israel continues to center on
demographic threats, while loaded with racial connotations about the need
to preserve a so-called Jewish identity. Strangely, few in the media
have picked up on that or found such a position particularly egregious at
the time of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
recent comments Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected
calls to admit Syrian refugees into Israel, once more unleashing the
demographic rationale, which sees any non-Jews in Israel, be they African
refugees, Syrians, or even the country’s original Palestinian inhabitants,
as a ‘demographic threat.”
“Israel is a very small state. It has
no geographic depth or demographic depth,” he said on the 6th September.
When Israel was established on the ruins of destroyed Palestine,
Palestinian Jews were a small minority. It took multiple campaigns of
ethnic cleaning, which created the Palestinian refugee problem in the
first place, to create a Jewish majority in the newly-founded Israel. Now,
Palestinian Arabs are only a fifth of Israel’s 8.3 million population. And
for many in Israel,
even such small numbers are a cause for alarm!
refugees of Qaytiyya, who became refugees time and again, are still denied
their internationally-enshrined right of return per United Nations
resolution 194 of December 1948, Israel is allowed a special status. It is
neither rebuked nor forced to repatriate Palestinian refugees, and is now
exempt from playing even if a minor role in alleviating the deteriorating
Greece, Hungry, Serbia, Macedonia, the UK, Italy
and other European countries, along with rich Arab Gulf countries must be
relentlessly pressured to help Syrian refugees until they safely return
home. Why then should Israel be spared this necessary course of action?
Moreover, it must, even more forcefully be pressured to play a part in
relieving the refugee crisis, starting with the refugees of Qaytiyya, who
relive the fate they suffered 67 years ago.
– 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:
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