There were reports this past weekend—e.g. here—of fighting between the Syrian army and rebels in Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the country and a mere five kilometers or so south of the center of Damascus. I visited Yarmouk two years ago. Here are some of the photos I took.
The one below is the main artery around the Yarmouk camp—or, I should say, “camp,” as it is an urban neighborhood on the periphery of the city and that is indistinguishable from other such quartiers populaires. Palestinian refugee camps are never “camps” stricto sensu. They’re referred to as such (mukhayyam in Arabic) for historical reasons and to maintain political pretenses. I wrote about this last year in a post (with photos) on two camps I visited in the West Bank.
I asked my friend in Damascus, who’s Palestinian-Syrian, if she could take me to Yarmouk. She’s lived in Damascus her entire life, save for a few years of higher education in France, and carries a Palestinian refugee document—despite having been born in Syria and to a Syrian mother (outrageous citizenship laws in the Arab states, about which I will write at a later date)—, but had never been to Yarmouk. Not much reason to go out there if one lives in Mezzeh Filla Gharbiyya. So it was a new experience for her too.
Remembering the Nakba.
Fatah martyr Jamal Jamal Hijo, killed in Syria two weeks earlier (and under circumstances unknown to me).
Yarmouk is not an UNRWA camp, BTW. Regular Syrians live there too.
We walked by these two gentlemen, who were sitting in front of a shop, and asked if we could talk with them for a few minutes, about Yarmouk, the people who lived there, etc. They willingly agreed, fetching chairs, offering us Pepsi-Cola, then tea, followed by pastries. We spent some 45 minutes to an hour with them. They couldn’t have been friendlier. As I’ve written before, when it comes to hospitality the Palestinians are second to none. The older man was a ’48 refugee – though was clearly a child at the time –, the younger one born well after. They’d lived in Yarmouk all their lives, though still considered themselves to be guests in Syria. I said that Palestinians born and/or raised in France or America naturally become citizens of those countries – which they agreed was normal –, so shouldn’t it be normal that they be citizens of Syria, particularly as they speak the same language and have the same culture? The response to that wasn’t too coherent. Their overall rhetoric was mainstream Fatah. Khaled Mashal and other Hamas figures may have been based in Damascus but there were no bearded Hamas types to be seen in Yarmouk. Not a chance.
The place may look poor from the outside but it’s likely not when you get into people’s apartments.
Back on the main drag.
…and back to the center of town.
While I’m at it, the photo below – taken two days earlier – is of Khaled Mashal’s flat, or so I was told by my well-informed interlocutor. In Mezzeh, if I remember correctly. He doesn’t live there anymore, that we know.
And also while I’m at it, the photo below – taken a few hours earlier – is of the precise spot where Imad Mughniyah was blown up – got his just desserts, as they say – on February 12, 2008, in front of the Iranian Cultural Center (photo above, off to the left in the one below). The crime scene was apparently cleaned up in no time at all, with not a trace the next day. Circulez, rien à voir.