[Marxism] When Israel wages war on Palestinians, we speak out. But they are dying, right now, at the hands of an Arab regime

Michael Karadjis mkaradjis at gmail.com
Sun Apr 12 20:46:00 MDT 2015

A useful addition to the topic being discussed on another thread.

When Israel wages war on Palestinians, we speak out. But they are dying, 
right now, at the hands of an Arab regime

The refugees of Yarmouk deserve better than silence
Mehdi Hasan

When Israel wages war on Palestinians, we speak out. But they are dying, 
right now, at the hands of an Arab regime

Monday 13 April 2015 01.01 AEST Last modified on Monday 13 April 2015 
09.04 AEST

Palestinian refugees are being starved, bombed and gunned down like 
animals. “If you want to feed your children, you need to take your 
funeral shroud with you,” one told Israeli news website Ynet. “There are 
snipers on every street, you are not safe anywhere.” This isn’t 
happening, however, in southern Lebanon, or even Gaza. And these 
particular Palestinians aren’t being killed or maimed by Israeli bombs 
and bullets. This is Yarmouk, a refugee camp on the edge of Damascus, 
just a few miles from the palace of Bashar al-Assad. Since 1 April, the 
camp has been overrun by Islamic State militants, who have begun a reign 
of terror: detentions, shootings, beheadings and the rest. Hundreds of 
refugees are believed to have been killed in what Ban Ki-moon has called 
the “deepest circle of hell”.

But this isn’t just about the depravity of Isis. The Palestinians of 
Yarmouk have been bombarded and besieged by Assad’s security forces 
since 2012. Water and electricity were cut off long ago, and of the 
160,000 Palestinian refugees who once lived in the camp only 18,000 now 
remain. The Syrian regime has, according to Amnesty International, been 
“committing war crimes by using starvation of civilians as a weapon”, 
forcing residents to “resort to eating cats and dogs”. Even as the 
throat-slitters took control, Assad’s pilots were continuing to drop 
barrel bombs on the refugees. “The sky of Yarmouk has barrel bombs 
instead of stars,” said Abdallah al-Khateeb, a political activist living 
inside the camp.

It is difficult to disagree with the verdict of the Palestinian League 
for Human Rights that the Palestinians of Syria are “the most untold 
story in the Syrian conflict”. There are 12 official Palestinian refugee 
camps in Syria, housing more than half a million people. Ninety per 
cent, estimates the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), are 
in continuous need of humanitarian aid. In Yarmouk, throughout 2014, 
residents were forced to live on around 400 calories of food aid a day – 
fewer than a fifth of the UN’s recommended daily amount of 2,100 
calories for civilians in war zones – because UNRWA aid workers had only 
limited access to the camp. Today, they have zero access.“To know what 
it is like in Yarmouk,” one of the camp’s residents is quoted as saying 
on the UNRWA website, “turn off your electricity, water, heating, eat 
once a day, live in the dark.”

Their plight should matter to us all – regardless of whether their 
persecutors happen to be Israelis, Syrians, Egyptians or, for that 
matter, fellow Palestinians (Palestinian Authority security forces, 
after all, have been shooting and beating unarmed Palestinian protesters 
for several years now).

This is far from a cynical exercise in pro-Israeli whataboutery. There 
are very good reasons that Israel attracts such widespread criticism and 
condemnation in the west. Israel is our ally and claims to be a liberal 
democracy, unlike both Assad and Isis. Israel is also armed, funded and 
protected from UN censure by the US government; again, unlike both Assad 
and Isis.

Those who try to use the tragedy of Yarmouk to excuse or downplay Israel’s 
48-year occupation of Palestine should be ashamed of themselves. But 
what of the rest of us? Can we afford to stay in our deep slumber, 
occasionally awakening to lavishly condemn only Israel? Let’s be honest: 
how different, how vocal and passionate, would our reaction be if the 
people besieging Yarmouk were wearing the uniforms of the IDF?

Our selective outrage is morally unsustainable. Many of us who have 
raised our voices in support of the Palestinian cause have inexcusably 
turned a blind eye to the fact that tens of thousands of Palestinians 
have been killed by fellow Arabs in recent decades: by the Jordanian 
military in the Black September conflicts of the early 1970s; by 
Lebanese militias in the civil war of the mid-1980s; by Kuwaiti 
vigilantes after the first Gulf war, in the early 1990s. Egypt, the 
so-called “heart of the Arab world”, has colluded with Israel in the 
latter’s eight-year blockade of Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians of Yarmouk are living in catastrophic 
conditions, their lives “profoundly threatened”, in the words of the 
United Nations. So what, if anything, can be done? The usual coalition 
of neoconservative hawks and so-called liberal interventionists in the 
west want to bomb first and ask questions later, while the rest of us 
resort to a collective shrug: a mixture of indifference and despair. Few 
are willing to make the tough and unpopular case for a negotiated 
solution to the Syrian conflict or, at least, a truce and a ceasefire, a 
temporary cessation of hostilities. Yet there is an urgent need for a 
“pause” in the fighting in order to ensure “humanitarian access” to 
Yarmouk, says Chris Gunness, senior director of UNRWA, who has described 
the camp as a hellhole.

UNRWA, he tells me, is “calling on those who can influence the parties 
on the ground to make that influence effective”, adding: “Everyone in 
the Middle East can be influenced, everyone is sponsored.” Gunness 
points out that almost 100 civilians, including 20 children, were 
evacuated from the camp on 5 April so there is no reason why more of 
Yarmouk’s residents can’t be escorted to safety.

We have also failed to put our money where our collective mouth is. The 
UN’s $415m appeal for Palestinian refugees in Syria is only 20% funded, 
a situation Gunness calls “disastrous”. Isn’t it a scandal that there’s 
always spare cash for bombing campaigns yet never enough for emergency 
aid? The Palestinians of Yarmouk, like the Palestinians of Gaza during 
the summer of 2014, need our support, both political and financial.

Now is the time for those of us who claim to care about the Palestinian 
people, and their struggle for dignity, justice and nationhood, to make 
our voices heard. Some 3,500 of the 18,000 Palestinians in Yarmouk are 
children. As Gunness says, his voice trembling with emotion: “We are 
potentially witnessing a slaughter of the innocents. What is the world 
going to do?” 

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