Whenever I discuss politics, I am always sure to insist that the Palestinians still and always will retain the right of return for its refugees. Never has this feeling been stronger than this week, as the Palestinian refugee population in Al Ramel, Syria were made to relive the horrors of 60 years ago, displaced and forgotten.
This week, as Syrian forces continued their brutal crackdown of anti-government demonstrations, Palestinian refugees in the country were pulled into the conflict, first in body bags then through exile. In the first week of August, six Palestinians were killed in Syria by government forces. A few days ago, three others were killed in Latikiya. This week, as Syrian government forces moved in with tanks and heavy artillery into Al Ramel, which is also the location of a Palestinian camp, thousands of refugees fled for their lives.
This is not the first, and it will probably not be the last non-Palestinian conflict that Palestinians are forced into. Lebanon and Libya are just two countries where Palestinians have been thrust into the center of strife that is not necessarily theirs. The reason for this is simple: they are not home and for their host countries, they are not wanted.
The whereabouts of the estimated 5,000 refugees who fled their homes are still unknown, according to Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesperson. “A forgotten population has become a disappeared population,” he said in a poignant description of the fate of Palestinian refugees.
The fact that these refugees are even in Syria (or elsewhere), unprotected, without citizenship or citizens’ rights is the root cause of all other problems that have evolved over the years, even the latest in Syria. Just like so many other Arabs, Palestinians are appalled by the atrocities being carried out by Syrian forces. They have stood with their Syrian brethren just like they did with Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya. But, their situation has been compounded by the fact that when they flee, they have nowhere to go. Home, to Palestine’s refugees, is a far off and inaccessible place that was denied them long ago. The Palestinians who were killed in Syria or those before them in Libya were not buried in their homes in Palestine. They were not allowed to return, even in a coffin.
It is this feeling, this sense of not belonging to the place that has been your home for over half a decade that creates such urgency for the refugee issue to be resolved. And when you are made to flee even this temporary abode to an even scarier unknown, this is only further proof of the problem’s gravity.
The point is, the right of return has been shoved aside long enough. Because of the quagmire the Palestinians fell into for so many years called negotiations, the right of return has often become a mere slogan. But it is not. It is about real people whose former lives were yanked from them over 60 years ago by a system that now calls itself a democracy. The result has been the displacement of millions of people all over the world. And sometimes, because that basic right to a home has been denied, Palestinians are made to pay with their lives for conflicts that are not theirs.
The situation in Syria is tragic, to say the least. Syrians are braving a monstrous regime that makes no apologies for slaughtering its own. But the Syrians are, in the end, fighting for their country and freedom, just like the Palestinians in Palestine have, for years, fought Israel for their own liberation. Let’s imagine that Bashaar Al Assad’s regime fell tomorrow. The Syrians, in spite of the thousands of deaths, injuries and disappearances they have endured, will rejoice. The Palestinians too will be happy for their Syrian counterparts when the tyrant falls, but that doesn’t mean that their own problems are solved. The refugee problem in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and inside of Palestine deserves a separate and just solution. They are not punching bags for other regimes to pummel. And they should never be forgotten.