The Extermination of Yarmouk: An Interview with Nidal Bitari
Nidal Bitari is a Syrian-Palestinian journalist from Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. He fled the camp in 2011 and now resides in the United States. He has published an extensive report on the events leading up to the siege of Yarmouk in the Journal of Palestinian Studies, and he is the founder of the Palestinian Association for Human Rights in Syria.
JC: What is happening in Yarmouk currently?
NB: Yarmouk is undergoing two sieges at the moment. Syrian military forces have blockaded the gates at the north, east, and west sides of the camp, and opposition armed groups occupy the surrounding area. This two-fold siege has made it impossible for aid to reach the people trapped inside the camp.
JC: Since the camp is made up of both Syrian and Palestinian refugees, has there been any effort to between those two groups to organize in an effort to end the siege?
NB: In this context, building solidarity is dangerous, because any coordination that Palestinians might attempt with Syrians from inside or outside the camp could be interpreted by the Assad regime as siding with the opposition, and the resulting backlash could make the situation even worse. Historically, Palestinians from Yarmouk and other camps in Syria have relied on maintaining political neutrality to secure their safety, and that stance is what Palestinians in Syria are now attempting to reinforce.
JC: Media coverage of Syria nowadays usually includes the prediction that “there is no end to the conflict in sight.” What short-term goals are within sight for the people under siege in Yarmouk?
NB: It is difficult to predict anything happening in Syria nowadays, and the siege might end at any time. Even if humanitarian aid reaches the people inside, however, the camp will no longer be the Palestinian center it once was. It used to be the largest of the twelve Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and the location where all the major Palestinian factions had their headquarters. But since the war began, 10,000 Palestinians have fled, and they are never going back.
JC: Some have claimed that there is a danger in organizing within the United States to support the people of Syria (including the Palestinians there), because it involves the risk of at the least perpetuating Western influence in the region and at the worst facilitating military intervention. Do these risks, in your view, necessarily corrupt any local Western efforts to aid the people of Syria?
NB: I think these risks were worth considering back in 2011 when the revolution started, but now I don’t see any problem with communities from the US holding events or showing solidarity with Syria in any way. As far as military intervention, if the purpose would be to remove Assad, it is far too late. Such an action would only drive the country into a worse situation. In my view, the war started with the regime killing people in Syria, but now it is everyone killing everyone, and any upsurge in foreign military intervention would only escalate the violence. If people are organizing in the US, they should be focused on pushing for a political solution in Syria.
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You can follow Nidal Bitari on Twitter @NidalBitari
Joseph Caterine is a journalist living in Austin, TX. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephCaterine