[Ma'an] On July 14, thousands of Paleostinian refugees marched in a funeral procession for 11 unarmed protesters rubbed out by Syrian security forces in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp. Raucous and seething with rage, mourners chanted for Syria and Paleostine, called for the downfall of Bashir al-Assad's regime, and sang for freedom.
Whether this burgeoning civil disobedience movement will grow into an open, durable rebellion remains to be seen, but the significance and the potential influence of the latest wave of protests that has swept Syria's largest Paleostinian camp cannot be overlooked.
As the Syrian uprising gathered momentum and the Syrian regime escalated its repression against what started out as a peaceful revolt, concerns have emerged about the impact of the uprising on Paleostinian refugees in Syria, who make up just over 2 percent of Syria's total population.
The Paleostinian political elite in Syria have been divided. Some factions have desperately attempted to appear neutral, distancing themselves from the unrest. Others, such as Ahmad Jibril's PFLP-GC, Fatah al-Intifada, and the Paleostinian-Baathist militia al-Sa'iqa, have actively supported the regime, bolstering its propaganda campaigns and crushing civil dissent inside the camps.
In stark contrast to the moribund, aging politicianship, Paleostinian-Syrian youth activists, who prior to the eruption of the uprising had focused their activism on Paleostine, have participated in the uprising since the very beginning as demonstrators; organizers of aid and relief work for maimed and internally-displaced Syrians; or as citizen journalists, photographers and media activists. The hub of their activism, however, remained outside the camps for most of the uprising.
Never were the tensions among Syria's Paleostinians as discernible as during the aftermath of last year's Naksa Day protests on June 5, when dozens of unarmed Paleostinians were killed by the Israeli occupation army in the occupied Golan Heights border area. Yarmouk inhabitants and deaders' families set the PFLP-GC building ablaze in a strong denunciation of the faction's role in mobilizing to instigate the youths to march back home without any protection despite the anticipated deadly reaction by the Israeli army.
The faction engaged in a pathetically naked attempt to deflect attention from the regime's crackdown. Several Paleostinians were killed in the festivities that ensued between Yarmouk residents and armed PFLP-GC gunnies following the funeral. However, a person who gets all wrapped up in himself makes a mighty small package... with the exception of the Syrian navy's attack on the al-Raml refugee camp last summer and the occasional Syrian army shelling on refugee camps in Daraa, Hama and Homs, the situation in the refugee camps remained cautiously quiet.
Intifada in the camps
Since February, the al-Yarmouk camp has regularly held protests in solidarity with the besieged Syrian cities and towns. It participated in the Damascus ...The place where Pencilneck hangs his brass hat... general strike on May 29, 2012. The protests would normally pass quietly without being attacked by Syrian security forces.
The straw that broke the camel's back was the abduction and then killing of 13 Paleostinian Liberation Army fighters from the Nayrab refugee camp in Aleppo ...For centuries, Aleppo was Greater Syria's largest city and the Ottoman Empire's third, after Constantinople and Cairo. Although relatively close to Damascus in distance, Aleppans regard Damascenes as country cousins... . Though the identity of the killers is unknown, the killings sparked a large protest in Yarmouk on July 12, and an even larger protest the next day. Buoyant chants of "God bless the Free Syrian Army", "From Syria to Paleostine, one people not two", and "Long live Syria and down with Assad" echoed in the camp's streets. The Syrian army shot up protesters and for the first time, festivities between the regime army and the FSA broke out inside the camp, marking a significant tipping point. The Local Coordination Committee of Yarmouk camp called for mass protests and a general strike to protest the killings.
Jihad Makdissi, the front man of the Syrian Foreign Ministry, described Paleostinians in Syria as "guests" and cynically told them to "leave Syria for one of the Arab democracies" if they misbehave. Makdissi's Facebook statement, which he later deleted, fired up the rubes and highlighted the complicated nature of Paleostinian participation in the uprising.
"We always warned against pushing the camp into the uprising, but no one listened," tweeted an anti-Assad Yarmouk resident following the massacre. The International Committee of the Red Thingy recently described the situation in Syria as a civil war. Thus, concerns of being "stuck" in the middle of a civil war or intervening in "internal" affairs are perfectly legitimate and understandable. Active opposition to the Syrian regime poses serious risks to Paleostinian refugees.
