100 Years of Pro-Israel Activism: How a Special Interest Lobby Enabled the Colonization of Palestine. If Americans Knew!
2017 is the year of anniversaries for Palestinians. Sadly, none can be celebrated.
The first of these will be May 15th — the 69th anniversary of the catastrophe, known as the Nakba when Israel was created in the Palestinian homeland without their permission. It also marks the period when 750,000 Palestinians were driven out to neighboring countries by Zionist gangs and Israeli armed forces.
Early June brings the 50th anniversary of the six-day war, when Israel captured the remainder of historic Palestine, the Syrian Golan Heights and the Egyptian Sinai. While Sinai was returned to Egypt, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights remain occupied. This occupation is seen as illegal by the international community. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan is not recognized by any other country.
Israeli armored troop unit entering Gaza during the Six-Day War, June 6
June also marks the tenth anniversary of Israel’s blockade on Gaza.
In November, two events that irrevocably changed the future of historic Palestine will be marked. November 29th is the 70th anniversary of the UN General Assembly passing Resolution 181, which recommended the partition of Palestine at the end of the British Mandate.
In practice, Zionists did not accept the UN Partition Plan. Zionists seized areas beyond the proposed Jewish State and did not recognize the International Zone. Using force and terrorism months before May 1948, Jews seized land beyond the UN proposed borders. The UN Plan was used as a pretense for taking over most of Palestine.
NOTE: This is a critical fact often omitted when the history is presented and this leads to a very distorted view of what happened in 1948. The misleading story often told is that “Jews declared Israel and then they were attacked.” The fact is from November 1947 to May 1948 the Zionists were already on the offensive and had already attacked Arabs.
November 2nd is perhaps the most significant anniversary. This year marks the centenary of what the Balfour declaration, the letter from British Foreign secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild of the Zionist Federation in which he stated:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
The declaration was made before Britain was given the mandate on Palestine and without any consultation with the indigenous population of Palestine. Through this, Britain promised a land it did not have to a people who did not live on it without consulting those whose land it was.
Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem (1867-1948) “We wish to express our definite opposition to a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
Last December, in a speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel, British Prime Minister Theresa May referred to the Balfour declaration as “one of the most important letters in history” and that “it demonstrates Britain’s vital role in creating a homeland for the Jewish people”. She said “it is an anniversary we will be marking with pride”.
In his address to the UN General Assembly in 2016, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated: “We ask Great Britain, as we approach 100 years since this infamous declaration, to draw the necessary lessons and to bear its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibility for the consequences of this declaration, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, misery and injustice this declaration created and to act to rectify these disasters and remedy its consequences, including by the recognition of the state of Palestine…This is the least Great Britain can do.”
It seems Abbas’s words fell on deaf ears. Not only has Britain refused to apologize, May recently rolled out the Downing Street red carpet for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
In the meantime, Israel continues to violate UN resolutions with impunity and Palestinians can expect more bad anniversaries to mark.
The Wadi al-Naam village was established in the 1950s soon after the 1948 European Zionist offensive that established the state of Israel on top of the Palestinians. Military officials forcibly transferred the Negev Bedouins to the site during the 17-year period when Palestinians inside Israel were governed under Israeli military law, which ended shortly before Israel’s military takeover of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967.
NEGEV (Ma’an) — In the latest instance of Israel’s demolition campaign in the Negev region of southern Israel, homes were demolished in two unrecognized Bedouin villages on Wednesday, while Israeli police surrounded the village of Umm al-Hiran.
Israeli bulldozers, escorted by Israeli police, demolished a house in the village of Wadi al-Naam in the western part of the Negev in southern Israel.
Locals told Ma’an that the demolished house was owned by an elderly woman and her daughter. A member of the local committee, Yousif Ziyadin, said that an emergency session would be held to discuss the Israeli demolition.
A relative of the elderly homeowner, Ahmad Zanoun, told Ma’an that 100-year-old Ghaytha Zanoun and her 60-year-old daughter Hilala were living in the house, both of whom suffer from various health issues.
Zanoun said that both Ghaytha and Hilala were unable to walk, and noted that the family had renovated the home in accordance with their doctor’s suggestions due to their health conditions.
He added that Ghaytha and her daughter now were homeless following the demolition.
The Wadi al-Naam village was established in the 1950s soon after the 1948 European Zionist offensive that established the state of Israel on top of the Palestinians. Military officials forcibly transferred the Negev Bedouins to the site during the 17-year period when Palestinians inside Israel were governed under Israeli military law, which ended shortly before Israel’s military takeover of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967.
In July, the Israeli government approved plans to build townships for Israel’s Bedouin community. The planned township is expected to be built just south of Shaqib al-Salam, another Bedouin township, and would transfer at least 7,000 Bedouins from the unrecognized village of Wadi al-Naam, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported last year.
The approved village would comprise of an area of approximately 9,000 dunams (2,224 acres), while providing housing to some 9,000 residents, The Times of Israel also reported.
The proposal to expand the area of Shaqib al-Salam was challenged in Israel’s Supreme Court in 2015, as the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), who assisted in the court proceedings, argued that any expansion of the town would be followed by the forcible removal of Bedouins from unrecognized villages, particularly from Wadi al-Naam.
Yaron Kelner, spokesperson for ACRI, confirmed to Ma’an on Wednesday that residents of Wadi al-Naam have continued to refuse the relocation deal.
Meanwhile, Israeli bulldozers also demolished a mobile home in the unrecognized village of al-Zarnouq in the Negev. However, no other details were provided about the demolition.
The Israeli government has plans to evacuate thousands of residents from al-Zarnouq to the recognized village of Rahat in order to build over the land for new housing for non-Bedouin Israeli citizens.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Israeli government approved in 2011 plans to transfer tens of thousands of Bedouins in unrecognized villages, including al-Zarnouq, into officially recognized settlements.
The ongoing attempts at transferring the Bedouins originated from the Prawer Report, a document outlining expulsion plans for the unrecognized Bedouin community. It was officially adopted by the Israeli government in 2013.
According to Israeli human rights group Adalah, the plan would “result in the destruction of 35 ‘unrecognized’ Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Negev.”
In another incident in the Negev on Wednesday, the Yoav unit of the Israeli police surrounded the village of Umm al-Hiran. According to locals, residents have expressed fear that their presence could signal another demolition, the last of which erupted into deadly violence when Israeli police raided the village prior to demolishing homes. A local Bedouin teacher and an Israeli police officer were killed at the time.
Meanwhile, the Bedouin village of al-Araqib was demolished for the 109th time on Wednesday.
Bedouin communities in the Negev have been the target of a heightened demolition campaign in recent weeks, following Israeli leaders publicly expressing their commitment to demolish Palestinian structures lacking difficult to obtain Israeli-issued building permits across Israel and occupied East Jerusalem in response to the Israeli-court sanctioned evacuation of the illegal Amona settler outpost.
In December, Netanyahu released a video to address settlers of the Amona outpost, assuring them that he would commit to “enforcing laws” on “illegal construction” in Israel, referring primarily to Palestinian communities that are often forced to build without Israeli-issued building permits, due to what rights groups have attributed to discriminatory zoning policies in Israel which have excluded many Palestinian-Israeli communities from being included in the regional and municipal development plans.
According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), more than half of the approximately 160,000 Negev Bedouins reside in unrecognized villages.
