Rashid Khalidi writes: As with many other unresolved issues in the modern Middle East, it was Great Britain rather than the United States that initially created the problem of Palestine. But in Palestine, as elsewhere, it has been the lot of the United States, Britain’s successor as undisputed hegemon over the region, to contend with the complications engendered by British policy. And as elsewhere in the Middle East, in the end the United States significantly exacerbated the conflict over Palestine that it inherited from Britain. The outlines of the problem can be simply stated: with the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, Great Britain threw the weight of the greatest power of the age, one which was at that moment in the process of conquering Palestine, behind the creation of a Jewish state in what was then an overwhelmingly Arab country, against the wishes of its inhabitants. Everything that has followed until this day in that conflict-riven land has flowed inevitably from this basic decision.
Woodrow Wilson was the first American president to support Zionism publicly, and his backing was crucial to the awarding of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine to Britain. This in turn led to the inclusion of the text of the Balfour Declaration in the terms of the Mandate, committing the entire international community of that era to the establishment of a “Jewish national home.” Wilson extended the United States’ support to Zionism in spite of the results of the American King-Crane Commission, which discovered the majority Arab population of Palestine to be overwhelmingly opposed to the establishment of a Jewish national home — which they rightly feared would inexorably develop into an exclusively Jewish state in their homeland and at their expense.
Although the United States withdrew from active involvement in the League of Nations and from many other aspects of international politics soon afterwards, the impact on Palestine of these key post-World War I decisions in which the United States played a crucial role was to be lasting. Under the protection of the British Mandate, and with its invaluable support, and with financing which largely came from contributions raised from American donors, by 1939 the Zionist movement had created the nucleus of a viable, independent Jewish state. This American financing, from private and later governmental sources in the form of economic and military assistance, has been crucial to the success of the Zionist project and the state of Israel from the very beginnings and until the present day. [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: Bombs and shells from all sides continue to rain down on Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus, as residents say the so-called Islamic States is taking ever-greater control. The jihadist assault that started April 1 has left residents trapped amid the rubble without medical aid or food while street fighting and heavy shelling by ISIS has overwhelmed Palestinian and Free Syrian Army forces trying to protect the camp. And to make matters works, the Syrian regime has been dropping barrel bombs and intensifying its own artillery barrages, raising fears it will invade with ground forces.
“It’s an absolute horror and I’m terrified,” says 27-year-old Tarek over Skype from near ISIS’s front lines. He is a longtime camp resident who became an activist in 2011 with the anti-regime protest movement. A human-rights organization put The Daily Beast in contact with him and he asked to be quoted only by a pseudonym for obvious security reasons.
Tarek worries that a regime ground invasion could trigger wide-scale massacres committed by the troops of President Bashar al Assad along with jihadist reprisal killings. He describes a situation of chaos in a camp — really a densely populated urban neighborhood — that has been increasingly crippled by the regime’s siege and bombardment since Free Syrian Army forces and Palestinian rebels rose up in December 2012.
“The streets are abandoned and filled with rubble as people hide in their homes,” Tarek says. Many residents have run out of food and water. There are desperate scenes as some of those come out to scour the area under sniper fire and shelling and look for wells. [Continue reading…]
Ismail Khalidi writes: As you enter through its main gate under a pair of fluttering Palestinian flags, the Cisterna municipal stadium looks like any run-down soccer field in the West Bank or the Jordan Valley. The parking lot is unpaved and the cars entering for the afternoon game send up yellow clouds of dust. The stadium itself is simple and small, an outdated concrete bowl that officially holds 12,000 people (though, according to statistics, rarely more than a few thousand), most of whom sit on concrete bleachers that encircle the pitch. The concentric rows of stone bleachers even seem to conjure the ancient terraced slopes of Palestine, where for millennia farmers have sculpted the hillsides to cultivate olive trees and other sturdy crops in the dry Mediterranean climate. Here and there sprigs of grass inch through cracks in the dilapidated concrete and stone as a couple hundred of us settle in to brave two hours of scorching heat for the afternoon match.
The team that calls Cisterna home takes the field in uniforms adorned with the Palestinian flag (and its colors of red, black, green and white) and a prominent gold map of historic Palestine emblazoned across the front of their jerseys. The players, for their part, look like your average Palestinians, as do the fans, some of whom are already taunting the opposing team’s players with witty asides and double entendres before the opening whistle. Cigarette smoke, a given at any Palestinian gathering, lingers over certain sections as vendors walk back and forth hawking Palestine-themed paraphernalia. Meanwhile, a group of five young kids plays soccer along the aisles, using an empty plastic bottle as their ball. At half-time Arabic music blares through a tinny PA system. Taking it all in, one could perhaps take comfort in the fact that, despite the hardships of living under military occupation, it’s apparently still possible for Palestinians to find a modicum of normality, if only for 90 minutes of soccer.
