Originally circulated July 30, 2020
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At the end of June 2020, the Syrian regime’s Damascus governorate announced its plans to turn the remains of Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp into an urban neighborhood of privatized high-rise buildings to be placed for sale to the highest bidder. The execution of this plan would result in the permanent erasure of the camp, which is considered the capital of the Palestinian shataat due to its cultural and political significance in Palestinian resistance, identity in exile, and aspirations for return and freedom.
That the announcement comes from the Damascus governorate signals the most important of several bureaucratic steps in the absorption of Yarmouk’s land into the city’s jurisdiction as the regime dissolved Yarmouk Municipality – made up of camp residents – in 2018. If implemented, the plan would divide the camp into three real estate units transforming the largest and most populated portion into this new development and redesigning the layout of the camp, furthering the demolition of the camp and expanding traffic ways at the expense of existing home layouts. This is not a blueprint for Return; this is a blueprint for the erasure of Yarmouk Camp.
The significance of Yarmouk camp for the Palestinian diaspora cannot be overstated. Yarmouk camp was established in the 1950s to house thousands of Palestinians displaced as a result of the 1948 Nakba. Located in Southern Damascus across 2.1 square kilometers, the camp became the residence of about 200,000 Palestinian refugees, most of whom came from cities and villages in the Galilee, Palestine. Each of the streets in the camp were named after these cities and villages, serving as a reminder of not only the plight of Palestinian refugees, but the path to return. The camp houses two cemeteries where numerous martyred leaders and resistance fighters have been laid to rest. The camp was also home to a pluralistic array of Palestinian cultural and political institutions, serving as the headquarters of various Palestinian factions and whose residents played a central role in the Palestinian revolution in all of its phases.
Since the start of the uprisings in Syria— and subsequent siege and decimation of the camp throughout the war — Yarmouk has all but been emptied of its residents. Currently, it has only a few dozen or so families that have remained in the camp. The majority of Yarmouk’s residents have endured another Nakba, a scattering and dispersal that has sent them into various sites of temporary or secondary refuge. Scores more Palestinian-Syrians from different places in Syria have endured similar fates. In addition to this announcement for Yarmouk, it has become clear that two other Palestinian refugee camps in Syria will be affected in similar ways: Dara’a camp in Dara’a and Handarat camp in Northern Aleppo.
The Palestinian families who lived in Yarmouk up until the uprising and subsequent war have been waiting for the promise to return to their homes and neighborhoods in the camp until their permanent return to Palestine is actualized. Their return to the camp was an implied promise by various official sources since the camp was emptied of all armed groups in 2018. Thus, the recent announcement holds devastating implications for Palestinian refugees who have made Yarmouk a long-standing home while living in exile….