Rights groups have claimed that the demolitions in Bedouin villages is a central Israeli policy aimed at removing the indigenous Palestinian population from the Negev and transferring them to government-zoned townships to make room for the expansion of Jewish Israeli communities.
Thirty-five Palestinian children were killed by Israeli soldiers, police and armed civilians during the year, all but four of the deadly incidents taking place in the West Bank. Children account for a third of the 105 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during 2016.
Most, but certainly not all, of those children were killed during the course of what Israel alleges were attacks or attempted attacks, mainly on soldiers at checkpoints in the West Bank.
But in the vast majority of alleged attacks that left a Palestinian child dead, no Israeli civilians or soldiers were injured. In a handful of cases, Israeli soldiers were reported to have suffered only light injuries.
In several incidents, there may not have been any attempted attack when a Palestinian child was shot and killed. Amnesty International has called for one such slaying to be investigated as an extrajudicial execution.
Other children were killed on their way to class, or coming home from a pool party. Several were shot dead while protesting the occupation. A brother and sister were killed in their Gaza home when their neighborhood was hit in an Israeli airstrike.
The group’s accountability program director Ayed Abu Eqtaish stated: “Intentional lethal force now appears to be routinely used by Israeli forces, even in unjustified situations, with no accountability, putting more and more children at risk.”
These are the Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces in 2016:
Ahmad Younis Ahmad al-Kawazba, 17
Ahmad, from the village of Sair in the southern occupied West Bank, was shot dead by Israeli forces after allegedly stabbing and lightly wounding a soldier in the area of the Gush Etzion intersection near the city of Hebron on 5 January.
Hebron’s district attorney said the “autopsy suggested the 17-year-old had been left to bleed to death and had received no medical treatment,” the Ma’an News Agencyreported.
Israeli forces shot and killed Alaa al-Din along with two of his adult cousins near the Gush Etzion bloc of Israeli settlements north of Hebron on 7 January. The army claimed the three were “armed with knives” and attempted to attack soldiers. No soldiers were reported injured during the attack. Alaa al-Din was from the Hebron-area village of Sair.
Khalil Muhammad Issa Wadi, 15
Khalil was shot dead by Israeli forces after he allegedly attempted to stab a soldier at the Beit Einoun junction near Hebron on 7 January. No Israelis were reported injured during the incident. The boy’s adult brother, Mahmoud, was shot and killed by Israeli forces in the same location in November 2015.
An investigation by the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz found that Adnan, from the village of Shuyukh, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers at the Beit Einoun junction near the West Bank city of Hebron while on his way to physics class on 12 January.
Adnan had traveled to the junction in a taxi van and crossed the road and entered into a second van when another young man in the vehicle jumped out and yelled “God is great” while brandishing a knife or hatchet, according to Haaretz.
The armed young man, Muhammad Kawazba from the village of Sair, was immediately shot and killed. The driver of the van from which Kawazba emerged “tried to drive away as fast as he could, for fear that he too would be shot,” Haaretz added. “The soldiers, seeing the vehicle pulling out, opened fire at it, though they had no idea who was inside it.”
The driver managed to escape on foot while Adnan, still inside the van, was struck in the upper right side of his body and died soon after in hospital.
Ruqayya Abu Eid, 13
Ruqayya was shot dead by a private security guard after she allegedly attempted to stab him in the Anatot settlement near Jerusalem on 23 January.
A Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, condemned the girl’s slaying. “Even if she had a knife, it would have been possible to arrest a girl that age instead of killing her,” Esawi Frej of the Meretz party said.
Haaretzreported that Ruqayya died of a single bullet wound to the heart.
“I have no explanation for her decision,” the girl’s father told the paper. “There were two guards there, and they could have overcome her. A little girl. They are trained and armed, you know, so how is it they could not arrest a little girl of 13? Was a girl of 13 a threat to them? Whatever she planned to do, they could still have arrested her.”
Ruqayya was laid to rest in the village of al-Karmel east of the West Bank town of Yatta, near Hebron.
Hussein Abu Ghosh, 17
Hussein was shot dead by an Israeli security guard at a supermarket in Beit Horon settlement near the central West Bank city of Ramallah on 25 January.
The youth was killed along with Ibrahim Usama Allan, 23, after stabbing two Israeli women; one of the women, 24-year-old Shlomit Krigman, died from her injuries the following day. Israeli media reported that Allan and Hussein were shot as they ran, suggesting the two may have been extrajudicially executed.
Israeli forces destroyed Hussein’s family home in Qalandiya refugee camp near Ramallah in April.
Punitive home demolitions, along with other acts of collective punishment, are considered a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Ahmad Hassan Abd al-Latif Tubah, 17
Ahmad, from the village of Kufr Jammal, was killed by Israeli forces after allegedly attempting to stab a soldier near a settlement in the Tulkarm, West Bank, area on 1 February. No soldiers were reported to have been injured.
“According to media reports, he crossed the [Israel’s wall in the West Bank] without an entry permit and was discovered by soldiers who tried to apprehend him. He then pulled a knife on them and was shot,” the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported.
Haitham Saada, 14
Haitham died after he was hit by two bullets fired by soldiers near the entrance to Halhoul village, near Hebron, on 5 February. The army said that the boy was preparing to throw a Molotov cocktail at soldiers when he was killed.
“Other than Haitham’s younger cousin, Wajdi, who was also in his class and was with him when he died, and the soldiers, of course, there are no eyewitnesses who can relate what happened and why Haitham was shot and killed,” the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretzreported at the time. “Wajdi was arrested on the spot and is still incarcerated in Ofer Camp, near Ramallah. He has not been allowed visitors.”
Omar Yousif Ismail Madi, 15
Omar was slain by a bullet when Israeli soldiers fired on youths who were throwing stones at them in Arroub refugee camp near Hebron on 9 February. The city’s district attorney told the Ma’an News Agency that the boy “died after being hit by a single bullet that entered his body from the right side of his chest.” The bullet “penetrated the teen’s liver, kidneys, and spleen before exiting his body from the lower left side of his rib cage.”
Nihad Raed Muhammad Waked, 15, and Fuad Marwan Kamal Waked, 15
Nihad and Fuad were shot and killed by Israeli forces after they allegedly opened fire at soldiers on 14 February. No Israelis were injured during the incident near the village of al-Araqa, west of the northern West Bank town of Jenin. Palestinian emergency medics were reportedly prevented from providing treatment at the scene.
“Soldiers reported that one of the Palestinians was armed with a makeshift weapon and another was carrying a knife,” Haaretzreported. The boys’ families “vehemently denied the army’s claim they had fired at the soldiers and said the two were roaming farming lands owned by the family that are adjacent to [Israel’s] West Bank barrier,” the paper added.
“I know the families and the two youths, these are not families that deal with arms or have access to arms,” a teacher in al-Araqa who knew the teens told Haaretz. “These are just kids and to attribute an attempted shooting to them sounds highly unlikely or believable.”
Naim Ahmad Yousif Safi, 16
Naim was shot and killed after he allegedly attempted to stab an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint north of the West Bank city of Bethlehem on 14 February. Israeli police told media the teen approached soldiers while carrying a knife. No Israelis were reported injured during the incident. Naim was from the nearby village of al-Ubediya.
Qusay Abu al-Rub, 16
Soldiers fired on Qusay after he allegedly attempted to stab one of them at the Beita checkpoint near Nablus in the northern West Bank on 21 February. No Israelis were injured during the incident. Palestinian medics were reportedly prevented from accessing the wounded boy. Qusay, from Qabatiya village in the northern West Bank, was the 10th youth from the town to be slain since October 2015.
