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If only there was oil under Yarmouk

As Palestinians are being murdered and starving to death in the refugee camp near Damascus, the Arab world is busy intervening in Yemen, the Palestinian Authority is silent, and Israeli television is talking about where to eat during the Passover holiday.

Yarmouk residents gathered to await a food distribution from UNRWA in January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

Yarmouk residents gathered to await a food distribution from UNRWA in January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

Monday morning, on the morning show on Israel’s Channel 10, which was co-hosted by the station’s military correspondent because the regular hosts are on vacation, they were supposedly discussing recommendations for the Israeli holiday traveler. After describing Israelis on vacation as ugly and litterers and more, the hosts recommended places to see and good places to eat.

As one might expect, most of the restaurants their guest culinary experts recommended represented the Arab kitchen. They went from Acre to the Galilee to Tiberias, and then Or Heller, the military correspondent, asked the two guest chefs for recommendations of places to eat in the Golan Heights. One of chefs, Haim Cohen, thought for a second and then answered, “Syria. But’s a little difficult [to get there],” adding that “the Syrian kitchen is excellent!”

The host, Or Heller, kept the jokes coming. “Yes, in the Yarmouk Camp … well ISIS are the only ones eating there.” Making fun at the expense my people in the camp that has been under siege for three years really got to me. I got up and went to the kitchen without changing the channel and listened to the rest of the program from afar. And then, another half-joke comes out of the television set, this time as part of their map of holiday traffic jams, about what icon Waze should have to indicate where ISIS is in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp. I couldn’t get over the anger and the pain, and wasn’t able to continue by daily routine.

People don’t understand just how bad the situation is in the Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. Tens of thousands of Palestinians, famished and under attack, are sitting prey for a group of fighters/rebels/terrorists/Assad supporters. We, the Palestinians, and the entire world, don’t really know who’s against who or what they are guilty of. There have been more and more reports of bodies, horrifying murders and wounded in recent days.

‘Yarmouk is devastated throughout, with street storefronts and houses suffering the brunt of the physical damage.’ (Photo by UNRWA)

‘Yarmouk is devastated throughout, with street storefronts and houses suffering the brunt of the physical damage,’ January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

When the war in Syria began three years ago, we, the Palestinians here in Israel, were angry at them, with utmost self-righteousness, that they didn’t join the revolution against Assad. Later we understood their immense fear of getting mixed up in it. The reports we’ve gotten in the past three years about what the Assad government has done to Palestinian youngsters in the refugee camp are simply horrible. Later we got mad at al-Nusra Front, which entered the camp as an opposition force to the regime and were angry that the organization was terrifyingly executing people on the streets. Its fighters raped young women and committed other crimes against humanity that are documented and available for anyone to see on the Internet.

And now, news that ISIS united with al-Nusra Front against the poor Palestinians in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear — aside from al-Nusra’s fear that it was losing control of the camp, and joined ISIS to defeat a group of Palestinian youngsters who organized themselves in an attempt to defend the camp. They call themselves “Aknef Beit al-Maqdis” (The Environs of Jerusalem, in Arabic).

Gathered on Yarmouk Street, residents begin hurrying to reach the distribution point.’ (Photo by UNRWA)

Gathered on Yarmouk Street, residents begin hurrying to reach the distribution point, January 2014. (Photo by UNRWA)

Refugees who fled for their lives to every corner of the world from Yarmouk have described the terror and the smell of death that permeates the camp. “People are eating each other out of starvation,” somebody wrote. There has been no running water since September, and the world is silent.

Palestinians the world over search for snippets of information about their relatives in the camp and, over and over again, see photos of funerals, and that video, in which a boy who hasn’t seen a slice of bread for months tears your heart open with his tears. The descriptions and the photographs that make it out are reminiscent of the eternal photos of concentration camps, or of ethnically cleansed villages in Bosnia.

For we Palestinians who are outside the walls of the Yarmouk refugee camp, our utter and complete helplessness is unbearable. Even organizing a small demonstration in Haifa over the weekend was emotionally trying for the activists, who came with overwhelming despondency, anger and sadness — about the entire world that is simply ignoring what’s happening, about the Arab world that managed to organize a special military force in Yemen overnight, about the silence of the Palestinian Authority, and about the impotence of the international community.

I know that my anger toward the Israeli television presenter who tried to make jokes about my kin in Yarmouk is actually anger about the entire situation. It is anger at the irrationality of it all, the injustice, and the war that is crushing thousands of people — and that nobody cares. It’s a shame. It’s a shame that there isn’t any oil or natural gas under that refugee camp. If there were, I’m sure that an alliance of freedom-seeking nations would quickly come together — with the backing of the UN, of course — to save all those innocent people.