But Cisterna municipal stadium is not in Nablus, Gaza, Jericho or Jerusalem, but in Santiago de Chile, roughly 8,000 miles away from Palestine/Israel. And the home team, Club Deportivo Palestino, is in the Chilean premiere league. The opposing team on this day, Huachipato, hails from the Southern Coastal city of Talcahuano. [Continue reading…]
Ramzy Baroud writes: Members of my family in Syria’s Yarmouk went missing many months ago. We have no idea who is dead and who is alive. Unlike my other uncle and his children in Libya, who fled the NATO war and turned up alive but hiding in some desert a few months later, my uncle’s family in Syria disappeared completely as if ingested by a black hole, to a whole different dimension.
I chose the “black hole” analogy, as opposed to the one used by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – “the deepest circle of hell” – which he recently uttered in reference to the plight of Palestinians in Yarmouk following the advances made by the notorious Islamic State (IS) militias in early April. If there is any justice in the hereafter, no Palestinian refugee – even those who failed to pray five times a day or go to church every Sunday – deserves to be in any “circle of hell”, deep or shallow. The suffering they have endured in this world since the founding of Israel atop their towns and villages in Palestine some 66 years ago is enough to redeem their collective sins, past and present.
For now, however, justice remains elusive. The refugees of Yarmouk – whose population once exceeded 250,000, dwindling throughout the Syrian civil war to 18,000 – is a microcosm of the story of a whole nation, whose perpetual pain shames us all, none excluded.
Palestinian refugees (some displaced several times) who escaped the Syrian war to Lebanon, Jordan or are displaced within Syria itself, are experiencing the cruel reality under the harsh and inhospitable terrains of war and Arab regimes. Many of those who remained in Yarmouk were torn to shreds by the barrel bombs of the Syrian army, or victimised – and now beheaded – by the malicious, violent groupings that control the camp, including the al-Nusra Front, and as of late, IS. [Continue reading…]
Channel 4 News: An activist inside Yarmouk camp in Damascus tells Channel 4 News that Islamic State militants have largely withdrawn from the centre of the camp and handed control to other jihadis.
They are still fighting Aknaf Beit al Maqdis, a local militia allied to Hamas, on the outskirts of Yarmouk.
“Today there are no more IS militants inside Yarmouk,” said “Mustafa Ahmed”, who uses a pseudonym to disguise his identity. “Most of the militants are at the frontline between IS and the Aknaf brigades in the south eastern part near the hospital.”
Last Wednesday night Syrian government aircraft dropped barrel bombs on the Palestine Hospital, the only functioning healthcare facility in Yarmouk, after IS militants started to use it as a base.
Bel Trew reports: The fighters in Gaza are preparing for a new war every day. It could come at any time: In the past few weeks, Israeli planes and drones have been increasingly circling the 26-square-mile coastal enclave. The Israel Defense Forces have repositioned troops at the eastern borders, an area almost entirely flattened during last summer’s 51-day war.
“The war could start any minute,” says Abu Mujahid. “There is a lot of kinetic movement, so all the fighting groups evacuated the bases, we’ve postponed training sessions, and many of the men have moved underground.”
“There are people right now under your feet,” his wiry second-in-command, Abu Saif, 28, adds with a toothless grin.
Gaza today is a powder keg waiting to explode. The key aspects of the cease-fire agreement that ended the war last summer remain unfulfilled — both Israel and Hamas feel that only more violence can force their enemy to assent to their demands. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of Gaza has stagnated due to Israeli restrictions on letting material into the territory, as well as the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, sapping Gaza residents’ hope for a better future and leading them to believe that there is no alternative but armed struggle. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera: Just a quarter of the $3.5bn in aid pledged to rebuild Gaza in the wake of last summer’s devastating war has been delivered, according to a new report.
The report from the Association of International Development Agencies, released on Monday, found that only 26.8 percent ($945m) of the money pledged by donors at the Cairo conference six months ago has been released, and reconstruction and recovery have barely started in the besieged coastal enclave.
“The promising speeches at the donor conference have turned into empty words,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam, which was among the report’s signatories.