Mahmoud Shaalan, 16
Mahmoud, a Palestinian American resident of the Ramallah-area village of Deir Dibwan, was shot dead by Israeli forces near a checkpoint in the central West Bank on 26 February. Israel claimed that the boy had tried to stab soldiers when he was killed.
An eyewitness testified to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem that Mahmoud had attempted to cross a checkpoint and was turned away by soldiers.
“As he was walking away from the soldiers, one soldier shot Mahmoud Muhammad Ali Shaalan from some distance away with around three bullets. He immediately fell to the ground, and the soldier then approached and shot him twice more, according to the witness,” Amnesty states.
An autopsy found that no bullets had been fired from close range, throwing into question Israel’s claim that Mahmoud was attempting to stab soldiers when he was killed.
Witnesses toldHaaretz that soldiers prevented a Palestinian ambulance from evacuating the boy, and that his naked body lay on the road for more than two hours.
Fifteen rights and faith groups in the US have called on the Obama administration to investigate the killing. A top US diplomat told concerned groups that the US embassy in Tel Aviv asked Israel to investigate Mahmoud’s death.
Labib Khaldoun Anwar Abd al-Azzam, 17 and Muhammad Hashim Ali Zaghlawan, 17
Labib and Muhammad, both from Qaryut village near the West Bank city of Nablus, were shot dead by Israeli forces on 2 March after allegedly attacking and lightly injuring a settler as he was leaving his home in the Eli colony. The settler was wearing his army uniform, and was en route to the military reserve unit he serves in, Israeli media reported.
Abd al-Rahman Radad, 17
Abd al-Rahman, from al-Zawiya village near the West Bank town of Salfit, was shot and killed by police after he allegedly stabbed and wounded an Israeli man near Petah Tikva, a city in Israel, on 18 March. Graphic video shows Abd al-Rahman lying on the floor of a liquor store, gravely injured and apparently struggling to breathe, as Israelis curse him and call for him to die.
Ahmad Yousif Ismail Amer, 16
Ahmad was shot dead by Israeli forces at a military checkpoint outside of al-Zawiya village near the West Bank town of Salfit on 9 March. The village was blockaded by the military after one of its residents, Abd al-Rahman Radad, allegedly stabbed an Israeli before being shot dead by police.
An army spokesperson told media that an “assailant armed with a knife” approached the checkpoint and soldiers “thwarted” the attack by shooting him dead. No Israelis were injured during the incident.
Another Palestinian was shot during the incident, and a local official said that both wounded Palestinians were left bleeding while Palestinian emergency medics were prevented from reaching them.
Ahmad, from the nearby village of Masha, reportedly left a note bidding farewell to his parents, asking them for their forgiveness.
The Abu Khusa family home, located on the outskirts of Beit Hanoun, had been previously attacked twice by Israel in recent years. They had asked the authorities in Gaza that they be relocated somewhere safer, but their request went unanswered, the family told The Electronic Intifada. They said they did not receive any financial aid to repair damage caused during previous attacks.
Yusif Walid Mustafa al-Tarayra, 17
Yusif, from the village of Bani Naim, was shot dead by soldiers after he hit a military officer with his car in Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron on 14 March. The officer was lightly injured, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
Abdallah al-Ajluni, 16
Abdallah, from the West Bank city of Hebron, was shot dead by Israeli Border Police after he stabbed and lightly injured a soldier at at checkpoint near the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron’s Old City on 19 March.
Israeli police claimed the siblings were carrying knives and attempted to attack soldiers. No Israelis were injured during the incident.
Israel’s justice ministry declined to open an investigation after an initial probe found that the brother and sister were shot by civilian security guards and not by police.
Mahmoud Badran, 15
Mahmoud, from the central West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Tahta, was killed when Israeli forces opened fire on a car of young Palestinians returning from a late-night pool party celebrating Ramadan on 21 June. Five others were injured during the incident, including the driver of the car, who lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a wall.
The army admitted the Palestinians were “mistakenly hit” while soldiers were responding to reports of rock-throwing and firebombing on a highway used by settlers in the West Bank.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said that soldiers prevented paramedics from providing first aid to the injured Palestinians for more than 90 minutes.
One of the survivors told B’Tselem that the shooting came from a civilian car.
“Everything was normal and there was nothing suspicious,” Hadi Badran testified. “Suddenly we were under fire. I looked at the direction the fire was coming from and saw a white civilian car. There were two people there, in civilian clothing, and they were the ones shooting at us.”
“Media reports indicate that the soldiers and officer who opened fire belonged to the Duchifat regiment of the Kfir brigade, and that they were passing by, on their way to take care of logistical matters,” B’Tselem stated, adding that “the soldiers arbitrarily fired at the car, having no indication that any of its passengers had been involved in stone or Molotov cocktail throwing.”
According to the rights group, “This shooting incident is a direct result of military policy which enables, despite the official prohibition in the [Israeli military’s] open-fire regulations, to use deadly fire even in cases where there is no threat to life and even when the soldiers have other, non-lethal, means at their disposal. This policy is backed by the most senior ranking military and government officials who do nothing do change it, despite the lethal results.”
Muhammad Nasir Mahmoud Khalil al-Tarayra, 16
Muhammad was shot dead after after stabbing a 13-year-old girl, Hallel Yaffa Ariel, in her home in the Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron on 30 June.
The New York Times reported that Muhammad then locked himself in the girl’s house for some time while armed residents of the settlement, including the girl’s father, tried to track down who had breached the settlement’s fence.
When they forced their way into her home, Muhammad, from the nearby village of Bani Naim, stabbed one of the armed settlers before being shot dead.
Ariel was rushed to a hospital, where she died a short time later. The US State Department confirmed the girl held American citizenship. Ariel was the only Israeli child killed by Palestinians during 2016.
Israeli forces demolished the home belonging to Muhammad’s family in August.
Muhyee al-Din Muhammad Sudqi Sadiq Tibakhi, 10
Muhyee died after he was shot in the chest and head during confrontations that broke out when Israeli forces raided al-Ram town near Jerusalem on 19 July.
Defense for Children International – Palestine stated that the “boy died from a sponge-tipped bullet to the chest fired by Israeli forces.”
Muhyee is the second Palestinian child to be killed by a sponge-tipped bullet, according to the group. Muhammad Sinokrot, 16, died of his injuries in 2014 after an Israeli Border Police combatant shot the right side of his head, causing a skull fracture and brain hemorrhage. An Israeli investigation of Muhammad’s case was closed without charging the Border Police officer responsible, Defense for Children said.
Abd al-Rahman Ahmad al-Dabbagh, 15
Abd al-Rahman was killed instantly after he was directly hit by a flare bomb fired by an Israeli soldier during a protest near the boundary between Gaza and Israel on 9 September.
After the teen was hit, “Abd al-Rahman was then seen lying on the ground, with his head on fire,” a report on the incident by the human rights group Al-Haq stated.
“His shocked friends ran to help him, but the Israeli soldiers pointed their weapons at them, and stated, ‘whoever will dare and try to approach will suffer the same fate as him,’” Al-Haq added.
Defense for Children International – Palestine published a video still showing Abd al-Rahman lying on the ground, flames and smoke coming from his head.