Samah Salaime is a social worker, a director of AWC (Arab Women in the Center) in Lod/Lyd and a graduate of the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem. She is a blogger for our Hebrew-language sister-site, Local Call, where this article was first published. Read it in Hebrew here.

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    1. Jack

      Samah Salaime Egbariya

      You just lowered my sympathy and emotions regarding the situation to Zero
      You should not post this article as you make more harm to the PA then the situation itself.
      If you are angry, go and scream but don’t be an Idiot and post such articles.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Pedro X

      Hypocrisy in Action. Palestinians refused Israel’s offer in 2012 to rescue Syrian Palestinians from death and homelessness.


      “People don’t understand just how bad the situation is in the Palestinian refugee camp in Syria.”

      Israel did. The UN did. The Palestinian Authority did. After fierce fighting in the Yarmouk camp and news of starving Palestinians, Israel with the UN proposed that 150,000 Palestinian refugees be settled in the West Bank. In the late fall and early winter of 2012 when there were only 150,000 Palestinian refugees of the Syrian civil war, the United Nations and Israel brokered a deal to bring those Palestinians to the West Bank. Israel’s condition was they would facilitate the transfer of people provided the Palestinians agreed to sign a paper that they did not have the right to live in Israel. The reply of the President of the Palestinians, Mr. Abbas, was:

      “So we rejected that and said it’s better they die in Syria than give up their right of return,” [Abbas did never explain how it was better to be dead or why the refugees should not have been given the choice to be dead or live in the West Bank.]

      Here is how Palestinian Maan news on January 21, 2013 reported the matter:

      “Israel agreed to allow 150,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria to return to the West Bank, President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview with Al-Mayadeen satellite channel on Monday.

      The offer was reportedly made last week, but Abbas rejected an Israeli condition which would force refugees to sign a statement saying that they would give up the right of return to Israel, according to The Associated Press.

      The president said it was better to die in Syria than give up the right of return, The AP reported.”

      And die they have. Over 2000 Palestinians have been killed in Syria. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced. I wonder how many of the Palestinians in Syria, or the West Bank or Gaza, know that Abbas condemned the Palestinians in Syria to death instead of living in Palestinian controlled areas of the West Bank?

      Samah how is it that Israel settled millions of Jewish refugees in Israel while the president of the Palestinians refused to settle 150,000 Palestinians and thought that it was better that they die than give up an non-existent right to live in Israel? How is it that you did not stand up for the Palestinians of Syria when Abbas blocked their rescue?

      Samah look at the picture of the starving Palestinian child in the Yarmouk camp who died because Abbas said it was better for Palestinians to die. How come you did not speak out?


      Samah, how come some Israeli jokes upset you more than Arabs killing Arabs and Palestinian leaders condemning fellow Palestinians to death and homelessness without allowing them the choice to live or die which was made available by Israel and the UN in 2012?

      Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        So if I read that right, Israel conditioned entry to a segregated ghetto on the Palestinian refugees in Syria personally rubber stamping their own denial of citizenship by the party that took over their homes in former Mandate Palestine.

        Now, there’s a problem with blaming Abbas over this – Israel does not need his permission to place anyone in the West Bank. Everyone who enters and exits that territory is up to Israel, 100%. If Israel was serious about this rescue attempt they could place the refugees from Syria in the numerous West Bank settlement homes under construction, Abbas be damned. (Of course that’s not going to happen because these houses are only for Jewish Israelis.) This tells me Israel did not really expect their own offer to be accepted and had an ulterior motive for making it. There’s no reason they couldn’t have approached the Palestinians from Yarmouk directly and asked if they wanted to make that decision themselves.

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          So Andrew you seem to agree with Abbas that it was better for Palestinians in Syria to die than accept Israel’s lifeline to them, because the West Bank is all one big ghetto and not a Ritz Hotel or a Holiday Inn Express. For a minute ask yourself what were the conditions in Yarmouk and other Palestiniqan camps that Syrian Palestinians would have desired to stay in Syria and not come to the West Bank. Palestinians had fled Assad attacks in Daara and Homs which were destroyed in heavy fighting. Some of them relocated to Yarmouk Camp which was a City of 160,000 people. Mondoweiss described what Yarmouk was like [which was better than conditions in Homs or Daara.]

          “Assad has bombed and shelled them, destroying much of the neighborhood’s infrastructure and even UNRWA shelters. Amnesty International has characterized the Syrian government’s siege on Yarmouk as “brutal” and has accused the Assad regime of carrying out “war crimes and crimes against humanity” against Palestinian…. the regime began to target densely populated civilian areas with heavy artillery, ….