“There has been little rebuilding, no permanent ceasefire agreement and no plan to end the blockade. The international community is walking with eyes wide open into the next avoidable conflict, by upholding the status quo they themselves said must change.”
Mehdi Hasan writes: Palestinian refugees are being starved, bombed and gunned down like animals. “If you want to feed your children, you need to take your funeral shroud with you,” one told Israeli news website Ynet. “There are snipers on every street, you are not safe anywhere.” This isn’t happening, however, in southern Lebanon, or even Gaza. And these particular Palestinians aren’t being killed or maimed by Israeli bombs and bullets. This is Yarmouk, a refugee camp on the edge of Damascus, just a few miles from the palace of Bashar al-Assad. Since 1 April, the camp has been overrun by Islamic State militants, who have begun a reign of terror: detentions, shootings, beheadings and the rest. Hundreds of refugees are believed to have been killed in what Ban Ki-moon has called the “deepest circle of hell”.
But this isn’t just about the depravity of Isis. The Palestinians of Yarmouk have been bombarded and besieged by Assad’s security forces since 2012. Water and electricity were cut off long ago, and of the 160,000 Palestinian refugees who once lived in the camp only 18,000 now remain. The Syrian regime has, according to Amnesty International, been “committing war crimes by using starvation of civilians as a weapon”, forcing residents to “resort to eating cats and dogs”. Even as the throat-slitters took control, Assad’s pilots were continuing to drop barrel bombs on the refugees. “The sky of Yarmouk has barrel bombs instead of stars,” said Abdallah al-Khateeb, a political activist living inside the camp.
It is difficult to disagree with the verdict of the Palestinian League for Human Rights that the Palestinians of Syria are “the most untold story in the Syrian conflict”. There are 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, housing more than half a million people. Ninety per cent, estimates the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), are in continuous need of humanitarian aid. In Yarmouk, throughout 2014, residents were forced to live on around 400 calories of food aid a day – fewer than a fifth of the UN’s recommended daily amount of 2,100 calories for civilians in war zones – because UNRWA aid workers had only limited access to the camp. Today, they have zero access.“To know what it is like in Yarmouk,” one of the camp’s residents is quoted as saying on the UNRWA website, “turn off your electricity, water, heating, eat once a day, live in the dark.” [Continue reading…]
Newsweek reports: The Assad regime has offered to arm Palestinians within the embattled Yarmouk refugee camp with weapons to beat back ISIS from the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, according to Palestinian officials.
The camp, where the Syrian and Palestinian population has shrunk from 150,000 to approximately 16,000 during the four-year-long Syrian civil war, was last week overrun by ISIS who took “large part” of the encampment, amid clashes with a Palestinian militia loyal to Hamas, Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.
The Syrian deputy foreign minister, Faisal Meqdad, met with a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) delegation in the capital on Tuesday to extend the offer of assistance to the Palestinians fighting the radical Islamists.
Al Jazeera reports: the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees planned to undertake an “urgent mission” to Damascus on Saturday amid concerns over the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, most of which has been captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL].
Pierre Krahenbuhl, who heads the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, will discuss the situation in Yarmouk and meet with displaced refugees.
The visit is “prompted by UNRWA’s deepening concerns for the safety and protection of some 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian civilians, including 3,500 children” who remain in the Yarmouk camp, the agency said in a statement.
“Yarmouk remains under the control of armed groups, and civilian lives continue to be threatened by the effects of the armed conflict in the area,” it said.
On April 1, ISIL launched an assault on the Palestinian armed group Bait al-Maqdis, which is one of numerous factions that share control of the district.
After the government claimed that ISIL took over most of the camp – which has been denied by local activists – regime forces stepped up their shelling of the district, further worsening the area’s humanitarian crisis.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, reported on Thursday that since April 4, government helicopters have dropped 36 barrel bombs, which are highly indiscrimate and destructive explosives, on Yarmouk.
Qusai Zakarya writes: After Bashar al-Assad’s regime spent nearly two years massacring Palestinians in Yarmouk camp, after regime bombardments destroyed nearly 70 percent of the camp, after thousands were arrested and tortured to death, and after civilians were forced to resort to scavenging through trash and weeds to ward off starvation — after all this, the world is finally paying attention to the situation in this long-suffering southern Damascus neighborhood. And all they want to talk about is the Islamic State.
I think this is a disgrace. But since this is what the world wants to hear, I will tell them. You cannot understand the Islamic State’s assault on the camp or what it means unless you also consider how Bashar al-Assad, as a gift to the Palestinian people, turned a thriving neighborhood of hundreds of thousands of people into a desperate population of 18,000 waiting to die.
