Fighting between the Syrian army and opposition groups in the Yarmouk refugee camp (once home to approximately 160,000 Palestinians) ended two years ago, but only 435 families have been permitted to return to their homes. Pictured: Yarmouk refugee camp, near Damascus, on May 22, 2018, days after Syrian government forces regained control. (Photo by Louai Beshara/AFP via Getty Images)
As Palestinian leaders condemn Israel almost on a daily basis, they continue to ignore the ongoing suffering of Palestinians living in a number of Arab countries, especially Syria.
Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, 4,048 Palestinians have died – but Palestinian leaders hardly seem to notice. Another 333 Palestinians have gone missing, while 1,797 are being held in prisons controlled by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Like most Arab countries, Syria denies citizenship to Palestinians. Children born in Syria to fathers who are Palestinian nationals are considered Palestinians, not Syrian nationals.
Palestinian leaders who meet on a regular basis in the West Bank city of Ramallah seldom discuss the tragedy that has befallen their people in Syria.
Similarly, the leaders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, who relish giving interviews to the media, seem oblivious to the existence of Palestinians in Syria.
Palestinian leaders see no evil or wrong-doing when their people are being killed, injured, displaced, arrested and tortured in an Arab country. The attention of these leaders is solely focused on Israel, which they denounce day and night not only for what it does, but also for what it does not do.
The PA and Hamas are now condemning Israel for carrying out renovation work at the Western Wall Plaza below the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in the world for the Jewish people, in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas are making the surreal claim that Israel is trying to turn the Western Wall -- all that remains of the Jews' Second Temple, destroyed by Roman legions in 70 CE -- into a Jewish site.
Recently, some Palestinian officials tried to divert attention from their failure to quickly provide vaccines against the coronavirus to their people by arguing that it was Israel's "duty" to purchase the doses and distribute them to the Palestinians. Their argument was made even as the Palestinian leadership said it was seeking to obtain the vaccines from four companies, with the help of the international community. It is important to note that the Palestinians never approached Israel with a formal request to supply them with vaccines.
The primary victims of this obsession with Israel are the Palestinians living in Syria, whose daily appeals for help seem not to find their way to the ears of PA President Mahmoud Abbas or the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, Qatar and Turkey.
Palestinian human rights organizations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as "pro-Palestinian" groups around the world, also remain silent about the catastrophic human rights violations of Palestinians in Syria. The voices of these organizations and groups are raised only when they have something bad to say about Israel.
Here are some figures from Syria that Palestinian leaders, human rights organizations and "pro-Palestinian" groups in the US and Europe do not feel comfortable talking about: 40% of the Palestinians in Syria have been displaced since the beginning of the civil war, and 91% of their families live in absolute poverty.
These statistics appear in a January 2020 report published by the Action Group For Palestinians of Syria (AGPS), a London-based human rights watchdog group that monitors the situation of Palestinian refugees in war-torn Syria.
Referring to the deteriorating security and economic conditions of the Palestinians there, the AGPS report, titled "Palestinian Victims of Destruction," talks about the emergence of "female and child labor, begging, search for food in litter containers and school dropouts."
At the same time, the report reveals, thousands of Palestinians continue to flee to Lebanon, Turkey, Libya and Egypt. Upon their arrival at these countries, many Palestinians are arrested or fall victim to extortion by smugglers and human traffickers.
"The Syrian economic crisis exacerbated the humanitarian and living conditions of the Palestinians in Syria, who are now facing a social, health, environmental and educational catastrophe, in addition to the spread of social diseases resulting from the high rate of poverty," according to the report.
During 2020, many Palestinians were killed by the Syrian security services, especially in the Daraa Governorate in southwest Syria.
The AGPS report revealed that since 2011, in various Syrian detention centers, at least 620 Palestinians have been tortured to death.
The report further found that in addition to the killings, the Syrian authorities have also been confiscating the homes and property of many Palestinian refugees. Although fighting between the Syrian army and opposition groups in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp (near Damascus) ended two years ago, only 435 families have been permitted to return to their homes.
According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Yarmouk was home to approximately 160,000 Palestinian refugees before the eruption of the civil war in Syria 10 years ago. "In December 2012, fierce clashes erupted in Yarmouk, causing numerous civilian casualties, severe damage to property and the displacement of thousands of Palestinians and Syrians," UNRWA wrote . "Now the camp is largely destroyed and contains just a few dozen families. These are mostly elderly Palestinian refugees."
What are Palestinian leaders doing to help the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians still living in Syria? Essentially nothing. They are so busy inciting violence against Israel that they have forgotten about their people.
On January 9, Abbas entered the 17th year of his four-year term. He is again talking about his desire to hold new elections. This charade is played at least once or twice a year so that people will believe that he really wants elections.
It is hard to see how elections would help the Palestinians of Syria (who anyway would not be participating in them). Palestinian elections may make some people in the Biden administration and the European Union happy -- although Palestinians might again elect the terrorist group Hamas -- but for the Palestinians nothing will change, definitely not for those who are being targeted almost daily in Syria.
The Palestinians do not need new elections. They need new leaders who will guide them out from their longstanding morass into a future of promise and peace. In the current circumstances, however, it does not appear that such leaders can be found either in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.