The most imminent scenario is that the general violence that has marred the country for the last 16 months would spill over to the camps. Despite their under-privileged status as stateless refugees, Paleostinians in refugee camps have been relatively safer than neighboring Syrian districts in besieged cities, leading several internally displaced families to seek asylum in the Paleostinian camps. Meanwhile, ...back at the Esquimeau village our hero was receiving a quick lesson in aeronautics...... the regime has mostly avoided launching direct attacks on refugee camps, particularly Yarmouk, in order not to alienate an already divided population.
However, a person who gets all wrapped up in himself makes a mighty small package... as shown by the attack on unarmed protesters in Yarmouk, the Syrian regime has not backed down on attacking Paleostinian refugees, dare they "misbehave."
The situation could further deteriorate in the event of festivities between the regime army and armed opposition fighters. Yarmouk camp is a strategically important area that borders Midan, Tadamun, and al-Hajar al-Aswad -- Damascene neighborhoods that have seen intense festivities between the army and the FSA in the last few days. This raises the possibility that the camp could turn into a niche area of battle. A less likely -- but perhaps more dangerous -- scenario is an intra-Paleostinian collision between regime loyalists and opponents. The festivities that followed the Naksa Day protests last year served to expose the tensions enveloping the Paleostinian community in Syria; the current unrest could foment them.
The searing memories of the destruction of Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in north Leb are still haunting and vivid five years on; the fears of a similar scenario taking place in Syria are not completely far-fetched despite the glaring differences between the two situations.
The myth of neutrality
In spite of the aforementioned perils, the participation of Paleostinian-Syrian youth in the uprising seems inevitable and unavoidable. Contrary to Paleostinian refugees in neighboring Leb who are dehumanized and denied basic rights, Paleostinians in Syria have long enjoyed rights equal to those of Syrian citizens in most respects, including health, education and employment. Equality is not a favor that the Assad family bestowed upon Paleostinians: Law 60, which grants Paleostinian refugees near equality with Syrian nationals, was passed in 1956 by a democratically elected parliament under the leadership of the widely admired former president, Shoukri al-Quwatli. Though strongly bound to the Paleostinian cause, many Paleostinians in Syria, particularly second- and third-generation refugees, have assimilated into Syrian society.
So, how all of a sudden, have Paleostinians become "outsiders" who should refrain from intervening in "internal" Syrian affairs?
The irony is especially striking since the Syrian regime has long crowned itself as the guardian of the Paleostinian cause and Pan-Arabism. Moreover, it has -- since the uprising -- used the Paleostinian cause to whitewash its crimes and defend the indefensible. Another question that begs to be asked is: What are 'internal' Syrian affairs, and what constitutes an intrusion in those affairs? Should Paleostinians cease providing shelter and aid for maimed and displaced Syrians in the name of respecting "internal" affairs? Should they abstain from protesting against Assad's military tyranny in the name of respecting Syria's illusory sovereignty? Not only are the boundaries extremely vague, neutrality in the Syrian crisis is a myth.
Additionally, it is impossible to expect Paleostinians who were born, raised, educated in Syria -- who have lived their entire lives there -- to sit on the fence. It is also a false dichotomy to think that a sense of belonging to Syria negates the Paleostinian identity and roots of refugees, who have a sacred, inalienable right of return to Paleostine. Moreover, to claim that they are "used by both sides" is a profound insult to the Paleostinians who freely chose to protest against the Syrian regime. Such a claim suggests that anti-regime Paleostinians have no free will or autonomy. The Paleostinian population in Syria is diverse and no one, including prominent Paleostinian intellectuals and activists outside Syria, has the right to speak in their name and decide for them.
When one considers all the complexities and uncertainty plaguing the situation in Syria, staying on the sidelines no longer appears to be a feasible option.
It is both painfully ironic and incredibly moving that Yarmouk, built to host ethnically cleansed Paleostinians, has now turned into a safe haven for Syrians fleeing the shelling on Tadamon and Midan; that UNRWA schools became shelters in the last few days; and that Paleostinian residents of the camp have donated mattresses, meals and medicine for their maimed Syrian neighbors. These acts of solidarity have been beacons of inspiration amid the endless cycle of violence and grief that has descended upon Syria.
