Airplanes bombed a Palestinian refugee camp on Sunday. Tens of refugees, who were gathering in a mosque for shelter, were killed in the attack. The mosque was completely demolished. A graphic video tape which showed bodies strewn on the staircase of the destroyed mosque, was posted on the internet.
Why didn’t the UN Human Rights Council call for an urgent session to issue a condemnation and appoint an investigatory committee? The answer is clear: the planes that bombed the Yarmuk Refugee Camp, located in the southern district of Damascus, belonged to the Syrian Air Force. In other words, no opportunity presented itself to vilify Israel.
For the purpose of threatening Israel with the Palestinian right of return, the whole world views the relevant Palestinians as miserable refugees. However, for the purpose of counting the bodies of people who fell as victims of Asad’s systematic murder, they become merely transparent statistics. The fact, that in the last two years, more Syrian citizens have been murdered by their own government than all of the Palestinians killed in all of the wars with Israel over the past 100 years, really doesn’t interest anyone.
The attack on Yarmuk is just one example of a wave of violence against Palestinian refugees in Syria, as part of the civil war currently taking place there. In August 2012, military forces flooded the Al-Ramal Refugee Camp, adjacent to the city of Latakia, forcefully expelled 8,000 refugees, and hounded those who stayed behind.
Today about half a million people, categorized by the UN as Palestine Refugees, reside in Syria. Even though their ethnic-religious background (Arab-Muslim) is identical to most Syrians; even though they have been living there for more than three generations; and even though their refugee camps have long since been urbanized and melded into the adjacent towns and cities – they, their children, and their children’s children are still identified as “refugees”.
Contrary to the treatment of all other refugees in the world, for which the international community invests huge resources and efforts to assimilate them into their new surroundings and transform them from refugees to citizens, enormous funds are still being invested to preserve the refugee status of the 1948 “Palestine Refugees” and their descendents.
Let’s assume that the grandson of such a refugee, who arrived in Syria in 1948, is fortunate enough to make his way to a Western nation like the USA, perhaps for academic studies, falls in love with an American woman, gets married, raises a family and settles there – he will still be defined by UNWRA as a “refugee”. If he is lucky enough to establish a prosperous start-up company and to carry off a successful exit that transforms him into a multi-millionaire American citizen – he, his children, and his grandchildren, will still be defined by UNWRA as “Palestine Refugees”. This norm is non-existent regarding any other people group in the world.
Why doesn’t the UN grant this same status to descendants of World War II concentration camp refugees? Why do they not continue to invest in their education, medical needs, and social rights? There is no doubt that what we are dealing with here is racial discrimination. This is the reason that the number of Palestinian refugees continues to climb, the threat of the Palestinian right of return continues to grow, and the world continues to cynically use these poor and destitute people as pawns on the big chess board called the Middle East. The deafening silence of the international community regarding the bombing of the Yarmuk camp exposes the true face and indifference of the Arab nations to the real needs of the Palestinian people.
The continued killing of Syrian citizens, among them Palestinian refugees, is an integral part of the regional upheaval coined the “Arab Spring”. At this very time, new governmental structures, borders, and public agendas are being forged across the Middle East. It is about time that the international community demands that Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt take full responsibility for the Palestinian refugees, start treating them with equality, grant them full citizenship and honor their “right of absorption” in their places of residence, rather than their “right of return” to Israel.