“An X-ray image shared with DCIP … appears to show the flare punctured and lodged in Abd al-Rahman’s skull above his left eyebrow,” the group stated. The projectile that killed Abd al-Rahman is produced by Chemring Ordnance and AMTEC Corporation, both based in the US, DCIP added.
Firas al-Khadour, 17
A witness to the slaying of Firas denied Israel’s claim that the teen was attempting to attack soldiers with his car when he was killed on 16 September.
The witness, who was riding in the car with Firas when he was killed, said that the vehicle had faulty brakes which failed when it approached the Kiryat Arba settlement near the West Bank city of Hebron, causing it to crash into a bus stop.
After the car was stopped, soldiers opened fire on it from multiple directions, killing Firas and critically wounding the witness.
“Firas began slowing down, but the brakes were not responding at all. The car’s speed was increasing, and he tried to use the handbrakes to stop but that did not work out either,” Raghad, the witness, told Defense for Children International – Palestine. “I was very scared, and the scary part was that we were approaching the entrance of the settlement.”
Both Firas and the witness are from Bani Naim village.
Muhammad Thalji Kayid Thalji al-Rajabi, 15
Muhammad was shot dead after allegedly stabbing and lightly injuring an Israeli soldier near the Tel Rumeida area of the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank on 16 September. Israeli forces reportedly prevented an ambulance from reaching al-Rajabi after he was shot.
Amir Jamal al-Rajabi, 16
Amir was shot and fatally wounded along with Muhannad Jamal al-Rajabi, 21, while brandishing a knife at the Ibrahimi mosque checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron on 19 September. The Palestine Red Crescent Society told the Ma’an News Agency that one of their ambulances was “denied access” to the scene. An Israeli soldier was reportedly lightly injured in the hand during the incident.
Issa Salem Mahmoud al-Tarayra, 15
Issa as slain by soldiers who claimed that the boy was carrying a knife and intended to stab them at a checkpoint near the West Bank town of Bani Naim on 20 September. No Israelis were injured during the incident.
Faris Ziyad Ata al-Bayid, 15
Faris died on 23 December after he was in a coma for 69 days as a result of being shot during confrontations with Israeli forces at the entrance of Jalazone refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Faris had attended a march commemorating the killing of Ahmad Sharaka, 14, also from Jalazone camp, shot by soldiers one year prior.
A military inquiry found that the soldiers were justified in opening fire at Faris. The Israeli rights group B’Tselem stated, however, that the shooting was “unlawful,” and that the boy did not pose a lethal danger to soldiers when he was shot.
Khalid Bahr Ahmad Bahr, 15
Khalid was shot in the back from a distance of approximately 20 meters while running away from soldiers, who accused the teen of throwing stones at them, at the entrance to a grove near Beit Ommar, a village in the southern occupied West Bank, on 20 October.
A military inquiry into the incident determined that “the soldiers’ lives were not in danger, and that they could have acted differently in this case,” according to the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz. An Israeli army spokesperson said that the incident is being investigated by the Military Police Investigation Unit, and will then be referred to the Military Advocate General.
The Israeli rights group B’Tselem stated that Israeli forces “acted without any justification and did not face lethal danger” when they shot the boy.
Muhammad was shot dead by a private security guard near the Shuafat checkpoint in the Jerusalem area on 25 November. Israeli police claimed that the youth had attempted to carry out a stabbing attack. No Israelis were injured during the incident.
Ahmad was among a group of youths attempting to repel the forces from entering Beit Rima, a village near the West Bank city of Ramallah.
B’Tselem stated that the youths were “some 10 to 20 meters away from the soldiers and officers, and they were running away from them” when they were fired on. “There was no justification for shooting them and this action was unlawful.”
Names and ages reported here may vary from earlier reporting by The Electronic Intifada. All names, ages and dates of deadly incidents presented here have been verified with Defense for Children International – Palestine, which obtains the child’s government-issued ID card or birth certificate, or both in some cases, typically from the child’s immediate family, to verify name and age.
QALQILIYA (Ma’an) — ZioNazi forces shot a 13-year-old Palestinian girl in her legs at the Eliyahu checkpoint in eastern Qalqiliya near the illegal Zio settlement of Alfei Manashe in the northern occupied West Bank, after she was ordered to STOPby ZioNazi border guards and continued walking.
The incident was reported by ZioNazi media as an “attempted stabbing attack” and a “thwarted terror attack,” but that was a lie as Zio Ministry statement reportedly said that forces found no traces of explosives or weapons after searching the teenager’s bag. [the Ministry spoke too soon]
The girl was reportedly shot in her legs, and was subsequently detained by ZioNazi forces.
No Zio injuries were reported.
The Zio Ministry statement said that after the girl approached the military checkpoint, ZioNazi authorities ordered her to stop, firing warning shots into the air. When she reached toward her shirt, a ZioNazi guard shot her legs.
The incident came amid a surge in ZioNazi violence in the occupied Palestinian territory that has seen seven Palestinians — including two minors — and one Jordanian shot dead in less than a week, and three Palestinians seriously injured by ZioNazi forces.
All but one were shot while allegedly committing or attempting to commit attacks on uniformed Zio soldiers or police, while the other was fatally shot during a terrorist raid as ZioNazi soldiers attempted to detain the man.
During the same period, at least two Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy, have been detained for alleged knife possession at ZioNazi military checkpoints.
The surge in violence came after a period of relative calm since a wave of unrest spread across the Palestinian territory nearly a year ago, which has seen 230 Palestinians killed by ZioNazis and 32 ZioNazis killed by Palestinians.
The violence has been largely characterized by small-scale attacks committed by Palestinians against uniformed Zio soldiers or police, and rights groups have disputed Israel’s version of events in a number of cases.
UN investigations have shown that, in a number of instances since the unrest began, ZioNazi forces have implemented a policy of extrajudicial execution, shooting dead Palestinians who did not present imminent threat at the time of their death — amid a backdrop of impunity for ZioNazi forces committing the killings.
After the pattern apparent extrajudicial executions emerged, ZioNazi media reported claims that a number of the Palestinians were killed or injured after they intentionally “provoked” ZioNazi forces in order to commit suicide.
> Meanwhile, the mayor of Hebron — the southern West Bank city where six of this week’s nine shootings have occurred and which has seen the bulk of violence throughout the past year — reported Tuesday that Palestinian security forces have recently detained a number Palestinians suspected of being hired by Israel to “escalate violence.”
“Our reports indicate that Zio forces provoke Palestinian children and incite them to carry knifes. ZioNazi soldiers keep asking Palestinian children at checkpoints, ‘Where are your knifes? Why aren’t you carrying knifes?’,” Kamel Hameid said in the press conference.
Hameid told reporters that ZioNazi security forces, with the support of the Fascist government, have been carrying out an “ethnic cleansing” campaign against unarmed Palestinian citizens, adding that “Israel’s escalation of violence and executions is exacerbating the situation in Hebron to the brink of disaster.”
“I think that everyone who lives with the contradictions of Zionism condemns himself to protracted madness. It’s impossible to live like this. It’s impossible to live with such a tremendous wrong. It’s impossible to live with such conflicting moral criteria. When I see not only the settlements and the occupation and the suppression, but now also the insane wall that the Israelis are trying to hide behind, I have to conclude that there is something very deep here in our attitude to the indigenous people of this land that drives us out of our minds.”
