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Hugh Fitzgerald: Why So Much News About Gaza, And So Little About Yarmouk?

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The Yarmouk camp for so-called “Palestinian” refugees near Damascus has been under relentless bombardment by the Syrian government over the last week. The Assad regime is attempting destroy the last remnants of ISIS fighters in the camp, but in doing so, it has been bombing indiscriminately, killing and wounding many of the “Palestinian” civilians in the camp. The Yarmouk camp is by far the largest of the 13 camps in which “Palestinians” live in Syria, and at its height had close to 200,000 residents. “Palestinians” have been forced to live in camps in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, not granted full citizenship in their host countries nor anywhere else in the Arab world, though a kind of partial citizenship is granted in Jordan), and kept from full access to educational and vocational opportunities, all in order to prevent them from integrating in their host societies, as they might so easily have done. For these “Palestinians” are most useful to Arab propagandists if they remain un-integrated and displayed to the world as suffering “refugees” who have no place to go except back to Palestine, and need to be given the right of return.

Photographs show the total devastation of this camp, which is where “Palestinians” have been forced to live ever since 1948, because, like all the Arab states, Syria too has wanted to keep the “Palestinian” cause alive internationally by keeping the real-life  “Palestinians” more or less imprisoned in these camps, in unpleasant conditions, and not allowed to acquire Syrian citizenship. For it is more important to the Syrians that the “cause of Palestine” be promoted, even if it means damaging the life-chances of generations of those Muslim Arabs who continue to all themselves “Palestinians.”

The latest bombing of the Yarmouk camp has been indiscriminate; the target was ISIS, but the civilian (i.e., non-ISIS) dead are now said by the government to have been in the dozens. These are figures from the Assad government, which has a history of consistently understating civilian casualties.

The Yarmouk camp has been bombed before in this civil war. In December 2012, there was an aerial bombing by Assad’s MiG fighter jets. In what would eventually become commonplace, the aerial bombing targeted a hospital, a mosque and a school, killing dozens in the process. The Assad regime suspected that Syrian opposition forces were using Yarmouk as one of their bases. In 2013, there was a siege of the camp; at least 135 “Palestinians” died directly from being bombed during the  siege. More than 1020 died indirectly, of starvation.

Since June 2014 the Syrian regime started to cut off water to the camp; this drought, manufactured by the government, continues to this day. Water has to be smuggled in, for the 18,000 “Palestinians” — less than 10% of those who once lived in Yarmouk — who remain.

At the time of the siege,  those in Yarmouk were aware that many in the Arab Muslim world were indifferent. Even their fellow “Palestinians” elsewhere remained silent. “Of course we’ve seen how many Palestinians aren’t speaking about our crisis,” Hakem Saied from Yarmouk News Agency explains, “most people in the camp blame the Palestinian factions the most for what has happened. They have not done anything to help us. But many Palestinians that aren’t even in factions have also not said a lot about the siege. We know that if this were happening in Palestine the reactions would have been stronger. We know this and it bothers us a lot.”

For several years the civilians in the Yarmouk Camp, who are no threat to the Assad regime, have been subject to relentless and indiscriminate bombing, meant to destroy as many buildings as possible that might be used by members of ISIS and by members of rebel groups opposed to Assad. From 160,000 in 2011, when the Syrian civil war began, the population of Yarmouk has fallen to around 20,000.

In the last week, dozens have been reported killed by Syrian bombs.

But there has been no outcry over these attacks on “Palestinians” in the Yarmouk Camp. Not at the U.N. Not in Europe. Not from any Arab states. Not even from the “Palestine Authority.” But when “Palestinians” trying to break the security fence are killed by Israelis, there are howls of denunciation at the U.N. and from Arab and Muslim countries.

Right now, the “Palestinians” in Gaza have been conducting their Great March of Return, which began on March 30 and will end on May 15. Tens of thousands of Gazans — the Hamas organizers had hoped to attract 100,000 marchers but at no time have there been more than 30,000, and the current figure is 10,000 — have headed toward Israel’s security fence. The marchers are described almost everywhere as “peaceful” and “unarmed.” But in fact, they hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails over the fence, burn tires to create a smokescreen, making it harder for Israeli soldiers to target them with rubber bullets, tear gas, or in those cases where some manage to get to the fence and attempt to breach it, live fire. Some of the “Palestinians” have also been armed with guns — though the foreign press has been reluctant to report on this.

So far, over more than four weeks, from March 30 to May 1, tens of thousands of “Palestinian” marchers in Gaza have tried to breach the security fence, egged on by Hamas organizers who also deliberately put children at the front of the lines, no doubt hoping that some would be hit by Israeli fire, which would thereby provide a propaganda coup. The “unarmed” marchers throw rocks and Molotov cocktails over the fence; still “unarmed,” they attach burning rags to kites and let them loose to fly over the fence into Israel, where they land and in several cases have set fire to farmers’ fields, a new tactic, and a great worry for the Israelis. Meanwhile, the Israelis continually warn the Gazans, through loudspeakers, to stay away from the security fence. They make copious use of tear gas and non-lethal rubber bullets. Only if none of that works do Israeli snipers then use live fire, as a last resort, against those Gazan “Palestinians” who have been throwing into Israel Molotov cocktails, rocks, burning tires, and kites with petrol-soaked tails aflame, and have begun to destroy part of the security fence, in order to enter Israel and attack soldiers and civilians. The use of live fire does not always mean shooting to kill; the Israeli snipers have to judge when an Arab attacker may actually pose a real danger, either because of what he is throwing over the fence at the soldiers, or because he has reached, and is making a reach in, the security fence. Nonetheless, 48 people have been killed. The  Israeli actions — misreported as attacks on “unarmed demonstrators” — have been loudly deplored in Arab capitals, in Europe, and at the U.N.

Meanwhile, in less than a week, approximately the  same number of “Palestinians” have been killed by Syrian bombardment of the Yarmouk camp, and 3,500 “Palestinians” have fled that camp during that time. Unlike the Israelis with the Gazan marchers, the Syrians faced no threat from the “Palestinians” in Yarmouk. They had no burning kites or Molotov cocktails. They were stuck in Yarmouk, where ISIS had taken up part of the camp, and have been helpless collateral damage in the attempt by Assad to finish off ISIS. No Arab country, not even those opposed to Assad, has bothered to deplore the callous killing in Yarmouk of many dozens of the “Palestinians.” To do so would, the Arabs must calculate, make for disturbing comparisons with the careful Israeli response to the Gazan marches, and the Arabs would prefer, in any case, not to draw attention away from that “Palestinian” propaganda spectacle.

Such hypocrisy no longer amazes. We expect it, whenever Israel is concerned. But the next time someone tells you, with a straight face, about what those terrible Israelis are doing to innocent unarmed marchers in Gaza, mention the Molotov cocktails, the rocks, the burning tires, the kites with burning rags attached, of those “unarmed” marchers, mention Hamas’s deliberate use of children in these marches, mention the care the Israelis take to warn the marchers, and the non-lethal force — tear gas and rubber bullets — they employ, using live fire only as a last resort, and then, as a parting shot, be sure to ask “And why this silence about what’s been happening to the ‘Palestinians’ in Yarmouk?”

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