More than 1,600 Palestinians have gone missing in Syria, and hundreds have been killed, since the beginning of the civil war there. This is not the type of news that makes it to mainstream media in the West, however.
To catch the eyes of the international community and media, Palestinians need to live in the West Bank, Gaza Strip or Jerusalem. These are the lucky Palestinians whose stories (and plights) are regularly covered by the international media. Why? Mostly because these are the Palestinians whose stories are often linked, directly and indirectly, to Israel.
It is no secret that Western journalists and mainstream media outlets have developed an obsession with Israel. Everything that Israel does (or does not do) receives widespread coverage, especially if there is a way to blame Israel for inflicting suffering on the Palestinians.
When Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas imposed punitive measures against the two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, denying them medicine, electricity and salaries, somehow the mainstream media finds a way to implicate Israel.
Abbas's ongoing crackdown on the Palestinian media, including the arrest of journalists and Facebook users, is also apparently not newsworthy, in the view of the Western media. Who cares if Abbas blocks 30 news websites because of their criticism of his policies and actions? Who cares if Abbas just this week ordered the arrest of journalist Ayman Qawasmeh, the director of a private radio station in Hebron?
Qawasmeh was arrested shortly after he criticized Abbas and called on him and his prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, to resign. Western journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dismiss these stories only, it seems, because they lack an anti-Israel angle.
As if the arrest of Qawasmeh were not enough, Abbas's security forces later arrested Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist from Hebron, for speaking out against the arrest of the journalist. Amro was taken into custody after he published a Facebook post criticizing the Palestinian Authority security forces for arresting the journalist and stifling freedom of expression.
Qawasmeh and Amro would have been better off being arrested by Israeli authorities. Had that happened, their stories would have made it to the pages of major Western newspapers. CNN or NBC might have dedicated an entire program to their ordeal. Without a way for the Western media outlets to implicate Israel, however, their tale remains buried -- along with their freedom.
The tragic tale of Palestinians in Syria exposes the double standard of the international media and community when it comes to covering the Middle East: when Israel is not involved, journalists are not involved.
What happens to Palestinians in Arab countries seems to be rather ho-hum to most of the world. So what if thousands of Palestinians have gone missing or have been killed? If an Arab state is involved, the media stays away.
The Action Group for Palestinians of Syria says that it has documented 1,632 cases of Palestinian detainees, including children and women, who have gone missing and remain unaccounted for in Syria. Among those missing are journalists, physicians, nurses and relief workers. The group says that the detainees have been subjected to "all forms of torture" in various detention centers and prisons in Syria.
The group also points out that it has documented some 472 cases of deaths consequent to torture in Syrian detention centers and prisons over the past few years. The actual numbers could be much higher, it says, in light of the secrecy and severe restrictions imposed by the Syrian authorities. Families are afraid to announce the death of their loved ones out of fear of retribution by the Syrian authorities.
In another report, the same group reveals that some 3,570 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, including 462 women. Meanwhile, the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus has been under siege by the Syrian army for more than 1510 days.
The Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria has been under siege by the Syrian army for more than 1510 days. Pictured: Residents of Yarmouk line up to receive food supplies, on January 31, 2014. (Image source: UNRWA)
Another Palestinian refugee camp, Dara'a, has been without water supply for more than 1,247 days (Yarmouk has been without water for more than 1088 days). The report also discloses that more than 85,000 Palestinians have fled Syria to Europe by the end of 2016, while more than 60,000 have found refuge in Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
These horrific figures are the norm in the Arab world's war-torn countries, where Arabs and Muslims have been displacing, torturing, and killing each other for many years. Disturbingly, the plight of Palestinians in Arab countries barely merits international attention. This silence has deadly consequences, and it is directly related to the disproportionate coverage the international media gives to Israel.
Consider: one Palestinian shot by an Israeli policeman or soldier is likely to get more coverage in the international media than thousands of Palestinians who are being illegally incarcerated and tortured to death in an Arab country.
Innumerable stories can be published about the way the Arab countries mistreat Palestinians -- from denying them basic rights such as citizenship and equality to imprisoning and torturing them.
Would anyone like to know about the true apartheid laws applied to Palestinians in different Arab countries? The information is readily available: all that needs to happen is for the Western media and the rest of the international community to reconsider their obsession with Israel and to start paying attention to the real Palestinian victims -- those living in the Arab countries.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.