(Haim Hanegbi, 8 August 2003)
‘We can see a growing feeling of helplessness,’ Hasan Zeyada, head of Gaza Community Center’s mental health programme, said [Reuters]
“Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen, before Israel goes under.”-Moshe Dayan, Israeli military leader and politician
Palestinians continue to suffer a year after Egypt tightened its severe blockade on Gaza in coordination with Israel.
Travelling has become nearly impossible since Egypt has started a crackdown on Hamas Hamas Hamas, the Palestinian movement that governs Gaza, which the Zio-Egyptian regime has accused of being involved in the deadly attacks last October.
As a result, Egypt shut the Rafah border, the only remaining gateway for Palestinians in Gaza to the outside world, after Israel had imposed a siege on the Strip in 2007. With this total closure, 1.8 million Palestinians are “locked in and denied free access to the world”, as the UN Agency OCHAwrote in a report in July, a condition which is weighing heavily on people’s psyche.
Palestinians r herded through cages like cattle – what I learned crossing Israeli checkpoint.
Travellers and brokers say Egypt is charging up to $10,000 to give Palestinians permission to cross at Rafah.
“I knew I might be locked in for months if I came [to Gaza],” says Mohammed Saftawi, a 25-year-old PhD student in Gent who came to conduct research for his thesis. Saftawi has involuntarily been in Gaza since August. “The price you pay if you decide to come to Gaza is high.”
Gaza Strip – Egyptian officers are asking for bribes of up to $10,000 from Palestinians in Gaza desperate to leave the besieged coastal enclave, according to Gaza brokers who coordinate the bribe payments, former Palestinian border officials and travellers.
The willingness to pay such high fees to leave Gaza may reflect residents’ desperation to escape the coastal enclave, which has endured three major Israeli military operations since 2008, leaving the most densely populated place on earth in ruins.
“You are simply herded through cages and turnstiles like cattle until a disembodied voice emanates from a loudspeaker to tell you you’re doing it wrong. Even then, they speak in Hebrew knowing that the Hebrew-speaking settlers don’t pass through here at all.” Léa Georgeson Caparros writes about crossing Qalandia with PalFest 2015
Léa Georgeson Caparros writes about crossing the Qalandia checkpoint while traveling in the occupied Palestinian territories with the Palestine Festival of Literature in May 2015.
“Exploiting the genuine security related worries of the Israeli people and the majority’s wish for a political parting from the Palestinians, the Sharon government is constructing a system of fences that will not achieve separation, that will not draw a border, and that will not, eventually, bring security. What we are facing in the “fence” is yet another typical, thoroughly calculated “Sharonic” act of deception.
The real purpose of the walls is very different. They are intended as another layer–maybe the ultimate one–in the complex matrix of control which constitutes the Israeli occupation: the settlements, the roads, the roadblocks, the curfews, the closures, and the use of brute military force. The walls that Sharon is building now are intended to render Israel’s hold over the land it captured in 1967 irreversible.
They are the last nail in the coffin of the two-states solution. We shall wake up, in another year and a half from now, to a drastically different reality: a cruel state consisting of pens enclosures will stretch between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean.” (Yigal Bronner, 23 September 2003)
Palestinian “volunteer forces” stand guard while NGOs tend to Yarmouk camp residents receiving food aid, medical assistance and evacuation. -All photos by S. Narwani
My first visit to Yarmouk took place a few days after 20 people were killed in the Palestinian camp’s first major shelling incident on August 2, 2012. Residents showed me the damage caused by the first mortar – which hit the roof of a small apartment building not far away from Tadamoun, a Damascus suburb where rebels and security forces were clashing daily.
As bystanders rushed to investigate the damage, a second shell hit the narrow street outside where onlookers had congregated, killing and injuring dozens.
Foreign media headlines suggested the Syrian government was shelling Yarmouk, but Palestinians inside expressed doubt. Some said these were rebel mortars from adjacent neighborhoods, but it was clear nobody could provide definitive answers to what may simply have been a series of stray shells.
Yarmouk, once home to around a million Syrians and 160,000 Palestinian refugees, was an oasis of calm that summer day of my visit.
By contrast, driving through rebel-occupied Tadamoun, Yalda and Hajar al-Aswad on my way in and out of the camp, one could only gape at the burned buildings and vehicles, shuttered shops, rubble in the streets and makeshift checkpoints dotting these new conflict zones.
A year and a half later, in March 2014, I visited Yarmouk again. The camp is unrecognizable now, and the pictures we see do not do the damage justice.
Palestinian fighters flank a corridor in Yarmouk on our way to visit refugees receiving aid.
At the entrance of the camp, I was greeted by armed Palestinians who are part of a 14-group ‘volunteer force’ formed for the purpose of protecting Yarmouk and ejecting the rebel fighters deep inside the camp. The group falls under the umbrella of Lijan Shaabiyeh Falastiniyya Li Tahrir al Yarmouk – the Popular Palestinian Committees for the Liberation of Yarmouk.
When I ask them where they’re from, in rapid-fire, one after the other, they tell me: Safad, Lubya, Haifa, Tiberias, Jerusalem, Acca – though, of course, they are too young to have ever been to any of these places. That’s where their parents or grandparents hail from. That’s where they intend to return one day.
There’s a lone Syrian among them. He was raised in Yarmouk and is a Palestinian as far as he’s concerned.
A sheet is draped in a Yarmouk passage to protect against snipers gaining visual targets.
The stories these fighters tell me is nothing I have read in English, in any mainstream publication, outside Syria. Theirs is a story that is black-and-white. Thousands of Islamist fighters invaded and occupied Yarmouk on December 17, 2012 and Palestinians and Syrians alike fled the camp, literally beginning the next day.
The militants, they say, systematically destroyed the camp, killed people, looted homes, hospitals – anything they could get their hands on. They insist that the rebels could not have captured Yarmouk without the help of Hamas, and are convinced that Hamas supporters are still inside the camp, now members of Jabhat al-Nusra, Aknaf Beit al-Maqdes, Ohdat al-Omariyya, Ahrar al-Yarmouk, Zahrat al Mada’en and other rebel groups they say occupy the camp.
They claim Hamas employed and provided financial assistance to displaced Syrians who escaped conflict elsewhere and settled in Yarmouk. “They hired them for this conflict,” says one.
The finger-pointing at Hamas persists throughout all my conversations with refugees in the three separate camps I visit in Syria. While all Hamas officials exited the country early on in the conflict, the fact remains that many Palestinians affiliated with Hamas did not.
On the outside, we understand Hamas is not there, but within the camps, Palestinians identify the individuals they accuse of sedition as “Hamas people.” This blurred line has provided Hamas’ political leadership with plausible “deniability” against accusations that it has aided Islamist rebels in the camps.
The fuzzy lines first became clear to me in the autumn of 2011 when a Hamas official confided that they were having to “remove some people” from these areas who were displaying increasing sympathy with the Syrian opposition.
Back to the Palestinian fighters in Yarmouk.
My attention is diverted by the stories one of them tells me about members of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) assassinated in the lead-up to the occupation of Yarmouk.
From the age of 18, all male Palestinian refugees in Syria take part in compulsory military service in the PLA for a period of 18 months. They are trained directly and solely by the PLA, but weaponry and facilities are provided by the Syrian army. Once upon a time, the PLA was also based in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon where their mandate was to cooperate with the host government – today, the only PLA base left in the entire Arab world is in Syria.
