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April 28, 2014

Yarmouk refugees tell of brutal treatment at hands of Syrians


Palestinian families who have managed to escape the Syrian camp are now arriving in Lebanon with terrible stories of their suffering


Martin Chulov in Beirut

The Observer, Sunday 27 April 2014

 Volunteers distribute free meals to residents at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk. Photograph: Reuters

Volunteers distribute free meals to residents at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk. Photograph: Reuters

Lugging a plastic bag carrying the clothes and food scraps she could salvage, Umm Samir set out from her ruined home and crawled through the pre-dawn gloom on her second journey into exile in 68 years.

In the difficult days since, she has made her way from the YarmoukPalestinian refugee camp in Damascus to Beirut, where she now confronts the bitter reality of again becoming a refugee, the lifelong dream of returning to her birthplace now further away than ever.

“I always thought that the only time I would move from Yarmouk would be back to Palestine,” she said from a tiny, airless basement in the Sabra-Shatila Palestinian camp in the heart of the Lebanese capital, where the family sought sanctuary three days ago. “Now I find myself here.”

Across the room, Umm Samir’s daughter, son-in-law, and five of their 10 children, were squatting silently on the floor. The children’s father, Abu Sameer, had a hunched and defeated air, while their mother, Umm Sameer, shifted quickly between anger and sorrow.

“I didn’t expect this at all,” said Umm Sameer of the unrelenting siege of the Yarmouk camp that had seen many of those who remain starved to the point of death. “I didn’t think the [Syrian] regime would do this to our people. The veil has dropped. We can see clearly how we were used.”

Over the past fortnight, the siege of Yarmouk, the camp held up by Syriaover four decades as a symbol of its commitment to the Palestinian cause, has reached a nadir. Many of those who remain have been unable to eat, or leave. Others, like Abu Sameer and his family, decided that a suicide run for the camp’s closely guarded borders was a better bet than fossicking for scraps in abandoned buildings and pillaged orchards.

“We made it in small groups, but five of our children were left behind,” said Abu Sameer. “It was just too dangerous to bring them. “We were going to die,” he said of his decision to leave. “We had no choice.”

The desperate plight of those who left behind was showcased last week through pleas by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and stories in the Observer. Both revealed the scale of an unfolding catastrophe starkly at odds with a recent UN security council resolution demanding that humanitarian aid be delivered to all those caught up in Syria’s unrelenting war.

Last week, after a demand from UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, things changed in Yarmouk, with food parcels reaching some of those who needed them for the first time in 15 days.

The UNRWA reported that Syrian officials had allowed close to 700 parcels, each capable of feeding between five and eight people, into the camp. The delivery eases an immediate crisis, but fails to address a profound stockpile deficit caused by months of delayed deliveries earlier in the year.

And the new supplies have not reached all those who need them. One Yarmouk resident, who asked not to be named, was almost too exhausted to make himself heard down the phone line on Friday. “It is a nightmare,” he said. “For four months we have been eating rice and grass, radishes and greens.”

Asked why he had not tried to leave, he said: “If we are caught, it is straight to the Palestine Branch (an intelligence division). Anyone who goes in there does not come out. If they do manage to, they have been reborn. So many people have been disappeared.”

Many of the Yarmouk exiles say the name of their former home will soon be etched into infamy in the same way that Sabra-Shatila was 32 years ago, when more than 1,000 Palestinians were massacred by Lebanese Christian militias who at the time were allied to the occupying Israeli army.

The ghosts of 1982 remain deeply synonymous with Palestinian suffering. But some of the new arrivals say the scale of the current horrors in Yarmouk and other Syrian camps may soon eclipse even such a painful episode.

Iran and Syria “pretend to be against Israel”, but that is just a ploy, according to Umm Ibrahim, the matriarch of a another Yarmouk family which had arrived in Sabra-Shatila in recent weeks. “The Golan Heights have been silent for how long?” she asked rhetorically. “The Palestinian resistance used to come through Lebanon to fight Israel. They weren’t allowed through Syrian land. Not even a bird was allowed to fly across the border fence.”