We cannot stop what happened in Yarmouk from repeating itself elsewhere unless we save the 600,000 besieged civilians whom Assad is starving to death.
Let me go back to the beginning, when the siege of Yarmouk began in late 2012. I was there at the time because, as a Syrian-Palestinian, I had many family members living in the camp. My brothers had pleaded with me for hours to join them on a trip to the camp, because they wanted me to move into my aunt’s house there. Yarmouk at the time seemed much safer than my nearby hometown of Moadamiya, a Damascus suburb southwest of the capital, where I was an opposition activist.
We arrived at the camp on the evening of Dec. 15, 2012, at a time when the Free Syrian Army and its Palestinian supporters were making rapid gains. As usual, Assad was responding by shelling innocent civilians at random. The shelling kept us up for much of the night, but eventually I drifted off to sleep. I woke up to the sound of a huge explosion close by.
It was the first attack on Yarmouk camp by a fighter jet. The regime’s target: Abdul-Qader Mosque, a place of worship that was packed with displaced people. Watching from my window, I saw scenes of panic and chaos, shrapnel and body parts lying everywhere. Tanks then moved in to surround the camp. When an announcement came ordering us to leave in three hours or not at all, we left. On our way out, we passed dozens of tanks and thousands of troops ready to march. The siege on Yarmouk had begun. [Continue reading…]
Anna Lekas Miller writes: “What do you think of my room?” Firas asks me in his apartment in Shatila refugee camp, one of the Palestinian refugee camps of Beirut. “The walls are so blank — at home, in Yarmouk I had so many pictures and posters.”
When Firas talks about his former home in Yarmouk, once the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, his emotions vary from minute to minute. One moment he’s laughing uproariously, recalling a fond memory or a funny story. The next he’s somber, overcome with a palpable sadness.
“So many emotions, it makes me so sad to think about this,” he says. “At the same time, it’s all I think about.”
One week ago, Islamic State (IS) militants stormed Yarmouk. All this week, Firas and his roommates — also Palestinian refugees from Syria— are preparing a series of events to draw attention to the plight of Yarmouk. Though pushed to action by IS’s invasion, their goal is to show that the humanitarian catastrophe in Yarmouk is nothing new — the world just hasn’t paid attention until now. [Continue reading…]
Hussein Ibish writes: Given their tragic modern history, Palestinians are used to being trapped between Scylla and Charybdis in one form or another. But rarely has the situation been as stark and alarming as has now befallen the 18,000 remaining Palestinians and Syrians in the Yarmouk refugee camp just outside of Damascus.
Much of Yarmouk has been overrun by the fanatical terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The group’s familiar campaign of repression, beheadings and vicious abuse have already been reported in parts of Yarmouk. Meanwhile, Syrian government forces loyal to the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad have been attacking the camp with the regime’s equally familiar deadly assortment of indiscriminate firepower, including the dreaded barrel bombs.
One resident reported that in Yarmouk, “people are trapped because of the clashes and the continuous and indiscriminate bombing. It’s hard to go out at all. But they can expect where the guerilla war will take place, but they can never predict where the barrel bombs will come. There is no water. People are running out of food.”
Christopher Gunness, of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), summed up the dire situation as “beyond inhumane.” He explained that “the camp has descended into levels of inhumanity which are unknown even in Yarmouk, and this was a society in which women died in childbirth for lack of medicine, and children died of malnutrition. Now ISIS have moved into the camp and people are cowering in their battered homes, too terrified to go outside. We in UNRWA have not had access since the fighting started, so there is no U.N. food, no U.N. water, no U.N. medicine. Electricity is in very, very short supply. It is astonishing that the civilized world can stand by while 18,000 civilians, including 3,500 children, can face potential imminent slaughter and do nothing.” [Continue reading…]
The Los Angeles Times reports: The Yarmouk refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus was already an emblem of the enormous suffering unleashed by Syria’s civil war — and that was before the militants of the Islamic State moved in.
Besieged, starved and bombarded over the past two years, the camp is the scene of fresh calamity, with reports beginning to filter out of beheadings and other atrocities that have become Islamic State hallmarks.
Over the past few days, the Sunni militants have seized most of Yarmouk, officials and residents say, giving the group its most significant foothold to date in Damascus. Most Islamic State-held territory is in eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq, where the group has been the target of a months-long campaign of U.S.-led airstrikes.