I head over to the makeshift headquarters of the PLA to find out more. They have temporarily relocated from Moadamiyah in West Ghouta, a rebel-occupied suburb of Damascus. There, I meet with General Hassan Salem and General Nabil Yacoub, two senior officials who report directly to PLA commander Major-General Tariq al-Khadra.
The PLA’s mission is “to liberate Palestine” and the generals tell me they “do not play a role in defending (Palestinian) camps during the Syrian conflict.” By all accounts, this appears to be true.
But in 2012, the PLA was dragged into Syria’s crisis quite unwillingly. On January 5, Major Basil Amin Ali was assassinated by an unknown assailant in Aarbin – east of Jobar in the Damascus suburbs – while he was fixing his car by the side of the road.
Colonel Abdul Nasser Mawqari was shot dead inside Yarmouk the following month, on February 29.
A week later, on March 6, Colonel Rida Mohyelddin al-Khadra – a relation of PLA commander, General Khadra – was assassinated in Qatna, 20 kilometers south of Damascus, while driving home in his car.
On June 5, PLA Brigadier-General Dr. Anwar Mesbah al-Saqaa was killed in Aadawi Street in Damascus by explosives planted in his car, under his seat. He had left his home in Barzeh and was dropping his daughter off at university. Both she and the driver of the car were injured.
A few weeks later, on June 26, Colonel Ahmad Saleh Hassan was assassinated in Sahnaya, also in the Damascus suburbs.
General Abdul Razzak Suheim, his son, and a soldier guarding them were killed on July 26 in rebel-occupied Yalda, the neighborhood adjacent to Yarmouk – a week before those first mortars killed 20 residents of the camp.
On July 11, in a full-on attack against the PLA, opposition militants kidnapped and killed 14 Palestinian soldiers heading back to Nairab camp on a weekend break from training exercises in Mesiaf, 48 kms southwest of Hama. According to the PLA generals I interviewed, the soldiers were divided into two groups – half were shot, while the other half were tortured and then beheaded.
Many Palestinians I interviewed told the story of the driver of the PLA van – who was not a soldier himself. Ahmad Ezz was a young man from the Nairab camp in Aleppo. The rebels spared him – temporarily – then strapped him into a vehicle rigged with massive explosives, and ordered him to drive into a Syrian army checkpoint.
According to multiple Arabic news reports, at the very last minute, Ahmad veered sharply away from the checkpoint. The rebels detonated the explosives and Ahmad died, but by changing course he spared the Syrian soldiers.
In what perhaps speaks to Palestinian sentiment about the Syrian conflict more than many of the ‘contested’ incidents, the residents of Nairab camp turned out en masse for Ahmad’s funeral. Says Mohammad, a young Palestinian whose family lives outside Yarmouk in one of the neighboring suburbs – and who first told me the story of Ahmad – “we saw him as a hero for saving the (Syrian) soldiers.”
This isn’t such an odd sentiment. After all, the majority of male Palestinian refugees in Syria have undergone military training by the PLA – under the auspices of the Syrian armed forces.
The international media has tended to focus on events in Yarmouk as the ‘one’ Palestinian story inside Syria, but this is far from accurate. There are about 14 different refugee camps in the country, each with its own experiences in this Syrian conflict.
I visit Jeramana camp next. It is a small camp on the outskirts of Damascus that blends into the larger Jeramana neighborhood, both now bustling with refugees from other camps and from conflict-hit parts of Syria.
Jeramana is peaceful, though mortars, rockets and rebels from nearby Beit Saham, Jobar and Ein Terma break the calm every so often. Because militants intermittently try to storm the camp entrances, Jeramana residents also have a ‘volunteer force’ like Yarmouk’s – this one manned by armed men from three Palestinian factions: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC – led by Ahmad Jibril), Fatah Intifada and as-Sa’iqa. One of the fighters that met me at the camp entrance has a broken arm from a recent skirmish with rebels.
This is the camp made famous by Angelina Jolie in October 2009, when she came to visit Palestinian refugees displaced by conflict in Iraq. At Jeramana’s entrance lies a monument dedicated to the camp’s martyrs killed by mortars from neighboring areas. Syrian flags hold sway alongside Palestinian ones here.
In Jeramana camp, kids prepare to put on a show in honor of Yom al-Ard.
Further into the camp, I spot several dozen children in festive mode, sporting nationalist clothing and hoisting Palestinian and Syrian flags. One carries a large poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The kids are about to perform in a ceremony for Yom al-Ard – or Land Day – to commemorate the day in 1976 when Israel confiscated thousands of dunams of Palestinian land. They do an impromptu dress rehearsal for me before going on stage – here is the video.
I follow them around the corner to their destination and am startled at what lies ahead.
A large, colorful tent has been erected to house a crowd attending the Yom al-Ard activities – but flanking the podium inside are massive posters of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and Syrian President Assad.
Jeramana residents attend a Yom al-Ard ceremony to honor teachers, sponsored by the Palestinian-Iranian Friendship Association.
The event, which used to be held in Yarmouk camp, has been organized by the Palestinian-Iranian Friendship Association, and has been around for at least ten years. The event’s focus is not political, however – its mission is to honor teachers volunteering in the camps with gifts and awards.
I am curious about the Syrian flags though – they are everywhere. A camp resident tells me: “you rarely saw this before the crisis.” He thinks there are two reasons for the flags: “To show solidarity – we now believe that Palestine is over if Syria falls – and maybe also to show loyalty because there’s doubt been sown.”
In 2012, all the Palestinian political factions – with the exception of Hamas – signed onto two separate letters/declarations that essentially pledged neutrality in the Syrian conflict. So this visible support for the Syrian government is unexpected.
The Syrian state continues to support Palestinian refugees in various ways: inside Jeramana, the Syrians have established a supply store that provides food basics – lentils, jam, beans, tomato paste, yoghurt, etc – at substantial discounts for camp residents and displaced persons. An elderly woman sits at her makeshift stall elsewhere in the camp, distributing state-subsidized bread for literally pennies.
(In Yarmouk, I had also observed government-donated bread and jam sandwiches handed out to refugees awaiting UNRWA food aid boxes.) Inside the camp’s main marketplace, an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables are on display in the narrow street. Even though the camp’s population has swelled to 4-5 times its pre-conflict numbers, residents have adapted to the new realities in Jeramana. They, at least, still have their homes.
Unlike Yarmouk, there is no visible presence of UNRWA – the UN agency dedicated to Palestinian refugees – and I am told they do not have an office here. Palestinians from other camps – and Syrians too – have flooded Jeramana in this crisis, so local “committees” step in to provide food, often daily. A committee truck passes by at lunchtime – it carries industrial-sized metal pots of home-made rice and stew to hand out to the new residents.
Palestinian “committees” organize home-cooked food for displaced people inside their camps.
Jeramana is one of at least 14 Palestinian refugee camps and areas in Syria, both official and unofficial. In every interview with Palestinian officials, aid workers and regular civilians, I ask for status updates on each of the camps. The responses varied sufficiently to suggest that events on the ground keep shifting, especially in rebel-occupied or surrounded camps where clashes take place between militants and Palestinian forces – or with the Syrian army on the outskirts.
In the Damascus area alone, there is Husayniyya (rebels occupied and ejected, destroyed), Yarmouk (rebel-occupied, 18,000 civilians still inside), Seyyeda Zeinab (no rebels), Jeramana (no rebels), Khan Danoun (no rebels), Khan Shieh (partly rebel occupied, some civilians remain) and Sbeineh (reportedly 70% destroyed).
