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Syria: Palestinians and the Syrian Revolution

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011/12.

On 13-14 July, 2012  mass demonstrations erupted in the Palestinian Refugee Camp Yarmouk and Tadamon in Damascus. The Syrian regime's brutal response led to seven deaths on July 13. The next day their funeral processions brought an even larger protest out, where four more people were killed.

Palestine has been the single most influential player in Syria's political history since independence. Playing host to more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees who have almost exactly the same rights and privileges as Syrian citizens, Syria has both influenced and been influenced by their cause and their plight. In fact, Syria and the Arab World's first coup d'état in 1949 was a direct result of the catastrophic 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Syria's Baathist regime has based its entire legitimacy on its unwavering support to the Palestinians. But that role has always been more complex and divisive on the Palestinian side. The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat saw the late president, Hafez Assad, as co-opting their cause rather than supporting it. Those divisions sometimes turned very bloody like in the massacre of Tel al-Zaatar, or the Syrian-sponsored attacks on the Palestinian camps during the Lebanese Civil War, known as War of the Camps.

“There's a Palestinian soul in every revolutionary”, by @sha3eb3aref

The Syrian revolution has brought these divisions to the surface again, but with the added immediate concern about their own well being inside Syria itself. Prominent Palestinian writer and activist Ali Abunimah reflects that concern:

@AliAbinimah: I think Palestinians in Syria are vulnerable and I don't like the way “both sides” trying to use and recruit them.

Anaheed al-Hardan of Electronic Intifada, compiles an extensive report on Palestinians in Syria and their relationship with the revolution and the concerns that come with that. She concludes that:

What these latest rounds of events tell us is that the fictive boundaries between Palestinians in Syria and the unrest are just that, becoming increasingly more difficult to maintain.

As the situation on the ground continues to change, the fate of the Palestinians in the country, like the fate of Syrians and the country as a whole, remains uncertain. However, unlike their Syrian counterparts, Palestinians are refugees with nowhere to go in the event of the further deterioration of the turmoil in Syria.

The breakthrough in Palestinian involvement in Syria's revolution came in the aftermath of the Traymseh Massacre, when  mass demonstrations erupted in the Yarmouk and Tadamon refugee camps in Damascus on 13-14 July.

Palestinian demonstrations in the Yarmouk Camp in Damascus (Source)

But long before the Palestinians actually entered the fray on the ground, their support of the revolution was already being voiced. Palestinian activist Budour Hassan writes about the “Syrian Uprising Through Palestinian Eyes“:

Palestinians chanted “Yallah Irhal Ya Bashar” [Bashar, leave!] in Nazareth, Haifa, Jaffa, Baqa, Jerusalem, Bil’in and Nabi Saleh. Many of us will continue to do so since it’s our duty to stand on the side of those who sing for freedom, dance, and even make jokes through the horror visited by bullets and mortar shells. A victory for the brave Syrian people over Assad’s tyranny will be a triumph for every oppressed community in the world.

But other Palestinian writers have been less than pleased with the course taken by Syria's revolution and have seen it as a failure at best. Prominent Palestinian academic Joseph Massad writes:

Those who see the Syrian popular struggle for democracy as having already been hijacked by these imperial and pro-imperial forces inside and outside Syria understand that a continuation of the revolt will only bring about one outcome, and it is not a democratic one – namely, a US-imposed pliant and repressive regime à la Iraq and Libya. If this is what the Syrian demonstrators are struggling for, then they should continue their uprising; if this is not their goal, then they must face up to the very difficult conclusion that they have been effectively defeated, not by the horrifying repression of their own dictatorial regime which they have valiantly resisted, but rather by the international forces that are as committed as the Syrian regime itself to deny Syrians the democracy they so deserve.

While these debates rage between the Palestinians themselves, they will necessarily be influenced by the latest developments on the ground. Syria-Palestinians choice to enter the fray on the side of the revolution will yet again change the nature of Syria's relationship with the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people.

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011/12.

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