Aside from the strategic location of the camp, on the Syrian capital’s southern flank and only a few miles from President Bashar Assad’s palace, U.N. and Palestinian officials say Yarmouk is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.
About 1,800 people remain trapped in the camp, which had a prewar population of about a quarter-million, many of them the descendants of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes upon Israel’s creation in 1948. Before the civil war began in 2011, the camp was among the largest concentrations of Palestinians outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The crisis has struck a nerve with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, who feel a sense of kinship, and among Israeli Arabs still living in the northern Galilee region, where many of the camp’s Palestinian residents have family roots. [Continue reading…]
Reuters: Islamic State has taken control of 90 percent of a Palestinian refugee camp on the Damascus outskirts where 18,000 civilians have suffered years of bombing, army siege and militia control, a monitoring group said on Saturday.
The hardline group’s offensive in Yarmouk gives it a major presence in the capital. Islamic State, the most powerful insurgent group in Syria, is now only a few kilometers from President Bashar al-Assad’s seat of power.
The United Nations has said it is extremely concerned about the safety and protection of Syrians and Palestinians in the camp. Civilians trapped there have long suffered a government siege that has led to starvation and disease.
“The situation in Yarmouk is an affront to the humanity of all of us, a source of universal shame,” U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman Chris Gunness said.
After more than five years and much diplomatic wrangling, Palestine has joined the International Criminal Court (ICC). Now, the prospect of Israel being held accountable for war crimes has greatly increased, and that will have significant repercussions for the peace process and for Palestinian statehood.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a preliminary investigation on January 16. This can investigate everything that has happened in Palestinian territories since June 13 2014 – the date that Palestine formally accepted ICC jurisdiction. This is also the date when Israel broke a ceasefire with Hamas leading to Operation Protective Edge, which raged throughout the summer of 2014, leading to the deaths of at least 1,473 civilians in Gaza and bringing widespread international condemnation against Israeli actions.
The story dates back to 2009, when the Palestinian Authority requested that the ICC investigate Israel over Operation Cast Lead, but was rejected for not being a state. It was rejected for full membership in the United Nations in 2011, but was granted the status of non-member observer state the following year.
Palestine then joined numerous international organisations, such as UNESCO, and while the question of its statehood remains controversial, it has now been allowed to join the ICC. In the interim it has periodically indicated it would refer Israel to the ICC, but was held back by pressure from the US, the UK and France – and because using the threat suited Palestinian political interests.
Avenues of enquiry
The prosecutor could investigate the civilian casualties in Operation Protective Edge. She could also investigate whether the Israelis carried out the war crime known as collective punishment. This includes demolishing the homes of suspected Hamas militants, thus rendering their families homeless, as well as killing civilians in these buildings. During Operation Protective Edge alone, Amnesty International reported that “more than 18,000 homes were destroyed or damaged beyond repair”.
The prosecutor would also be likely to investigate Palestinians over the hundreds of rockets Hamas fired indiscriminately into Israel from Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of at least six civilians.
Most substantially, Bensouda could look at the continued occupation of Palestinian territory, including both the West Bank and Gaza. Specifically this might look at Israel’s settlement policy, which appears to contravene Article 8 of the ICC’s founding Rome Statute.
AFP reports: Militants from ISIS seized control of most of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus Wednesday, a local Palestinian official told AFP.
“Fighters from ISIS launched an assault this morning on Yarmouk and they took over the majority of the camp,” said Anwar Abdel Hadi, director of political affairs for the Palestine Liberation Organization in Damascus.
Fighting was continuing inside the camp, he said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group, said ISIS was in control of a “large part” of the camp after fighting with Palestinian groups also opposed to President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Yarmouk was once a thriving neighborhood home to 160,000 Palestinian refugees and Syrians but has been caught up in the country’s fighting and besieged by regime forces for more than a year.
Only about 18,000 residents are estimated to remain in the camp after many fled the fighting. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: Palestine has formally attained membership of the International Criminal Court, a move that could open the door to possible war crime indictments against Israeli officials despite uncertainty over its wider ramifications.
The accession on Wednesday is another landmark in the Palestinian diplomatic and legal international campaign, which gained steam in 2014.
The Palestinians moved to join The Hague-based court on January 2, in a process that was finalised on Wednesday, setting the scene for potential legal action.
“Palestine has and will continue to use all legitimate tools within its means in order to defend itself against Israeli colonisation and other violations of international law,” said senior Palestinian official Saeb Erakat. [Continue reading…]