ISIS shows its true colours in Yarmouk! They are the enemy of the Palestinian people.

Father Dave with refugees from Yarmouk (April 2014)

Father Dave with Palestinian refugees from Yarmouk (April 2014)

ISIS has shown its true colours! They are the enemies of the Palestinian people!

Commentators around the world are appalled at the ISIS take-over of Yarmouk refugee camp, still home to around 18,000 Palestinians, and supposedly only a 10-minute bus ride from central Damascus.

The stories of brutal beheadings and other atrocities being committed by ISIS troops in Yarmouk are already emerging, along with concerns that this strategic battlefield success may empower the ISIS recruitment drive as they seem to be on the Syrian President’s doorstep. My reckoning though is that the attack on Yarmouk may have the opposite effect, and could  spell the beginning of the end for ISIS!

From a military perspective, the takeover of Yarmouk is no great threat to Damascus. When I was in Damascus in 2013 there were rebel forces on the edge of the city at multiple points.  They didn’t break through then and there’s no reason to assume that ISIS are going to succeed now where comparable forces have failed. Yarmouk itself has indeed been disputed territory for a number of years now which is why the Syrian Army sealed it off. This resulted in terrible suffering for the civilians remaining in Yarmouk but it simultaneously proved effective in stopping the advance of rebels into the capital.

Where the assault on Yarmouk could rebound negatively for ISIS is in the PR department.

The success of ISIS depends on their success in recruiting angry young Muslim men to their cause. There are no shortage of angry young Muslims around the world, of course, and this for very good reason. The US and its allies, including my country (Australia), have been on a murderous rampage across the Muslim world for more than twenty years, killing as many as 3.3 million Iraqis by some people’s reckoning, along with countless Afghans, Libyans, Syrians, etc. Mr Obama has indeed bombed no less than seven majority-Muslim countries since he took office! No wonder countless Muslim men and women feel angry, and no wonder so many young men are ready to fight for the one man who is standing up to the bloodthirsty West in the name of Allah!

Al Baghdadi has indeed succeeded in uniting many Muslim people under his banner. Even so, there is one other cause that resonates even more deeply with Muslim people everywhere. For the last generation there has been one thing that every Muslim in the world – from Iran to Yemen to Somalia to Indonesia – has in common. Every Muslim on the planet is opposed to the Palestinian Occupation! Support for the suffering Palestinian people is a fundamental part of what it means to be a Muslim in the 21st century, and now ISIS has started butchering Palestinians!

I don’t think we should underestimate the impact this may have worldwide on the ISIS recruitment drive. ISIS has shown itself to be the enemy of the Palestinian people!

I appreciate, of course, that relations between Palestinians and the Syrian government have also been strained in recent years, but it has always been a minority of Palestinians in Syria that are opposed to the Syrian government. Palestinian refugees receive full citizenship rights in Syria (unlike in Lebanon and Jordan) and many are open in their support of the Assad government. When  Khaled Meshaal and the Hamas leadership moved their headquarters from Damascus to Doha in 2012, this was not a reflection of broad Palestinian dissatisfaction with the Syrian government, but rather a reflection of the non-Palestinian forces controlling Hamas – namely, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite 2013 reports that Hamas was training rebel forces opposing the Syrian government, there has been no ongoing enmity between Palestinians and Bashar Al Assad. On the contrary, what we have seen in the last few days has been open cooperation between the Syrian Arab Army and Palestinian militias seeking to defend Yarmouk from ISIS, who are the real enemy!

ISIS has shown its true colours in the assault on Yarmouk. These people are not warriors of Allah, fighting to establish a holy state. They are brutal mercenaries, ready to sacrifice the lives of countless beleaguered Palestinians – men, women and children alike – for the sake of gaining a more strategic military position against the Syrian government.

The current humanitarian crisis in Yarmouk gives the Syrian government a significant opportunity to show itself to be a true friend and protector of the Palestinian people.  To an extent this is already happening (even though it is barely being reported).  Refugees fleeing in the direction of the Syrian Arab Army are being relocated to shelters, away from the fighting. We can only pray that this continues and that all civilians can extract themselves from the firing line.

ISIS, of course, are not going to want to let go of their human shields. Even so, the longer they use Palestinians as human shields, the more they betray their identity as Muslims!

Father Dave

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