[News] How Yarmouk Came About: Israel’s Unabashed Role in the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Sep 17 10:40:53 EDT 2015

September 17, 2015

  How Yarmouk Came About: Israel’s Unabashed Role in the Syrian Refugee

by Ramzy Baroud

When Zionist Haganah militias carried out Operation Yiftach, on May 19 
1948, the aim was to drive Palestinians in the northern Safad District 
which had declared its independence a mere five days earlier, outside 
the border of Israel.

The ethnic cleansing of Safad and its many villages was not unique to 
that area. In fact, it was the modus operandi of Zionist militias 
throughout Palestine. Soon after Israel’s independence, and the 
conquering of historic Palestine, the militias were joined together to 
form the Israeli armed forces.

Not all villages, however, were completely depopulated. Some residents 
in villages like Qaytiyya 
<http://www.villagesofpalestine.com/Qaytiyya.htm>near the River Jordan, 
remained in their homes. The village, located between two tributaries of 
the Jordan – al-Hasbani and Dan rivers – hoped that normality would 
return to their once tranquil village once the war subsides.

Their fate, however, was worse than that of those who were forced out, 
or who fled for fear of a terrible fate. Israeli forces returned nearly 
a year later, rounded the remaining villagers into large trucks, 
tortured many and dumped the villagers somewhere south of Safad. Little 
is known about their fate, but many of those who survived ended up in 
Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria.

Yarmouk was not established until 1957, and even then it was not an 
‘official’ refugee camp. Many of its inhabitants were squatters in Sahl 
al-Yarmouk and other areas, before they were brought to Shaghour 
al-Basatin, near Ghouta. The area was renamed Yarmouk.

Many of Yarmouk’s refugees originate from northern Palestine, the Safad 
District, and villages like Qaytiyya, al-Ja’ouneh and Khisas. They 
subsisted in that region for nearly 67 years. Unable to return to 
Palestine, yet hoping to do so, they named the streets of their camp, 
its neighborhoods, even its bakeries, pharmacies and schools, after 
villages from which they were once driven.

When the Syrian uprising-turned-civil-war began in March 2011, many 
advocated that Palestinians in Syria should be spared the conflict. The 
scars and awful memories of other regional conflicts – the Jordan civil 
war, the Lebanese civil war, the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, and the US 
invasion of Iraq wherein hundreds and thousands of Palestinian civilians 
paid a heavy price – remained in the hearts and minds of many.

But calls for ‘hiyad’ – neutrality – were not heeded by the war’s 
multiple parties, and the Palestinian leadership, incompetent and 
clustered in Ramallah, failed to assess the seriousness of the 
situation, or provide any guidance – moral or political.

The results were horrific. Over 3,000 Palestinians were killed, tens of 
thousands of Palestinian refugees fled Syria, thousands more became 
internally displaced and the hopeless journey away from the homeland 
continued on its horrific course.

Yarmouk – a refugee camp of over 200,000 inhabitants, most of whom are 
registered refugees with the UN agency, UNRWA – was reduced to less than 
20,000. Much of the camp stood in total ruins. Hundreds of its residents 
either starved to death or were killed in the war. The rest fled to 
other parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Europe.

The most natural order of things would have been the return of the 
refugees to Safad and villages like Qaytiyya. Yet, few made such calls, 
and those demands raised by Palestinians officials 
<http://www.villagesofpalestine.com/Qaytiyya.htm>were dismissed by 
Israel as non-starters.

In fact while countries like Lebanon had accepted 1.72 million refugees 
in every five people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee), Turkey 1.93 
million, Jordan 629,000, Iraq 249,000, and Egypt 132,000, Israel made no 
offer to accept a single refugee.

Israel, whose economy is the strongest in the region, has been the most 
tight-fisted in terms of offering shelter to Syrian refugees. This is a 
double sin considering that even Syria’s Palestinian refugees, who were 
expelled from their own homes in Palestine, were also left homeless.

Not surprisingly, there was no international uproar against a 
financially able Israel for blatantly shutting its door in the face of 
desperate refugees, while bankrupt Greece was rightly chastised for not 
doing enough to host hundreds of thousands of refugees.

According to UN statistics 
by the end of August of this year, nearly 239,000 refugees, mostly 
Syrians, landed on Greek islands seeking passage to mainland Europe. 
Greece is not alone. Between January and August this year 114,000 landed 
in Italy (coming mostly from Libya), seeking safety. Around the same 
time last year, almost as many refugees were recorded seeking access to 

Europe is both morally and politically accountable for hosting and 
caring for these refugees, considering its culpability in past Middle 
East wars and ongoing conflicts. Some are doing exactly that, including 
Germany, Sweden and others, while countries, like Britain, have been 
utterly oblivious and downright callous towards refugees. Still, 
thousands of ordinary European citizens, as would any human being with 
an ounce of empathy, are volunteering to help refugees in both Eastern 
and Western Europe.

The same cannot be told of Israel, which has alone ignited most of the 
Middle East conflicts in recent decades. Instead the debate in Israel 
continues to center on demographic threats, while loaded with racial 
connotations about the need to preserve a so-called Jewish identity. 
Strangely, few in the media have picked up on that or found such a 
position particularly egregious at the time of an unprecedented 
humanitarian crisis.

In recent comments 
Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected calls to admit Syrian 
refugees into Israel, once more unleashing the demographic rationale, 
which sees any non-Jews in Israel, be they African refugees, Syrians, or 
even the country’s original Palestinian inhabitants, as a ‘demographic 

“Israel is a very small state. It has no geographic depth or demographic 
depth,” he said on the 6^th September.

When Israel was established on the ruins of destroyed Palestine, 
Palestinian Jews were a small minority. It took multiple campaigns of 
ethnic cleaning, which created the Palestinian refugee problem in the 
first place, to create a Jewish majority in the newly-founded Israel. 
Now, Palestinian Arabs are only a fifth of Israel’s 8.3 million 
population. And for many in Israel, even such small numbers are a cause 
for alarm 

While the refugees of Qaytiyya, who became refugees time and again, are 
still denied their internationally-enshrined right of return per United 
Nations resolution 194 of December 1948, Israel is allowed a special 
status. It is neither rebuked nor forced to repatriate Palestinian 
refugees, and is now exempt from playing even if a minor role in 
alleviating the deteriorating refugee crisis.

Greece, Hungry, Serbia, Macedonia, the UK, Italy and other European 
countries, along with rich Arab Gulf countries must be relentlessly 
pressured to help Syrian refugees until they safely return home. Why 
then should Israel be spared this necessary course of action? Moreover, 
it must, even more forcefully be pressured to play a part in relieving 
the refugee crisis, starting with the refugees of Qaytiyya, who relive 
the fate they suffered 67 years ago.

/*Dr. Ramzy Baroud* has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 
years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media 
consultant, an author of several books and the founder of 
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom 
Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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