The Most Valuable
“True love is that which ennobles the personality, fortifies the heart, and sanctifies the existence.” ~Henri Frederic Amiel
Daesh (ISIS) entered Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee camp in the suburbs of Damascus on April 1st. Every person I have talked to about this in the past 2 weeks has been unaware of these events. Do you remember Yarmouk? Sound familiar? In the past 15 months, this will be my third blog post about it.
Since 2012, Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp has been under siege from Assad’s forces and rebel groups, caught in the middle of fighting and cut off from the rest of the world. By 2014, 200 Palestinians had starved to death. The camp, in the past, was more like a suburb, housing over 180,000 Palestinians. Palestinian refugees, up until this war, faired better in Syria than in other countries. That has changed tremendously.
Daesh entered the camp on April 1st. There has been heavy fighting on the streets between Palestinian militias and Nusra Front (a rebel Syrian militia) and Daesh, as well as a bombardment from above by Syrian jets. 18,000 Palestinians are still caught in the crossfire, including 3,500 children. The conditions are unspeakable. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called Yarmouk “the deepest circle of hell” in Syria. It is, he said, “beginning to resemble a death camp.”
And yet, the world remains silent. This doesn’t make the news in America, this horrific unfolding of events that has happened in a permanent refugee camp. Have you ever been in a permanent Palestinian refugee camp? I have been in over a dozen camps in two countries. I have done my best for the past 10 years to tell Americans what life is like for everyday Palestinians in camps. It’s not someplace you want to live your entire life. I have taken many foreigners through camps and have watched them go into shock at the deplorable conditions. I myself, just this past February while being taken through Al Bekka Camp in Jordan, was shocked to be in a camp that has a population of 250,000 Palestinians. It took us over 30 minutes to drive through it. It was the biggest camp I have been in and I thought I had seen it all. The sheer size and poverty and mass of people overwhelmed me.
Palestinians are the oldest and largest refugee group in the world and have continued to live in permanent camps for several generations now. This is a consequence of an unresolved Israeli/Palestinian conflict. So you see, Palestinians living in Yarmouk were already refugees, already displaced, and already without rights. They are in a country not their own, stuck in a war not of their making, being used as pawns and as a result are dying. And the world remains silent.
This is my question -- why isn’t their suffering cause for an outrage? An outrage of compassion. This summer I watched as American Christians were outraged by the persecution of Iraqi Christians by Daesh. So much so, many American Christians changed their profile pictures on Facebook with the ن (Arabic letter “nun”, it stands for Nazarene), which was used by Daesh to identify and mark Christians. OK, that was a first step, not enough in my opinion, but it was an acknowledgement of others’ suffering. Christians were outraged by the Yazidis starving to death while trapped on a mountain surrounded by Daesh. The United States airdropped food to them. As well as we should have; it was an inhumane situation.
And yet, there is no outrage for the suffering of the Palestinians in Yarmouk, and no airdrops of food. Let alone for Palestinians who continue to suffer from the war in Gaza last summer, or the Palestinian children that have frozen to death this past winter in Gaza. Let alone 67 year-old refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Did you know that Iraqi Christians fleeing Daesh are permitted into Jordan and allowed to claim refugee status but Palestinian refugees from Syrian are barred from entering the country? Where are they to go? Even if those from Yarmouk get evacuated, then what?
No one changes their profile picture on Facebook, no one begs others to pray for their situation, there are no news reports, no outraged news editorials; the world seems to be callously indifferent to their lives and their deaths. Maybe without knowledge of the suffering happening in Yarmouk, we feel exempt from responsibility or compassion. But, what is our responsibility once we do have knowledge of their suffering? I am directing this question to my fellow Christians. As a Christian, what is my responsibility to those the world throws away, to those who suffer, to those refused rights, to those who are “the least of these”? How do I stand up for and serve those considered the least of these by the rest of the world, regardless of their religion, economic status, or nationality?
My answer is an action, and it is to move back to the Middle East. With everything that I experienced during my last trip, all that I know, and what I’ve seen of their lives and their value to a Living God--I am moving back to the Middle East. I feel a strong pull to serve in Palestinian camps long-term, to work alongside Palestinians and to keep communicating their stories. I am aiming to be back in Jordan by the fall. I am excited and nervous as I swore I would never move back to the Middle East. Who would move to the Middle East right now? Only a nut-job—or someone moved to action by knowledge, responsibility and compassion. This is what I am called to do as a Christian, to ease suffering, give a voice to the voiceless, and to serve in love--to recognize the most valuable of people. This is what I am doing. It may make a difference or it may not. But, it is how I can use my life to ennoble others.
What will you do?
Here are 3 practical first steps.
On the events in Yarmouk.
Sitti Soap is a great organization founded by a friend of mine giving Palestinian refugee women jobs and skills in Jerash, Jordan. Check out their fundraising campaign and give!
Contact me to see how you can partner with Beirut & Beyond to get me back to the Middle East to serve Palestinian communities together.