Cornell SJP responds to the situation in Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp

ActivismIsrael/PalestineMiddle East
Ruined buildings in the Yarmouk refugee camp, summer 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Ruined buildings in the Yarmouk refugee camp, summer 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

The situation in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, the ghost capital of the Palestinian Shatat, is intolerable. Over the last several months, the camp’s remaining Palestinians have been closed off from without and deprived of food by government troops, invaded from within by the Saudi and Qatari-armed insurgents whom the siege seeks to contain. More die daily due to starvation and lack of medical supplies – over thirty five since December.

This comes on the heels of over a year of battles in Yarmouk, including government shelling of the camp. More than 150,000 Palestinian refugees used to make their homes there. It was one of the biggest and best-developed of the Palestinian refugee camps, with better educational opportunities than almost any other Palestinian camp, affording its residents a far greater chance for advancement.

Furthermore, the camp was a safe space for the politically persecuted, and home to manifold underground political movements. It also nurtured a strong and sophisticated cultural infrastructure, becoming not simply a camp, but a crucial quarter of urban Damascus, the political center for Palestinian political activity in Syria, and one of the historical nerve centers of the Palestinian liberation struggle.

All of that is now done.

Over the past year, as a result of a fraught military escalation, Yarmouk has become a charnel house, the overwhelming majority of its people in flight, while the remaining few die of starvation.

We cannot accept this. No one has the right to deny another food, or to use food as a weapon of war. For that reason, Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine stands with the remaining few Palestinians in Yarmouk. We ask that the government coordinate with the United Nations or other capable and non-compromised agencies to ensure that the people of Yarmouk can eat. We demand that the armed groups respect its neutrality and leave the camp immediately. And we insist that the Palestinian refugees in Syria be allowed home to Palestine.

As we are aware of how much imperialism relies on historical amnesia, suddenly rousing us to outrage at atrocities it played the major part in creating, we would like here to mention some facts.

First, the Palestinian refugees of Yarmouk are there because the settler-colonial state of Israel expelled them and refused to allow them their natural rights to return to their homes. Israel is not the root of all regional problems. It is certainly the root of the Palestinian refugee problem, as Syria’s Palestinians are pushed from place to place, from peril to peril. Their return to their homeland is paramount.

Second, it was Israel as a willing tool of imperialism which slammed the Arab nationalist cause in 1967, setting the Ba’ath party on its rightward course, eventually hollowing out its social agenda and setting the stage for the protests which broke out in 2011.

Third, it was Gulf money in alliance with US imperialism which turned the Palestine Liberation Organization into a hollow shell, unable to do anything meaningful for its people. Part of that process was the US-Israeli war against the PLO in the early 1980s in Lebanon – a war which led to further Palestinian flight to Syria. The absence of a political vehicle capable of advocating for the Palestinians of Yarmouk is by the deliberate design of US power. The consequences of that absence are now hammering the 20,000 remaining people in the camp.

And fourth, we do not forget the US and Gulf role in militarizing the small bright hopeful protests which began in the spring of 2011 across Syria, snuffing out those fires of hope in a deluge of sectarianism, foreign proxies, and destruction. Nor do we forget that it was the Free Syrian Army, the brand-name for the “milder” of the Western-armed gangs which have rampaged across Syria, along with Jabhat al-Nusra and other reactionary militias which went into Yarmouk a year ago. It was their decision to enter the camp in late 2012 which led to the subsequent violence and its emptying out, with its people now in global scatter, some literally drowning in the Mediterranean.

Such armed bands must have known full well that the government had been adopting a scorched-earth counter-insurgency technique. So they, too, are responsible for what is occurring in Yarmouk.

And because those bands are in part the creation of US imperialism, so are we. For we refuse a stance which places us as external judges of the long history of intervention which prepared the ground for the current crisis. That is not someone else’s history, it did not happen to someone else, in another world or another time. It is our history, and our responsibility, as citizens or non-citizens, as taxpayers, and most of all as dissidents from the US government’s criminal policies.

Taking ownership of that history also means we understand and respect that those in different places – not least the Palestinian nation itself – may and must choose different demands around which to rally, different bodies to hold responsible.

Furthermore, we know that humanitarian aid is a short-run emergency measure. In the medium-run, we see no end to the Syrian bloodbath without a defeat or withdrawal of the imperialist forces shattering the country.

Syria must be left to the Syrians.

Nevertheless, we repeat here that our basic demands are that the government must let food into Yarmouk, and that the armed groups must respect the neutrality of the camp, which means they must leave it. Furthermore, we demand the right of return for the Palestinians of Yarmouk, and record the irreducible responsibility of Israel and its Western backers for their displacement.

And following those demands we say the following. To make the Palestinians of Yarmouk a pawn in anyone’s game is unacceptable. We reject categorically such scandalous manipulation of the lives and the culture of resistance of this desperate and resilient people.

In solidarity and struggle.

Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine

This post originally appeared on Cornell SJP’s blog

8 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    January 16, 2014, 4:05 pm

    This analysis is horrendous and sounds correct.

