Opinion: The Palestinians no one talks about

The 3,903 Palestinians killed in Syria in the past seven years are apparently of no interest to the Western correspondents or their editors.

By Bassam Tawil, The Gatestone Institute

Here’s some “good” news: In October, only five Palestinians living in Syria were pronounced dead. The London-based Action Group for Palestinians of Syria reports that in October 2017, 12 Palestinians were killed due to war-related incidents in that country. “The list of victims who died in October 2018 includes four Palestinians who were pronounced dead in Teloul Al-Safa, in Al-Sweida desert, south of Syria, and one Palestinian in Damascus,” the group said.

According to the human rights watchdog that monitors the situation of Palestinians in Syria, the number of Palestinians killed in Syria since the beginning of the civil war there in 2011 now stands at 3,903. Another 1,712 Palestinians in that country have been arrested by the Syrian authorities, and 316 are listed as missing.

The latest victim was identified as Ahmed Abdullah Balbisi who, according to the human rights group, died of torture in a Syrian prison eight years after his incarceration. The group said that Balbisi was arrested then for participating in peaceful demonstrations organized by the Syrian opposition. Balbisi is the latest victim added to the 3,903 Palestinians killed in Syria during the past seven years. His death was reported by the group on November 22.

A day earlier, the human rights group reported that two other Palestinians, Mohammed Khalil al-Kurdi and Wael Abu Hamdeh, died due to lack of proper medical treatment. On November 19, reports surfaced that a third, Mohammed Ahmed Farhat, was killed during an exchange of gunfire between the Syrian army and the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.

Last week, reports noted that a Palestinian man, Nael Abd Al-Raheem, was kidnapped and killed by ISIS in Aleppo’s northeastern city of Al-Bab.

These stories concerning the atrocities committed against Palestinians in an Arab country do not come as a surprise. It is not as if anyone expected the Syrian regime or the opposition forces there to act differently.

What is disturbing, however, is the attitude of the international media and community to the plight of the Palestinians in Syria in particular and the Arab world in general.

There are dozens of foreign Middle East correspondents in the Middle East, and many are based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. These correspondents feel safe living and working out of Israel. They prefer to live and work in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv rather than in Ramallah, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and other Arab countries.

Why? Because Israel is the only place these correspondents feel safe. A trip to Syria might result in being beheaded by Muslim terrorists. A trip to Iraq might result in being kidnapped by Muslim terrorists. A trip to Egypt or to Jordan might result in being harassed by the authorities or anti-Western Muslim extremists.

Perhaps this disparity helps to explain why the international community does not read about human rights violations in Arab and Islamic countries. There is, however, another reason, not related to the journalists’ safety.

The international community is not interested in what the Arabs and Muslims are doing to the Palestinians because the Western journalists are hell-bent on covering only stories that reflect negatively on Israel.

Palestinian rioters killed by the Israel Defense Forces on the Israel-Gaza border attract the attention of scores of Western journalists and media outlets. By contrast, Palestinians tortured to death and otherwise killed in Syria receive zero coverage in Western media organizations.

The 3,903 Palestinians killed in Syria in the past seven years are of no interest to the Western correspondents or their editors. As far as these journalists are concerned, the reports of the human rights organization monitoring the condition of Palestinians in Syria are rubbish fit for the wastebasket.

Unlike those living in the Arab countries, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are fortunate. Thanks to the Western media’s continued obsession with Israel, the international community is aware of them.

The REAL Palestinian victims

The real victims, meanwhile, are the Palestinians who are being arrested and mistreated and killed in Syria and other Arab countries. These are the true victims — not only because of what they are being subjected to in the Arab countries, but largely because their misery is being completely ignored by the Western media.

The Western media’s obsession with Israel has created the impression that the only Palestinians living on this planet are those who are residing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This impression does injustice to the Palestinians who are facing horrendous conditions, torture, and death in the Arab countries, especially Syria. According to the same human rights group, Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, nearly 31,000 Palestinians from Syria who fled to Lebanon are being subjected to a “precarious legal status and dire socio-economic conditions owning to their lack of access to the labor market and absence of relief assistance.”

Who cares about the suffering of these Palestinians? No one. Every week, scores of foreign journalists travel to the Israel-Gaza border to report on clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian rioters. Have any of these journalists thought of travelling to Syria or Lebanon to report about the atrocities that are being committed against the Palestinians there? Of course not. Why should they do so when the story lacks an anti-Israel angle?

Editors in the West have a long history of bias in reporting about Israel (for instance, here and here). As the author and journalist Matti Friedman wrote about covering Israel:

“Corruption, for example, is a pressing concern for many Palestinians under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, but when I and another reporter once suggested an article on the subject, we were informed by the bureau chief that Palestinian corruption was ‘not the story.'”

‘Distaste for Israel an acceptable prejudice’

In a separate article, he added:

“In these [journalistic] circles, in my experience, a distaste for Israel has come to be something between an acceptable prejudice and a prerequisite for entry… You can claim to be speaking truth to power, having selected the only ‘power’ in the area that poses no threat to your safety… [T]his group of intelligent and generally well-meaning professionals ceased to be reliable observers and became instead an amplifier for the propaganda of one of the most intolerant and aggressive forces on earth.”

The number of Palestinians killed in Syria will soon reach 4,000. Perhaps then, with that gruesome milestone reached, will Western correspondents in the Middle East wake up to the enormity of the crimes that are really being perpetrated against Palestinians?

Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.