We Need to Talk about Yarmouk

There has been an unnerving silence about the ongoing siege of a Palestinian camp in Damascus. It has gotten swept under the rug, along with the destruction of Syria, as one of those tragedies that for many seems easier to occasionally lament rather than take an active stand about.

For almost half a year now, Yarmouk camp has been on the receiving end of a devastating new tactic employed by the Assad dynasty. The method itself is simply enough: isolate an area long enough to bring it to its surrender. It would seem that the ambition of this approach is to drain Yarmouk, and the oppositional forces within it, of weaponry. But in the process, and almost certainly done intentionally, the siege evacuates Yarmouk of resources that residents are in desperate need of.

The transport of medical aid and food into the camp are almost entirely obstructed. It was from Yarmouk that the now-famous fatwa permitting the consumption of stray cats was issued. Residents of the camp have continued to protest the siege despite the hardships they encounter daily.  At a night “break the siege” protest on December 7th, demonstrators gathered to demands the blockade be lifted. “The children want milk, bread to eat. A kilo of rice is 3000 pounds (21 U.S. dollars) in the markets,”demonstrators complain, “there is no food, no bread. We are dying of hunger.”

The children of Yarmouk have had to endure the blunt force of this imposed famine, often suffering from malnutrition. Activists from Yarmouk have reported the death of several children at the hands of what can only be described as systematic starvation. But again, the strife forced upon them has done little to deter their will and resilience. On the 8th of December, the underfed and anguished children came out to demonstrate themselves against the siege. Banging spoons on empty pots, and holder signs with their favorite dishes written on them, they chanted against the blockade. “The children want food,” explains a young girl, “we want to eat.”

The tactic of starving the camp into submission is coupled by a blockage of medical supplies. Access to medical supplies is severely restricted, rendering the residents without medicines that are often a matter of life or death for them.  The strife is further agitated by the emigration of the huge majority of doctors and healthcare practitioners. Simply put, there would still be a shortage of medical staff who could treat the residents even if medicine was permitted into the camp.

Yarmouk had once housed over 160,000 Palestinian refugees. The current population has been reduced to less than an estimated 30,000. But in the face of the ongoing siege and shelling, many residence of the camp refuse to be made refugees for a second time. When the Assad-aligned PFLP-GC requested civilians to leave Yarmouk so that they could attack oppositional fighters more directly, the remaining Palestinians of the camp refused. Again, a protest was quickly organized to denounce Ahmad Jibril, head of PFLP-GC, and insist that there would be, “no migration from Yarmouk camp,” except, “from Yarmouk to Jerusalem.”

All of the torment the ongoing siege entails comes in addition to the almost daily shelling of the Yarmouk camp. Residents withstand these realities of civil war with almost no access to medical aid, food or assistance. They also endure it with almost no interest from the outside world. Yarmouk is rarely spoken about. In mainstream media, it goes virtually unmentioned. Still, these brave residents refuse to forfeit hope. They still demonstrate, they still live in Yarmouk, and many still refuse to leave.

We need to talk about Yarmouk. It needs to be spoken for in parts of the world that it has no access to. Refugees are the most vulnerable component of the Palestinian people.  Perhaps many of us can still recall that moment when we were first exposed to images of the aftermath of the Sabra and Shatilla massacres, the nausea and grief we were overcome with.  We have to do more than mourn in retrospect. Now, the starved and tattered Yarmouk beckons us. It needs us to speak for it to an audience it cannot reach.

Talal Alyan
Talal is a Palestinian-American writer based in Brooklyn. He tweets here.


  1. Because the Story don´t fit in the Muquama or Resistence charlatans Narrative of As´Ad Abu Khalil and the mouthpiece of the sectarian Hezbollah and Assad Al akhbar English. They spin the Syrian Revolution as an attempt to overthrow Anti-Zionism and Anti-Imperialism. Although they try to change the Narrative now to the “War on “Terror”.

  2. Reblogged this on Thoughts Inkwell.

  3. Because you are Palestinian,you ignored all the horrible war and the killing of the thousands of Syrian people,just to focus on Palestinian camp?!
    How about leaving our nationalities behind and at the situation from a human’s eye!
    How many Syrian got killed as well?
    The war is in Syria,not palestin!!

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