    Assuming or pretending that Israel’s imperialism can be separated from the USA’s imperialism has allowed many of us to address Israel’s crimes without addressing the USA’s. It seemed (and seems) a more manageable problem. However, many commentators (Chomsky prominent among them) said that the USA support for Israel was not as slave but as master — the USA’s foreign policy was consistent with support for Israel (and the occupation), not antithetical to it.

    This analysis certainly supports that view. Nevertheless, if Israel’s occupation could be terminated (or the settlements terminated), there might be some hope for Palestinians INCLUDING those, if any, eventually still living in Syria. So we must fight on.

  2. Rusty Pipes
    January 16, 2014, 5:32 pm

    Well, at least you’ve got this part right: “our basic demands are that the government must let food into Yarmouk, and that the armed groups must respect the neutrality of the camp, which means they must leave it. Furthermore, we demand the right of return for the Palestinians of Yarmouk, and record the irreducible responsibility of Israel and its Western backers for their displacement.”

    The analysis itself not only buys into the MSM narrative of the Arab Spring and ignores the years of neocon foreign policy that laid the groundwork for the latest revamped phase of PNAC and Clean Break (with the added Color Revolution and R2P spin that is so favored by neolibs). It also ignores the role of the Muslim Brotherhood within the Syrian crisis that has exacerbated fissures among the Palestinian community and its supporters — especially the role that Khaled Meshal and the expat Hamas leadership have played in the Syrian crisis, including within Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. Earlier in the fall, a PLO-brokered ceasefire for Yarmouk was scuttled because of Hamas intransigence (and the support from some of its members for the insurgents who are occupying the camp). Not that one would hear that on the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera.

    • Walid
      January 17, 2014, 1:14 am

      No doubt about the regime’s overly harsh participation in the camp’s miseries but some of the blame is also due to the Palestinian leadership that either failed to side with the regime or actually joined the rebel forces. The leader of Hamas that had been welcome in Damascus since 11 years endorsed the Syrian rebels and moved to Qatar when the civil war broke out. One can understand the regime’s displeasure with the camp at seeing it become a haven for the fighting rebels and in light of the regime’s past benevolence towards the refugees that had placed them among the better treated in the Arab world. In Syria, Palestinian refugees were allowed to work in any field including government jobs, were provided medical care, free college education and could own property, advantages not available to them in most Arab countries. As with the other wrong calls made by their leaders in Jordan that triggered Black September, or in Lebanon in the 70s or in Kuwait in 1989 in siding with Saddam, now in siding with the Syrian rebels, they again blew it for the Palestinians in Syria. Palestinians everywhere have to start picking the right leaders.

  3. andrewpollack
    January 16, 2014, 11:50 pm

    For the truth on Yarmouk, rather than the regime lies being parrotted by CSJP, read:
    link to electronicintifada.net
    Even aside from their lies about the FSA, why does CSJP say nothing about the hundreds and hundreds of grassroots committees fighting Assad and ISIS?
    When Assad barrel-bombed Yarmouk today, the residents didn’t go to some fictitious “armed gangs” to demand that they leave — they went to a regime checkpoint to protest.
    And notice how the CSJP author tries to appear oh so sophisticated and radical by providing “context” for the absence of political leadership in Yarmouk, i.e. decades of US/Israeli attacks to prevent a genuine leadership from arising. And yet the CSJP authors are themselves doing the same by reinforcing the most retrogade trends in the movement with their echo of Assad’s lies.
    A friend pointed out: ” Interesting that the statement does not absolve the regime of besieging Yarmouk. Rather, it confirms and justify it under the pretext of “containing” the Islamist fighters inside the camp.”
    One more thing: CSJP says “we see no end to the Syrian bloodbath without a defeat or withdrawal of the imperialist forces shattering the country.” Do those imperialist forces include Russia? Hezbollah? Regardless, they are calling here explicitly for the military victory of the regime!

  4. giladg
    January 17, 2014, 12:07 am

    How is Israel responsible for the Ba’ath party? Please elaborate. This should be interesting. What does one need to do in order to qualify as a tool of imperialism whist returning to your historic homeland, that everyone knows to be true although there are some who still try and place Jewish origins elsewhere for political reasons of course and not for anything else.

  5. giladg
    January 17, 2014, 12:31 am

    Where is Palestinian accountability for many of there own actions? There isn’t any, there has never been any and in the near to medium future highly unlikely ever to happen. Let me give you an example. During the early 80’s in Lebanon, Palestinians both attacked Israel and abused the local Lebanese population in the south of the country. A Lebanese man once told me that life in Southern Lebanone was like a soccer match. The Palestinians were the players and the Lebanese were the ball.
    The Palestinians have never missed the opportunity to miss an opportunity.

  6. lproyect
    January 17, 2014, 10:04 am

    Nor do we forget that it was the Free Syrian Army, the brand-name for the “milder” of the Western-armed gangs which have rampaged across Syria, along with Jabhat al-Nusra and other reactionary militias which went into Yarmouk a year ago.

    I wasn’t aware that Michel Chossudovsky was a Cornell student. I guess he must have reasons for working on another B.A.

  7. Renato Oliveira
    January 18, 2014, 3:35 pm

    Where are the calls for flotillas?

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