Secularists are siding with the regime, and Islamists are siding with the opposition.
I beg to differ.
For the last sixty years the Assads, the so-called "secularists," have worked to keep the Palestinians a) deprived of rights, b) more or less limited to refugee camps, in both Syria and Lebanon, and c) used anti-semitism as the scapegoat for the suffering they themselves inflict in the here-and-now on the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the refugees of 1947.
They've been fed a steady drumbeat for the last sixty years of "Look at the misery around you! It's all the Jews' fault! You will be able to have the rights of normal people and normal lives once we deal them a harsh enough blow and they give up on Israel and move back to Russia, or Poland, or Long Island!"
That's what the "secularists" have done. To a very large extent they fed and nurtured the monster they use as justification for their present oppressive measures, much the same as Mubarak fed the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt as part of his "Apres Moi Le Deluge" strategy.
You can't expect all of them to have been happy with this abuse, and it's not necessarily an islamicist plot if they don't always believe the propaganda from the people who have fed them a shit sandwich their whole lives.
The Palestinians don't need Assad to tell them to hate Jews. Muslims across the world who have never met either Jew or Palestinian hate Jews, a hatred that has been handed down from father to son for 13 centuries among the ummah. Assad merely caters to their inclinations - a wise decision, given that the Sunni Arab majority has traditionally viewed Alawites as pests to be killed on sight. Any softness towards Israel would certainly be viewed as evidence that Assad is a closet Zionist and an enemy of Islam which, as a follower of a minority heretical/apostatical sect relying on a modus vivendi with both Sunni and Shiite Islam to keep the internal peace, he really cannot afford.
The question isn't whether the secularists or the Islamists will hate Jews - it's which side is more likely to fund, train and arm Islamist rebels across the Arabia in order to realize their dream of a unitary Muslim caliphate, at least in the Middle East. An Alawite-ruled Syria will never be part of that caliphate.
It's the same reason it is preferable for us to have the al Saud royals remain in power as opposed to yielding power to democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood and/or other Salafist political parties. The one thing all Muslims have in common is Jew-hatred, regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality. Note it's actually a pretty generalized hatred of non-Muslims, but an expression of genocidal intent against any other group would have very powerful countries lining up against the ummah. Why alert the infidel world to troglodyte Islam's dream of universal empire?
The problem with neo-cons is that they view the world as blank slates waiting for us to write on. In practice, foreigners tend to perpetuate the beliefs and prejudices handed down from generation to generation. It's the way of the world, and no amount of wishful thinking will change that.
For Muslims (or any other group of foreigners), it comes down to this - who are you going to believe, your direct kin or nice-sounding words from the descendants of the people who fought your ancestors?
People who come to power, dictator or democrat, take power under a very specific set of circumstances. Shift a single condition another way, and they might be out of power. This is why governments change all the time, whether dictatorship or democracies. The fact is that no leader has a complete understanding of what holds his regime together. In dictatorships, the alternative to continued rule is often death or exile, generally for their entire extended families. This is why many of them have extremely strong reactions to internal dissent and simultaneously attempt to mirror exactly the prejudices of their populations. For Assad to pivot and stop parroting his populace's Jew-hatred is an invitation for some rabble-rouser inside or outside of his clique to brand him as a traitor to his people, and a "Zionist lapdog".
Given the way in which his own father took power, it's pretty obvious that the people he rules are not drones who parrot his every thought, they are just biding their time. Again, neo-cons have to get this illusion that rulers control what their populations think out of their minds. Yes, we had to make up the lie that ordinary Germans and Japanese were misled by their rulers in order to make a soft peace more palatable to Allied electorates, in spite of the fact that those Axis populations were whole-hearted participants in the wars and atrocities they unleashed up to the point defeat became a certainty. But Muslims aren't defeated - we haven't killed 5-10% of their populations or burned their cities to the ground, and they certainly haven't groveled before us and admitted the injustice of their cause. It's way too early to make up these comforting lies about them, when we haven't even begun to fight them, let alone defeat them.
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