The world of advertising is strangely self-contradictory. We are bombarded daily with commercials or ad films luring us to consume a variety of foodstuffs including different kinds of chocolates and other mouthwatering foods. On the other hand, the same channels of communication are used to offer us help against temptations, diet programs, products claiming to be less fatty yet tasty and workout programs to shed the extra pounds.
The world of news media is also not that different. We see pictures of babies who could live a bit more if provided with milk; pictures of people who could survive their gunshot wound if they had access to basic antibiotics. Unfortunately, these pictures are only treated as top shots and end up as mere statistics. Yes, I am referring to the people in Yarmouk, who are left high and dry to fend for themselves in the Syrian war theater.
Yarmouk had been home to 160,000 Palestinians in Syria since creation of Israel in 1948. It never was Paris for them but things were fine and people had normal lives without having to live in fear for their lives every waking hour. But when the country’s ruler Bashar Assad and his minions decided to go on a rampage against every citizen of their own country in December 2012, the people of Yarmouk were trapped in what became world’s largest open-air prison. Claiming that rebels were using Yarmouk, Assad’s forces laid siege to Yarmouk, leaving the residents without food, water and medical supplies. One particular picture became especially famous. It was a picture showing wave upon wave of people, all hungry and looking despondent, like a scene from the Middle Ages, filling up an alley waiting to get to the limited humanitarian aid available.
But there were other scenes that never found their way to the mainstream media; bodies of frozen toddlers in boxes, babies that starved to death, toddlers forced to walk barefoot on ice. Or the moving BBC video showing a brave 10-year-old boy trying to put on a brave face while he described the situation. He tried to downplay it and said, “Yeah, we are hungry” but couldn’t hold it anymore and started crying, completely ashamed of himself for breaking down like that.
The difference between Yarmouk and the affluent parts of the world that are struggling with obesity is so vast, the divide so stark, it’s like there are two different worlds. It is almost like one of those films depicting two societies where one uses the other for amusement, watching their struggle for life. The villains of today are worse than the villains in those movies; worse yet is the fact that world watches it like a movie.
Brutality, hunger and murder are now common sights to people in this part of the world. And for the others, living with the news of these things, but carrying on with their lives unaffected, is a common sight.
Today only 18,000 people are left in Yarmouk. In an unexpected twist of events, and to make matters even worse, the self-ascribed Islamic State (IS) seized 90 percent of this area and started its own campaign of violence as a manifestation of their skewed interpretation of Islam. The UN has urged immediate evacuation and according to the latest news, some 2,000 had already been evacuated.
Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General for the United Nations (UNRWA), is visiting Yarmouk to hear from refugees affected by the crisis, and consult with leaders on how to send aid to people in need. These are good news but clearly not enough. So what should be done?
Before we start talking about the real solution to the problems in the Middle East, including those that gave rise to the IS, we have to talk about short-term and quick fixes to this very urgent humanitarian crisis. It is imperative that the UN immediately swings into action to evacuate all the civilians trapped in the area. The Security Council has already convened an emergency meeting on Monday but they need to be quicker. Cooperation with the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups could be a way to help the civilians, which include some 3,500 children. The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Pierre Krahenbuhl, calls the situation “beyond inhumane” amid reports of Syrian regime forces dropping barrel bombs on Yarmouk.
Under another scenario, a unit of Russian army could supervise the evacuation of civilians out of the area, with the help of humanitarian groups. Assad’s forces wouldn’t oppose Russians doing the job; neither the IS would want to open a new front.
Another problem these people face is the fact that they almost have no place to go. Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt have banned Palestinian refugees from Syria, and they cannot go to Iraq as most of it is under IS control. Fortunately there is always Turkey, ready to welcome people in need. An urgent statement from Turkish officials, confirming the welcoming attitude of Turkey would be a great move at the moment.
The world needs to immediately start the process of getting the innocent civilians out of there. Do not forget: there are children, women, sick, injured people, old people and they need our help. Put yourselves in their shoes and do your best to help them.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Arab News & Jefferson Corner: