Israel, Save the Palestinians in Syrias Yarmouk Refugee Camp

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Ruined buildings in the Yarmouk refugee camp, summer 2013.Credit: Reuters

This article will surely fall on deaf ears, even more than others of mine. Still, it must be written. I cant forget the images from the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees. Among all the victims of Syrias horrors, these people should touch Israelis hearts.

Israel is morally responsible for what happens in this camp, albeit indirectly. First, it bears historical responsibility for the fate of the camps residentsPalestinian natives of Israel who were forced to flee and their descendants.

Second, many Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the territory of the Palestinian Authority have relatives in Yarmouk, sometimes even of the first degree. Siblings, grandparents and cousins are starving to death, and dozens have already died.

We could draw a parallel. An atrocity takes place dozens of kilometers from the country's borders, and relatives of Jewish Israelis are starving to death and dying for lack of medicine and supplies, wandering around emaciated and being shot like stray animals. Would Israel remain complacent? Wouldnt it take action to save them?

Its easy to dump responsibility for Yarmouk on the Arabs: the Assad regime, which cruelly prevents supplies from reaching the besieged residents for many weeks; the armed Palestinians, who intervened in the civil war and sounded the camps death knell; radical Islamist organizations, whose cruelty tops that of the regime; and the Arab states that didnt do enough to solve the refugee problem (even if relatively speaking they improved the refugees lot in Syria).

And yet the moral responsibility still lies with Israel, whose establishment led to the existence of these refugees and exiles. As best it could, this country should try to save the families of its citizens, even if theyre Arabs. An example is the elderly Lutafia, a camp resident whose brother Abed Abadi is a prize-winning artist in Haifa who has tried to save her for years.

Pictures of Yarmouk wont fade away: the Palestinian boy chewing on paper for lack of food; the boy crying to the cameras for help from the world now that his father has been killed; emaciated people just half alive; lines of women and old people crowded for hours in hopes of obtaining a serving of food or dose of medicine; and the terrible hopelessness of thousands of people under siege whose homes have been demolished and worlds destroyed.

A few days ago my colleague Zvi Barel described the situation in the camp. The camps coordinating committee called on residents to drink a liter of water with a teaspoon of salt, and after that a liter of water with a teaspoon of sugar, if available.

Barel was restrained as he referred to Yarmouk as resembling a World War II ghetto, and even this description fell on deaf ears. Only 20,000 people remain in the camp, where 150,000 lived before the civil war. Only the weak and helpless remain – to live in destruction under siege. The rest have suffered their second expulsion.

Israel doesnt lift a finger. Israel even cynically sends back into the inferno the few wounded Syrians it does treat, amid its nauseating self-congratulations. While Syrias other neighbors, Jordan and Turkey, are bursting with millions of refugees, Israel doesnt even consider absorbing the few wounded Syrians who manage to reach it.

After the terror of Yarmouk, Israel should show a measure of humanity. It should try to save the 20,000 besieged residents – natives of this land, remember – and declare that its gates are open to them to reunite with their families.

Such a step would probably be rejected by the Syrians, but maybe not. Sadly, Israel could have organized a humanitarian operation or a donation campaign, just as it does for natural disasters far away for which it bears no responsibility. But in Yarmouk the dying are Palestinian refugees. What do they have to do with us?

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