Saving the Syrian-Palestinians in Yarmouk
Since the 1948 Palestinian exodus, Syria has been a safe and welcoming home for around 427,000 Palestinian refugees
Since the 1948 Palestinian exodus, Syria has been a safe and welcoming home for around 427,000 Palestinian refugees, with a number of them choosing to live in specially-constructed camps on the outskirts of Damascus. With the exception of the right to vote and to hold government positions, Palestinians enjoy the same citizenship rights as Syrians, and are granted travel documents with unrestricted regulations on their residency.
Despite these rights, and the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad championing the Palestinian cause, Palestinian-Syrians still face discrimination. This hostility is despite them being largely self-sufficient and renowned for their high level of education, religious liberalism and positive work ethic. Since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, many second- and third-generation Palestinian youths in particular have refused to be neutral, joining anti-government protests.
Starved, displaced and kidnapped
Since the beginning of the war, Palestinians - such as those in the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp - have suffered the same as Syrians. However, with thousands starved to death, displaced, kidnapped and killed, the Palestinians of Yarmouk face an additional problem - unlike Syrians, they have no place outside Syria to go.
Since the beginning of the war, Palestinians - such as those in the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp - have suffered the same as SyriansDr. Halla Diyab
Due to its strategic location near rebel-held suburbs, the camp has proven to be a valuable supply line for rebels. Diplomatic efforts by the Palestinian Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas to demilitarize Yarmouk and affirm its neutrality have failed, and with its inhabitants already second-class citizens, they have been stripped of their rights, voice and stance in the Syrian crisis.
The camp has been transformed into an arena of successive confrontations between the government and rebels. The escalating conflict and ensuing instability in Yarmouk led to it being stormed by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front in early March. With humanitarian and security conditions rapidly worsening, the camp was easy prey for extremist groups to build alliances, such as that between Al-Nusra and its rival, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Instead of negotiating a way to save Yarmouk and its people, Hamas saw in the suffering of the Palestinians an opportunity to gain a stake in the Syrian conflict. The Palestinian group supported and sent fighters and affiliates to confront and attack ISIS. These attacks will not stop the growing suffering of those under siege, instead adding an additional player to the battle of warring parties.
The priority should be to save the camp and its people by excluding Hamas from the military equation, and encouraging international backing for Abbas’s diplomatic efforts to keep Palestinians out of the Syrian conflict. Involvement will not grant Palestinians equality with Syrians, further citizenship rights or senior political positions in a future Syria.
Regardless of whether political efforts succeed, history will never be able to erase the catastrophic spectacle of collective suffering in Yarmouk, as witnessed by the world. Palestinians’ suffering has shown that they are the children of Syria as much as Syrian citizens, and highlights the responsibility of Syria as much as the international community to secure food, education, and above all life for them and their children, as they have no other home.
Dr. Halla Diyab is an award winning screen-writer, producer, broadcaster, a published author and an activist. She has a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from the University of Leicester. She carried out research in New Orleans, USA while working on her thesis “The Examination of Marginality and Minorities in the Drama and Film of Tennessee Wil-liams”. She holds an MA in Gender and Women Studies from the University of Warwick. She has written a number of scripts for TV dramas countering religious extremism and international terrorism resulting in her being awarded Best Syrian Drama Script Award 2010 and the Artists Achievement Award 2011. She is a regular commentator in the Brit-ish and international media and has recently appeared on Channel 4 News, BBC Newsnight, BBC This Week, CNN, Sky News, Channel 5 News, ITV Central, Al Jazeera English, and BBC Radio 4, to name a few. She is a public speaker who spoke at the House of Commons, the Spectator Debate, Uniting for Peace and London’s Frontline Club. She has worked in Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Syria and is an expert on the Middle East and Islamic culture. As a highly successful drama writer, she has been dubbed ‘one of the most influential women in Syria’ in 2011. She also produces documentary films for UK and international channels. She is also the Founder & Director of Liberty Media Productions which focuses on cross-cultural issues between Britain and the Middle East. She can be found on Twitter: @drhalladiyab