From Prayers for Syria
ISIS shows its true colours in Yarmouk! They are the enemy of the Palestinian people.
April 8, 2015
ISIS has shown its true colours! They are the enemies of the Palestinian people!
Commentators around the world are appalled at the ISIS take-over of Yarmouk refugee camp, still home to around 18,000 Palestinians, and supposedly only a ’10-minute bus ride’ from central Damascus.
The stories of brutal beheadings and other atrocities being committed by ISIS troops in Yarmouk are already emerging, along with concerns that this strategic battlefield success may empower the ISIS recruitment drive as they seem to be on the Syrian President’s doorstep. My reckoning though is that the attack on Yarmouk may have the opposite effect, and could spell the beginning of the end for ISIS!
From a military perspective, the takeover of Yarmouk is no great threat to Damascus. When I was in Damascus in 2013 there were rebel forces on the edge of the city at multiple points. They didn’t break through then and there’s no reason to assume that ISIS are going to succeed now where comparable forces have failed. Yarmouk itself has indeed been disputed territory for a number of years now which is why the Syrian Army sealed it off. This resulted in terrible suffering for the civilians remaining in Yarmouk but it simultaneously proved effective in stopping the advance of rebels into the capital.
Where the assault on Yarmouk could rebound negatively for ISIS is in the PR department.
The success of ISIS depends on their success in recruiting angry young Muslim men to their cause. There are no shortage of angry young Muslims around the world, of course, and this for very good reason. The US and its allies, including my country (Australia), have been on a murderous rampage across the Muslim world for more than twenty years, killing as many as 3.3 million Iraqis by some people’s reckoning, along with countless Afghans, Libyans, Syrians, etc. Mr Obama has indeed bombed no less than seven majority-Muslim countries since he took office! No wonder countless Muslim men and women feel angry, and no wonder so many young men are ready to fight for the one man who is standing up to the bloodthirsty West in the name of Allah!
Al Baghdadi has indeed succeeded in uniting many Muslim people under his banner. Even so, there is one other cause that resonates even more deeply with Muslim people everywhere. For the last generation there has been one thing that every Muslim in the world – from Iran to Yemen to Somalia to Indonesia – has in common. Every Muslim on the planet is opposed to the Palestinian Occupation! Support for the suffering Palestinian people is a fundamental part of what it means to be a Muslim in the 21st century, and now ISIS has started butchering Palestinians!
I don’t think we should underestimate the impact this may have worldwide on the ISIS recruitment drive. ISIS has shown itself to be the enemy of the Palestinian people!
I appreciate, of course, that relations between Palestinians and the Syrian government have also been strained in recent years, but it has always been a minority of Palestinians in Syria that are opposed to the Syrian government. Palestinian refugees receive full citizenship rights in Syria (unlike in Lebanon and Jordan) and many are open in their support of the Assad government. When Khaled Meshaal and the Hamas leadership moved their headquarters from Damascus to Doha in 2012, this was not a reflection of broad Palestinian dissatisfaction with the Syrian government, but rather a reflection of the non-Palestinian forces controlling Hamas – namely, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Despite 2013 reports that Hamas was training rebel forces opposing the Syrian government, there has been no ongoing enmity between Palestinians and Bashar Al Assad. On the contrary, what we have seen in the last few days has been open cooperation between the Syrian Arab Army and Palestinian militias seeking to defend Yarmouk from ISIS, who are the real enemy!
ISIS has shown its true colours in the assault on Yarmouk. These people are not warriors of Allah, fighting to establish a holy state. They are brutal mercenaries, ready to sacrifice the lives of countless beleaguered Palestinians – men, women and children alike – for the sake of gaining a more strategic military position against the Syrian government.
The current humanitarian crisis in Yarmouk gives the Syrian government a significant opportunity to show itself to be a true friend and protector of the Palestinian people. To an extent this is already happening (even though it is barely being reported). Refugees fleeing in the direction of the Syrian Arab Army are being relocated to shelters, away from the fighting. We can only pray that this continues and that all civilians can extract themselves from the firing line.
ISIS, of course, are not going to want to let go of their human shields. Even so, the longer they use Palestinians as human shields, the more they betray their identity as Muslims!
What’s really going on in Yarmouk?
April 29, 2015
Yarmouk is only a few kilometres south of Damascus. It was once a thriving centre of colour and life with a vibrant market that made it much more than just a Palestinian enclave. Over the last four years though it has been the centre of so much violence and death that it is April 29, 2015now the most festering wound on the ailing Syrian body. And perhaps
the most tragic dimension of Yarmouk at the moment is the way the suffering of these people is being manipulated to provide a new rationale for Western military intervention.
The dominant narrative at the moment is that ISIS, by lodging themselves in Yarmouk, are on the doorstep of the Presidential palace, threatening to take over Damascus! The Assad government, in response, is throwing everything it has at Yarmouk (including its notorious ‘barrel bombs’), killing rebels and civilians alike, in a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable. The only hope for the poor people of Yarmouk (so the narrative goes) is to send in the Marines!
Of course the Marines don’t have a great track record when it comes to solving other peoples’ problems, especially in the Middle-East (think Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, …). Even so, if the people of Yarmouk are suffering at the hands of a reckless government in its death throes, can we really expect our benign super-powers to sit on their hands?
My thought was that I needed to get to Yarmouk to see for myself what was going on, and we got there.
We got to within about 300 meters of the border anyway, where the Syrian military made sure we stopped. We could see the front line from where we were but, as our guides pointed out, this meant that ISIS snipers could see us too, and so we soon moved off from the main entrance road and entered a school on the government controlled side of the border where a number of Yarmouk residents were being housed as well as schooled.
We spent our first few hours there teaching the children to box. I appreciate that most people would see that as a crazy thing to do but the kids certainly enjoyed themselves. There was lots of laughter and cheering as young and old put on the gloves and learnt how to throw punches against the pads without hurting their hands (which is not as easy as some think).
After we’d exhausted ourselves playing we sat down with the Principal of the school and some of the elders of the camp and talked, while enjoying the obligatory coffee that always accompanies such meetings.
From our day at Yarmouk, and through subsequent discussions with local Palestinians and with others in Damascus who knew what they were talking about, I came to some pretty firm conclusions about the situation in Yarmouk and, as I expected, the truth is pretty much the reverse of what we’re being told.
The Syrian Arab Army are not the chief villains in this drama. On the contrary, the Yarmouk residents that we met were being housed and fed by that army, and the children that we saw treated the army men like benign uncles. Indeed, when one of the officers who was with us put on the gloves and started throwing punches, all the children started cheering for him!
This is what I’d expected to find, as I’d spent time in a similar encampment for displaced persons from Yarmouk almost exactly 12 months earlier. There again we’d met hundreds of children, all of whom had been relocated to safe places by the army, and we’d taught them to box.
So let’s be clear on a few points:
- Firstly, Syrian Army never enters Yarmouk. This isn’t contested by anyone on the ground. The army may work inside Yarmouk through their proxies in the Palestinian militia but army personnel never enter the camp themselves.
- Likewise, the army does not shell Yarmouk. Clearly the Assad government does not want to be remembered for murdering Palestinians.
- Finally (and predictably) those who are fleeing Yarmouk are running in the direction of the Syrian army in order to escape ISIS. They aren’t running to ISIS in order to escape the Syrian army. And the army is finding shelter and protection for the fleeing residents.
This is not to say that every Palestinian loves the Syrian army or the Assad government. Indeed, one Palestinian man I spoke to swore that the army had deliberately shelled ISIS in such a way as to force them into Yarmouk! “Why would they do that?” I asked? “In order to bring ISIS into contact with their other great enemy, Hamas, so that they would destroy each other”.
Whether or not that guy was right, his analysis highlights the absurdity of the other side of the media narrative. ISIS are not threatening the Presidential palace from Yarmouk. On the contrary, whether by design or by good fortune, the Syrian army is probably quite pleased to have ISIS in Yarmouk.
There are apparently only around 2000 ISIS militants in Yarmouk in total, and even with superior weapons (being channeled in from Qatar) it seems that they can still be contained by the Palestinian factions opposing them, let alone the Syrian army who have been containing rebels within Yarmouk for a number of years now. The residents have paid a terrible price for that, but the strategy has certainly been effective in protecting the capital.
And so the big lie needs to be turned on its head. The people of Yarmouk are not suffering at the hands of the Syrian army. They are suffering, but the Syrian Arab Army is probably the best friend they have at the moment.
And the army is not about to be overrun by ISIS troops streaming out of Yarmouk. That’s not to say that the army isn’t in trouble. Indeed, they have real problems to deal with in Aleppo and Idlib, but Yarmouk is a relatively minor headache.
In truth, I’m not sure what more can be done for the people of Yarmouk or for the Syrian army. One thing I am sure about though is that we don’t need the Marines, or any more foreign military intervention in Syria. Indeed, the further away our military stays the better are the chances for the people of Yarmouk and for the country as a whole.