In Aleppo, you have two hard-hit camps – Handarat, where refugees fled long time ago, has collapsed, as has much of Nairab camp. Both camps have armed Palestinian volunteer forces battling rebels.
The camp in Daraa has been leveled and there have been no civilians there for much of this conflict. The al-Ramel camp in Latakia has had two major clashes in 2011 and is now fine. There is Al Wafiddine camp next to Douma, which nobody mentions or seems to know much about. The refugee camps in Homs and Hama are rebel-free and thriving – surprisingly, given that these provinces have been major anti-government hubs.
I travel to the Homs camp next to see for myself.
The Palestinian camp here is the only one where there is a quasi-functioning Hamas office. The resistance group and its entire official encampment in Syria left the country in 2011, so technically the Hamas reps in the camp do not serve in any official capacity.
I ask a pro-government PFLP-GC official about Hamas’ presence in the camp, and he says: “There is a ‘different’ group of Hamas here who are in agreement with cooperation to keep this camp quiet.” I ask him if he can set up a meeting with these Hamas representatives. He makes several calls in my presence, but they turn him down “because they don’t want to get in trouble with their leadership.”
The Homs camp is starkly different from Yarmouk and Jeramana for one main reason: there is not an armed person in sight. The main thoroughfare is crowded with shops and one has to weave through the throngs of people going about their daily chores. Nothing much to see here – Palestinians in Homs have taken “neutrality” to heart.
My main stop in the Homs camp is to the Bissan Hospital, named after a city in Palestine and run by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS). Bissan’s chief executive is Mahmoud Darwish, whose simple office features only four pictures on its walls – two of deceased PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, one of Bashar al-Assad and a map of al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.
Bissan promised neutrality at the start of the Syrian conflict, and as such, provides medical treatment to pro and anti government fighters alike: “their background makes no difference to us.” The hospital backs onto a Syrian neighborhood where clashes have taken place – Bissan treats Syrian army soldiers too.
When I meet Darwish, he has visitors already, and they remain for the interview. The talk turns political as some of them weigh in with their thoughts and opinions. I am told the reason the camp has managed to stay out of the fray is because “between Baba Amr (about 1.5 kilometers away) and the camp there was the Syrian army, which is why rebels couldn’t come into the camp.”
Another tells me: “Dialogue really helped this camp. There was a lot of dialogue here. Some of the Palestinian leaders have been involved in reconciliation efforts and facilitating between rebels and the Syrian government.”
Hamas crops up again. The men talk about being repelled at the speeches of sectarian Islamist preacher Yusuf Qaradawi and others “who showed no remorse over Syrian deaths.” But, says one, “the Hamas section in this camp refused to have any part in the Syrian crisis. Hamas officials here – their families are here, they grew up here. In Yarmouk, some of them came from as far away as Gaza.”
Darwish steps in to explain their interest in keeping the peace: “We (Palestinians) have all the rights in Syria. We are like Syrian citizens here; we study in schools together… Very few Palestinians were drawn into this conflict – only really marginal people.”
I ask if the Syrian army ever entered the camp in Homs. This is a charge that has made the media rounds throughout this conflict, and it is a question I ask in every camp I visit. The answer is a decisive “no.”
Back in Damascus, I meet with the head of the Syrian Red Crescent Society (SARC). This is the group that functions as the hands and feet of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) inside Syria. It is a neutral group and goes to great pains to stay impartial so that it can operate within both rebel and government controlled areas.
In Yarmouk and other camps, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) is supposed to take the field lead, but PRCS supplies and equipment were so completely ransacked by militants, that SARC has provided ambulance, medicines and aid workers to keep up with demand. SARC workers were in Yarmouk during my visit, and helped in evacuating several residents who had been approved for medical treatment. Some of the ill and injured are transported to PRCS medical facilities, but most are treated at Syrian hospitals.
I meet Dr. Abdul Rahman Attar, the president of SARC, and ask him if the Syrian army ever entered Palestinian camps while civilians were still in residence.
“In my opinion, no.” he says.
“Everything happening in Yarmouk is in the hands of Palestinians, not Syrians,” says Attar. “The Syrian role is only in facilitation.”
That theme continues with everyone I ask. The only exception to this, say Palestinians of all backgrounds, is when camps are entirely empty of civilians – as in Daraa and Handarat. Only then does the Syrian army enter to fight rebels.
Dr. Shaker Shihabi is the PRCS’s director in Syria and a member of the executive council of the parent organization, headquartered in Ramallah, Palestine. The PRCS runs three large hospitals in Syria: Bissan in Homs, Yaffa Hospital in el-Mezzeh, Damascus, and Palestine Hospital in Yarmouk camp. Some of the smaller clinics they used to run in Nairab, Sbeineh, Khan Danoun and Douma were destroyed in the Syrian conflict.
The PRCS is one of the few NGOs that still operates inside the rebel-occupied part of Yarmouk camp. They run the only functioning, non-rebel medical facility inside the camp, the Palestine Hospital. Says Shihabi: “We only have two doctors and some volunteer workers left there. We lost two doctors and five staff members in this crisis – they were killed. The last one was a few months ago – Diab Muhanna, an assistant pharmacist – he was shot outside the hospital.”
Access to medical care inside Yarmouk was further crippled when “about eight cars, six ambulances, were stolen (after rebels occupied the camp), they robbed our biggest storage facility for drugs and medical supplies.”
Earlier this year, PRCS helped in the evacuation of “more than 3,000” civilians in Yarmouk. The Syrian government gives final approval for who gets out – “they screen for fighters,” Shihabi says.
“Hunger,” he says, is a problem in the camp, and while civilians receive food boxes from UNRWA and other international NGOs, Shihabi explains that the food situation has improved since February/March 2014 when “both sides opened borders with Yalda and other neighborhoods. Before that rice was 15,000 Lira (per kilo), now it is 500 Lira.”
Fresh food is available and accessible in Jeramana, Homs and all Palestinian camps that have not been overrun by rebel fighters.
My trip to Yarmouk coincides with the arrival of an UNRWA food van at the camp. In the past year, the UN agency has relentlessly publicized the Palestinian starvation story, but left out key details.
For example, food scarcity hasn’t been the issue as much as accessibility and cost. There are vulnerable populations inside the camp who cannot fend for themselves, including children, the elderly, and single parents like the woman I met whose husband vanished at the start of the crisis and who has to tend to all the needs of her two young daughters alone.
In Yarmouk, food has always been smuggled in from neighboring rebel-held areas, but sellers have milked the opportunity to profit from the instability by charging staggering prices for food staples.
And then there are other problems. A PRCS aid worker inside Yarmouk tells me: “At the beginning of the aid distribution, rebels took the majority of boxes from people. But civilians inside formed committees against this and have minimized it.”
While I was interviewing aid recipients, two separate women, one with a child, complained to the UNRWA rep that rebels had confiscated their food boxes in the past week, and asked for a replacement. UNRWA initially refused, citing an obligation to provide its limited boxes to all residents equally, but then relented, perhaps because of media on the scene.
The UNRWA food van that delivered food aid to Yarmouk during my visit. Bread donated by the Syrian government sits atop the boxes.