Resentment seethed among both families of new refugees. “The Arabs are bigger enemies than the Israelis,” said Umm Sameer. “They don’t behave like this to their worst enemies.”

Unwanted in Syria, those fleeing Yarmouk are hardly made to feel at home in Lebanon either. New arrivals are given a one-week visa, which requires them to report to authorities or face a $200 fine, which few among them can afford. While UNRWA and other aid organisations offer some food assistance and living space, conditions are far worse here than in pre-war Syria.

“They didn’t care about us at all,” said Umm Samir, who was too young to remember her first journey to exile in 1948 from the Palestinian town of Safed, in what is now Israel, and too anguished to want to recall her second journey last week. “I thought that if I ever leave my home again before I die, it would be to go back to Palestine.”

Outside Sabra-Shatila, in the Palestinian embassy nearby, senior official Qassem Abbas, who is responsible for Yarmouk arrivals, tried to play down the scale of the crisis. “Things have actually improved in recent weeks,” he said. “They haven’t worsened. The Palestinian leadership has decided to take a position of neutrality. This brought us closer to the Syrian regime, despite everything that has happened. It was a difficult decision, but it made us less biased.

“This is a chess game being played by all those in the region,” he said of the Syrian war. “But there is only one real mastermind, America. It serves their interests so they can stay in the region.”

Back in the camp, the new arrivals were having none of that. “Our so-called leaders have their own reasons for their closeness to the Syrian regime,” said Umm Sameer. “And it has nothing to do with us. “Shame on them and their silence.”



Zionist lobby helps growth BDS profile

Antony Loewenstein

Thank you Zionist lobby for helping grow BDS profile

Posted: 26 Apr 2014 09:51 PM PDT

Interesting article in yesterday’s Australian explaining how typically ham-fisted, bullying and clueless media attacks by the Israel lobby is helping to draw public attention to the rise of boycotts against Israel. No kidding:

A Jewish association has branded the racial discrimination case against University of Sydney’s Jake Lynch counter-productive, saying it has only raised the profile of his support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign against Israel.

Since the Israeli legal activist group Shurat HaDin launched the lawsuit in the Federal Court, Professor Lynch’s stand has become a cause celebre in sections of the academic community, claiming the right to freedom of speech and academic expression is under attack.

In the Federal Court in Sydney on Thursday, judge Alan Robertson rejected allegations Professor Lynch was a leader of the global boycott campaign in Australia.

Two new groups have been established to support him and the global BDS movement, including one among university staff. One of the organisers of the Sydney Staff for BDS group, lecturer Nick Riemer, said he and other staff decided to create it “because of what’s happened to Jake’’.

The groups have helped raise about $20,000 towards Professor Lynch’s legal defence, he has been invited to address BDS public meetings around the country, and one recent BDS event in Sydney in his support drew about 200 people.

One of the pro-Lynch speakers at the Sydney fundraiser, Jewish Israeli academic Marcelo Svirsky who is a lecturer at the University of Wollongong, says he will walk from Sydney to Canberra later this year to raise awareness of the BDS campaign.

Dr Svirsky said he would stop in towns along the way to deliver public addresses and then lodge a submission in parliament calling on the government to back BDS.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim said Shurat HaDin’s legal action against Professor Lynch was “the wrong way to oppose BDS”.

“Regardless of the outcome, the Shurat HaDin court case would give a very marginal BDS campaign in Australia undeserved exposure and a shot in the arm,” Mr Wertheim said. “Our organisation’s strategy has been to expose the aims and methods of the BDS campaign in the marketplace of ideas.”

Shurat HaDin launched the lawsuit against Professor Lynch after he declined to support an application from Israeli academic Dan Avnon for a visiting fellowship at the university.

It claims his action and BDS generally breach the Racial Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Act because they discriminate against a class of people — Jewish Israelis.

Dr Svirsky, a political scientist who grew up in Argentina but moved to Israel after being conscripted during the Falklands War, said “there is increasing support for Lynch because of this particular case in court”.

“For me the BDS is about not just ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, but also the rules of the apartheid in Israel,” he said.

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