          Palestinians have been trying to survive on starvation diets for years. Food is so scarce that refugees have resorted to eating grass, cats and dogs, animal feed, and dirt. Many have died from hunger, and infant malnutrition is skyrocketing. Moreover, the lack of access to healthcare and the destruction of the Yarmouk’s infrastructure has led to women frequently dying in childbirth, as well as to the outbreak of many diseases.”

          Israel threw these people a lifeline. Abbas fashioned the lifeline into a noose around the Syrian Palestinian necks. They could have come to the West Bank and have been fed by the UN, they would have received schooling and health care. They would have been safe from the fighting. They would have food and shelter. The Europeans would have built new towns like Rawabi for them. Instead the unsaved 150,000 Palestinians have become hundreds of thousands more with many dead, dieing, sick and homeless.

          And why? Because Abbas and you think that an imaginary right of return for the descendents of Palestinians who fled 1948 Mandate Palestine is more important than Syrian Palestinians being saved from Assad and now from Isis and other Arab militant factions.

          Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            So Andrew you seem to agree with Abbas that it was better for Palestinians in Syria to die than accept Israel’s lifeline to them,

            It looks like you only read the first sentence of what I wrote above. I don’t think Israel had any intention of accepting 150,000 Palestinians in the West Bank, and telling Abbas they would have to sign away the right of return themselves was a way of saying “screw you”. And it was Abbas that approached Israel through the UN. Like I pointed out above, Israel can place anyone in Areas A, B and C of the West Bank while Abbas goes sulking in the corner. Israel could have approached the Yarmouk Palestinians who would pressure Abbas if they were so inclined to accept it.

            For that matter, I wonder if Abbas had any intention of taking in the Yarmouk Palestinians, Israeli condition or no. Everything about this story comes from him directly.


            Also: More on Abbas’ efforts(?) to relieve the Palestinians in Yarmouk.


            In the spring of 2013 Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, even proposed that all of Yarmouk’s 150,000 Palestinian residents move to the West Bank or Gaza. In November 2013, Abbas sent a team to Damascus to discuss humanitarian relief and a ceasefire between the rebels and the government. The idea was to open a safe corridor for the movement of supplies and displaced civilians, but no deal was ever reached.

            Reply to Comment
      • Joel

        I wonder if historians will hound Abbas to the grave, same as they did to Ben Gurion for ‘not doing enough to save Jews from the Holocaust’?

        I doubt it.

        Reply to Comment
      • Sandra S

        Abbas can’t sign away the refugee’s right of return, Israel agreed to it when they signed the 4th Geneva Convention.

        Reply to Comment
    3. ozigoonet

      Another biased pro-Sunni whingeing report. Isis/Hamas/Al-Nusra….all the same.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Vacy

      The real perpetrator of the suffering in Yarmouk is Israel. This camp should have been closed on December 11, 1948 when Resoliution 194 was adopted. The Resolution defined principles for reaching a final settlement and returning Palestinian refugees to their homes.

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Vacy, Section 11 of non binding UN General Resolution 194 recommended that refugees (which included both Arab and Jewish refugees) be allowed to return who wanted to live in peace with their neighbors and that they do so at the earliest opportunity. However the Arab states unanimously rejected UN resolution 194 and promised to wage war against Israel and not live in peace with their neighbors. The Arabs did not allow Jewish refugees to return to Judea and Samaria or the Old City. The Arab states expelled 850,000 Jews from Arab countries. Thus the Arabs stood in the way of any return of refugees.

        In the wake of the 1948 war Israel offered to negotiate peace with the Arab states and offered to take back 100,000 Arab refugees. The Arab states refused to discuss peace and said that Palestinian refugees would return as conquerors.

        And Vacy you might have mentioned that if the Arabs had not launched a war of genocide against the emerging Israeli state in 1947, not one Arab or Jew would have had to leave his or home. And also note that the Arab states at any time between 1949 and 1967 could have resettled Arab refugees in the West Bank and Gaza and built a Palestinian state but they chose to keep them in ghettos in Arab countries.

        Reply to Comment
        • andrew r

          A few days ago I wrote a lengthy response to a similar historical overview, but I’m especially going to rehash my response to this point, “if the Arabs had not launched a war of genocide against the emerging Israeli state in 1947, not one Arab or Jew would have had to leave his or home”

          The new immigrants who arrived to Israel (Occupied Palestine) during and after 1948 were settled in abandoned houses and new settlements built in and around destroyed Palestinian villages. Even the new olim from the MENA had to be placed in transit camps (A practice not applied to the Europeans, by the way). With a truncated Jewish state limited to the UN boundary and all the Palestinian Arabs remaining in their homes, how many immigrants could the “Jewish state” have taken in? The emerging Jewish state had a vested interest in the refugee crisis.


          Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            Chaim Weizmann said a Jewish state could take in 6 million Jewish refugees. This plan did not require one Arab to leave his home.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Weizmann inflated that figure throughout the British Mandate period. Around the time of WWI he claimed a million Jews could be settled there in 20-30 years. In the early 50’s, Israel with a million people, dispossessed Palestinian property and a reliance on outside cash flow had to adopt an austerity measure (Before the German reparations). Palestine in 1948 was not going to support 5 million people. Weizmann himself suggested in 1939 acquiring Palestinian Druze land and encouraging their emigration to Syria.

            en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austerity_in_Israel (Yeah, I use wikipedia for facts that should be non-controversial)

            Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            What you do not mention is that military expenditures incurred during the war of independence could have been spent on relocating to Israel as many Jews who could be saved. Millions could have been saved and settled with the 500 million dollars Israel spent on defending Jews against the genocidal aims of the Arabs. Further Israel’s crops and citrus groves would not have been laid in ruin. It industries would have been geared to peaceful ventures. Israel could have incorporated many millions given the fact after 1948 war it incorporated more than double its pre-war population despite its fragile economy after the war and the need to continually defend itself against Arab aggressions and threats of annihilation.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Except the Zionist track record by 1948 indicated many Arabs would in fact have to be removed. Ruppin was complaining as early as 1928 little unsettled arable land was left:

            Ruppin claimed that there were deep and manifest conflicts of interests between Arabs and Jews, conflicts which would worsen as the Zionists gained more control of the land: “Land is the essential condition for putting down economic roots in Palestine […] wherever we purchase land and settle people on it – its current workers [the Arabs] must of necessity be removed, whether they be owners or tenants […] in future it will be much harder to purchase land, because sparsely settled land is no longer available – what is left is land settled with considerable density” (ibid.). 283 Ruppin to Kohn [30 May. 1928] in: (Bein 1968, III, 149-150). (quot’d in Bloom, Arthur Ruppin, 379)

            Ben-Gurion 10 years later remarked at a Zionist Congress, “We do not want to dispossess, [but] transfer of populations occurred previously, in the [Jezreel] Valley, in the Sharon [i.e., Coastal Plain] and in other places. You are no doubt aware of the Jewish National Fund’s activity in this respect. Now a transfer of a completely different scope will have to be carried out. In many parts of the country new settlement will not be possible without transferring the Arab peasantry… It is important that this plan comes from the Commission and not from us… Transfer is what will make possible a comprehensive settlement programme. Thankfully, the Arab people have vast empty areas.” (Morris, Birth… Revisited, 48)

            Comments like these make it clear that well before 1948 the Yishuv leadership knew they had something to gain from a Palestinian refugee crisis. And as Ben-Gurion said above JNF land purchases usually led to eviction of the Arab farmers. It’s pretty hard to swallow the assertion that all 500,000 Arabs in the UN-proposed “Jewish state” were going to remain in place while millions of new immigrants tiptoe around them, when the earliest JNF initiatives couldn’t even manage that.

            Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            Despite the wish for a greater share of the land, Israel accepted the partition plan in 1947 and hundreds of thousands of Arabs who would live with them. Today over 6 million Jews live in Israel with 1.7 million Arabs showing that the land could accommodate a much larger population of Jews and Arabs.

            It was Arab rejectionism of the partition plan and going to war to destroy the emerging Jewish state which created the Arab flight from the land. The expulsion of Jews from Arab lands doubled Israel’s pre-war population. The Arabs in effect created a transfer of populations.

            Reply to Comment
          • Joel


            “Ruppin was complaining as early as 1928 little unsettled arable land was left:”

            Yes. Which meant that the Zionists would have to buy Arab land, which land the Arabs were ready, willing and able to sell right into the 1940’s. See, ‘The Land Question in Palestine, 1917-1939’, by Prof. Kenneth Stein.

            Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        While Israel is responsible for the Palestinians being expelled, the Assad regime is responsible for keeping the Palestinians exceptionally vulnerable as a refugee population. Not that I care what al-nakba apologists think.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Bassam

      The route cause of this massacre is Israel, it’s Israel who shall be fully responsible for all the bloodshed of Palestinians, Iraqis, Syrians,….. and all in the Middle east slaughtered by all erupted struggles after 1948 up till date; accept maybe for those who naturally lost their lives due to age or illness!

      Israel; I hold you and your aligns fully responsible for every Palestinian blood drop.

      Reply to Comment