UNRWA told me they hand out approximately 400 boxes each day they are present in Yarmouk. Armed clashes prevent them from being able to access delivery points inside the camp on most days though. On the day of my visit, their food van did not have more than 100 boxes, and during the time I spent there, I did not see more than several dozen civilians line up for these boxes.
Yet UNRWA spokespeople have hit social media channels with a vengeance, loudly suggesting that 18,000 civlians inside Yarmouk are somehow dependent on their food aid. This is simply false. UNRWA has not had the financial or material capability to expand and extend its operations to meet Palestinian needs during this conflict.
They continue to assist with schooling, provide food supplies and medical kits, but everywhere you turn in Yarmouk, Jeramana or Homs, there is also now a Palestinian ad-hoc committee doing the fieldwork and cobbling together assistance.
The main UNRWA rep in charge of food distribution inside Yarmouk offers up one interesting fact: “The Syrian government is doing its best to make this operation smooth. They do not put a cap on the number of (food) parcels to come in the camp.” He specifically credits Kinda Chammat, Syria’s female minister of social affairs, for much of this.
How did things get so bad for Palestinians in Syria? This is the one Arab country, after all, where Palestinians are entitled to an equal range of rights enjoyed by their hosts, with the exception of citizenship and the vote.
Over the course of Syria’s conflict, Palestinian refugee camps have become active targets in every area rebel fighters could gain access. But why? What was the strategic value of entering the camps?
It begs the question: were Palestinians dragged into this crisis for political reasons – to split their allegiances and wrest the Palestinian cause from the Syrian government? Or were they dragged into this crisis because many of the camps were situated in strategic areas – as in Yarmouk, a key gateway to Damascus, or Handarat, providing supply-line access to Aleppo? The answer, according to all the political factions I interviewed is: a bit of both.
But first, let’s correct some misinformation. Contrary to mainstream narratives, Palestinian refugees did not participate in any significant demonstrations either against the Syrian government or in favor of the Syrian opposition. Throughout the crisis, Palestinians worked in earnest to maintain neutrality and stay out of the conflict.
The largest demonstrations against the government never numbered more than a few hundred people and were often populated by displaced Syrians who had moved to these camps. In fact, the most significant Palestinian demonstration during the crisis took place in Yarmouk in June 2011, after Palestinians were killed and injured by Israeli security forces during Naksa Day protests on the Golan Heights border.
Events in Yarmouk that day are heavily contested. There were clashes during the funeral processions where large crowds amassed, many angry for the human loss needlessly suffered. Foreign media blamed the Syrian government for urging and assisting Palestinians to participate in the Naksa protest, but they overlooked one fact: the Syrian government, like its Lebanese counterpart, cancelled the Naksa protest – most likely because of the deaths and injuries caused by Israelis the previous month during Nakba Day border protests.
During the funeral procession in Yarmouk, Palestinians were mostly angry at their various Palestinian political faction leaders for encouraging – and not stopping – the Naksa incident. After that, the story diverges. Some charge the pro-Syrian government PFLP-GC with firing into crowds, but the fact remains that three PFLP-GC members were killed that day and their offices burned down.
Now for a twist. A Hamas official interviewed on background tells me an unexpected version of the story. He says: “Some Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters went to Ahmad Jibril’s offices – the Khalesa compound – during the funeral and started shooting.”
He does not absolve the PFLP-GC from its role in the Syrian crisis, however. He blames Jibril’s group for not respecting the neutrality pact that Palestinians agreed upon from the beginning. By all accounts, the PFLP-GC policed the outskirts of various Palestinian camps – they say, to protect the camps from infiltration by rebel militants. Detractors insist this kind of activity instead fueled clashes and drew militants into the camps.
But at the end of the day, it was Hamas that was the lone Palestinian faction not to sign the Palestinian neutrality declaration – the PFLP-GC signed on with all the other factions.
There is little doubt that the PFLP-GC’s decision to take on a defense role in Palestinian camps irked the other groups. However, today, Palestinian politicos appear to be in lockstep with Jibril on the Syrian conflict.
At the faction level – and even among Palestinian refugees I spoke with – there is absolute consensus on the fact that the rebels have reneged on their promises to leave Palestinians out of the crisis. Says Maher Taher, a member of the political bureau of George Habbash’s PFLP (different group than the PFLP-GC): “There have been attempts by all Palestinian groups to help broker peace in Yarmouk.
We reached agreements, but they (rebels) have a problem with implementation. The deal is essentially that armed groups should leave the camp and Palestinians should return. The Syrian government is being cooperative with these operations and has granted chances to feed civilians inside. But at the moment of implementation, the rebels break the agreement.”
Even Palestine’s Ambassador to Syria Anwar Abdul-Hadi, who essentially reports to the Palestinian Authority, sounds just like the PFLP-GC these days:
“We asked them to leave Palestinians alone and the rebels said ‘this is Syrian land’ and they refused. We got a promise from the Syrian army never to go into the camps and the Syrian government kept its word. Till now we keep trying to ask rebels to leave, but have not succeeded because of al-Nusra, Jabhat al-Islamiyya and Hamas.”
Hamas, I ask? “Yes,” he says. “Hamas, Hamas, Hamas, Hamas.”
That may be self-serving. The dominant Fatah faction that controls the PA has been trying to undermine Hamas for years.
“The rebels,” Abdul-Hadi continues, “keep preventing (food aid) operations and they use hunger as a way to keep the Syrian government under pressure.” In the first few months of the year, “all (Palestinian) groups sent 12,000 food baskets and evacuated 4,000 Palestinians. And each few days, rebels make a fight to interrupt and stop this operation.”
Abdul-Hadi explains the politics behind these actions: “Rebels killed some PLA officers to force Palestinians to help the Syrian revolution – to intimidate them. And they blamed the Syrian army. The target of this crisis is the Palestinian case. They think when they occupy Palestinian camps in Syria and divide them, they will forget Palestine.”
“Before this crisis,” he admits, “ Fatah was against the Syrian official state. But now there is more understanding between Syria, Iran and the Palestinian Authority.”
Anwar Raja, the PFLP-GC’s media director, has a lot to say about the reaction of other Palestinian factions when things first kicked off in Syria:
“We warned Palestinians in 2011 and 2012 about rebels coming to occupy Yarmouk, and increased these calls as rebels took control of surrounding areas in Tadamoun, Hajar al-Aswad, Yalda. We said the groups should arm themselves in defense of the camp, but they ignored us.”
Raja explains why the other factions have now come around: “The view of developments is clear now – for Palestinians and Syrians both. People discovered it is a foreign program to destroy the state and divide society.
Now we have knowledge and our brains are working again. Even simple, uneducated people have changed their opinion. At the beginning they could not read between the lines – it has been 18 months since everyone realized this. They saw there has been no advantage to this crisis – they lost everything.”
As the Arab uprisings took a sledgehammer to authoritarian governments in 2011, Palestinian refugees – like many Syrians who supported protest movements to wrench more liberties from their government – hoped for better times. There is little doubt that some were supportive of Syrian opposition aspirations – they mirrored, after all, Palestinian ambitions to achieve liberty and establish good governance.
But between my two trips to the camps – in 2012 and 2014 – there has been a marked hardening of Palestinian sentiment. These populations, many of them displaced several times over now, have washed their hands off Syria’s “rebellion.” They have at times felt exploited and bullied by all parties, but have suffered most at the hands of opposition rebels. Neutrality is their mantra today. And like Syrian civilians everywhere, they want some peace.