The news of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp — like almost all news out of Syria — is grim. The camp, on the southern edge of Damascus, is under siege by both the Islamic State, which began decapitating Palestinians as soon as it took over this month, and the Syrian government, which is attacking the camp with barrel bombs.
Once home to 160,000 Palestinians, Yarmouk’s remaining 18,000 residents face starvation brought on by relentless bloodshed caused by two genocidal players. Yet, the world seems unwilling or unable to stop it. The head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency traveled to Damascus to try to open access for humanitarian aid, and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon declared, “We simply cannot stand and watch a massacre unfold.” But it does not appear that any concrete action has been taken. Instead, Palestinians in Syria can only expect more of the same — which is to say nothing much in the way of lasting relief.
The fact of the matter is that the world community seems to take notice of the Palestinian plight only when it deems Israel as the culprit. Last June, for example, in the wake of the kidnapping of three Israeli teens, Israeli forces conducted house-to-house searches and arrested some 350 Palestinians. Those actions brought condemnation and accusations of collective punishment from the Palestinian Authority and Amnesty International.
But the true definition of collective punishment is what we’re seeing today in Yarmouk, which is plainly far more dangerous and brutal than an Israeli security sweep. The world either doesn’t get the difference or doesn’t care.
The real Palestinian tragedy has always been their use as pawns by the Arab and Western worlds. As such, when Palestinian suffering didn’t neatly into the “it’s Israel’s fault” narrative, no one seemed to care. We hope that is finally changing. But it is truly unfortunate that it has taken the monumental human tragedy of the Syrian civil war to make that point. With thousands of people staring death in the face, only sustained, substantive action on the part of the international community will save the innocents in Syria.