For the first time we feel Syrian

"Fattah with his family in their room in Cyber City." Courtesy NR

“Fattah with his family in their room in Cyber City.” Courtesy NR

Two brief reports on how Palestinians in Syria are getting on with life.

Nasser Haamed Abdul Fattah, 43-years-old, has the following testimony (via a photo essay by Michael Friberg and Benjamin Rasmussen in the New Republic):

“As a Palestinian in Syria, and a person from Gaza, you have no proof of identity. You can’t go from one area to another. You want to go work, a checkpoint gets you, they arrest you, and you are put in the prison for a month, two, four, five, six, a year; no one knows.

We got out at night, at 7 p.m. approximately. We had nearly thirty children and five women with us. When we first crossed the Jordanian border we were received by the army—thank god for them—because we were fired upon by the security forces. For the first three months, we stayed in the Bashabsheh camp near the border. Then they opened up the Cyber City camp [a special camp for Palestinian Syrians].

Life here, compared to the other camps, is a thousand blessings. There is some restriction and noise, as you can see, but it’s comfortable. Police from the Jordanian government, they’ve secured everything for the refugees. There is no harassment. We come in and out freely.”

"The entrance to Cyber City, an all-but-abandoned technology park that now houses Palestinian refugees from Syria." Courtesy NR

“The entrance to Cyber City, an all-but-abandoned technology park that now houses Palestinian refugees from Syria.” Courtesy NR

Meanwhile, Matthew Coogan writes in Jadaliyya:

“Such was the status of Palestinian refugees in Syria at the advent of the popular uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in early 2011. From the beginning, Syria’s Palestinian community was a principal, if involuntary, actor in the unfolding drama of the uprising. In the early stages of the conflict, the Palestinian community at large attempted to maintain neutrality, in line with a longstanding tradition of avoiding entanglement in domestic political disputes. So potent was their initial desire to remain uninvolved in the conflict that Palestinian protestors torched the headquarters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine- General Command, the Regime’s closest allied Palestinian faction, when it sided with the government and undermined the call for neutrality.

However, as time went on, ordinary Palestinians found themselves increasingly involved as the regime attempted to scapegoat their community as a foreign interlocutor. The proximity of Palestinian refugee camps to the sites of initial protest in Dara’a and Latakia led regime officials to accuse Palestinians of instigating the violence in an attempt to downplay “indigenous” Syrian support for, and participation in, the protests. Moreover, as the Regime assault on Syrian dissidents intensified, many Palestinians felt compelled to aid them. This was the case among refugees in the Dara’a refugee camp who elected to host a field hospital in the camp for Syrians requiring medical attention.

This level of involvement marks a break with past traditions of Palestinian political activity in Syria. Before the uprising, such activity was largely restricted to matters directly connected to Palestinian liberation and the right of return. Historically, Palestinians did not engage in Syria’s domestic politics. A report from Al Jazeera’s research arm reveals a surprising motivations for this shift among at least some Palestinian refugees: feelings of Syrian political identity and obligation.

According to one activist, the uprising marks “the first time we feel Syrian…this intifada is about the whole of Syria, as this country is holding both Syrians and Palestinians.” Of course, isolated interviews with politically active refugees are not sufficient to capture the prevailing sentiment of the Syrian refugee population as a whole. Still, interviews such as these, along with Palestinians’ extensively documented involvement in the uprising on the side of the opposition, provide a compelling ethnographic account of the affective dimension of their integration into pre-conflict Syrian society. The early legal integration of the PRS and the concomitant rise in their socio-economic fortunes in the proceeding years allowed certain elements of the refugee population to identify with the domestic aspirations of their Syrian neighbors, despite their official status as refugees and the pull of a competing Palestinian national identity.”

The story of the refugees erecting the field hospital is arresting. It is practical solidarity at its finest. These refugees are an example to all of us watching the conflict from afar in infinitely more comfortable settings.

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