Yarmouk Camp in the Syrian capital Damascus was once the vibrant, bustling heart of the Palestine refugee community in Syria, and home to over 160,000 Palestinians. But now, Yarmouk is devastated, its name an epitome for the suffering of Palestinian and Syrian civilians caught in conflict.Many Palestinian refugees were forced to flee their ruined homes to confront the bitter reality of again becoming a refugee. Their story is of heartbreak and tragedy. The destruction and devastation is overwhelming yet despite the hardship, there are some who have decided to stay. Those who have vowed to defend their land with every means possible. This film will tell the story of those who stayed to resist the Takfiri militants and defended their land, people and honor.
I’m Heba Shaban, a Palestinian expatriate living in Syria. I’ve come to Hamra Street in Damascus with my fiancé to shop for our wedding ceremony. This is Basim, my fiancé, who was wounded in the war for me. We met each other in the middle of the battle. We could lose our lives.
We are living in Palestinians' camp in Syria. We’re involved in a war that harms us every day and destroys our lives little by little.
It's a war which is destroying not only our camp but also the whole country; and not only our homes but also all the hospitals and medical centers. The war has killed PLO forces. The war is taking all our assets, but more importantly our beloved ones. However, it's not clear what the future holds in store.
I am a Palestinian, but I was born in Syria. I am teaching here. In Syria, a Palestinian can study at university, run a company, or own properties. We also have full citizenship, what all other countries deny us.
I was working for a radio station, but some events happened in my neighborhood that forced me to take a camera to record them.
I’ve tried to show the hidden side of the war by sharing unseen events on social networks. With the help of my family I resist against foreign invaders this way. The war broke out but this time we did not want to escape; we didn’t want to take refuge in yet another country.
We didn’t want history to repeat itself. In 1948, when Israel attacked us for the first time, we fled to Arab countries. Many Palestinians took refuge in Syria. But Israel kept attacking Palestine. In Syria, it has a different color.
As for Yarmouk Camp, the capital of Palestinian refugees, it was established after our first immigration to Syria. In the beginning, the camp was made up of some tents. Nobody could imagine that it would become the biggest economic center for Palestinian refugees in the world, thanks to the supports of the Syrian people.
But those who denied our rights to live in Palestine are now trying to deny our rights to return home. They started the war in Yarmouk. Once again, they wanted to displace us. This time the war is more complicated. That time, we were settled in the neighboring Arab countries. But this time, Israel wants us to go to European countries.
-Now, we are in Yarmouk Camp; the main battle takes place here.
-Now, we are near Yarmouk Camp.
-I believe that Israel planned this war to displace the Palestinians.
-The camp is one of the most significant bases of the Palestinian resistance forces.
The youths always emphasized that the route to Jerusalem begins from Yarmouk.
One day in December, we left Yarmouk Camp in the rain. They forced us to leave our homes putting a gun to our heads.
So how could I sit back and relax ignoring the immense pain and plight of my people; it was a reality of the violence in war.
-This is the entrance to Yarmouk Camp. The camp begins from here.
This is Yarmouk Road. This is Palestine Street. Here is al-Bashir Mosque. And on this side is located Yarmouk Camp. And it is the entrance to the camp used by one million people on a daily basis. Every day one million people pass here by car. The debris you see here is due to the illegal exploitation of weapons in Yarmouk Camp, which are against the Sharia law. This road has hosted many martyrs for years. This road has hosted Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and Doctor Rantisi. The alleys of this camp have hosted commanders of the Intifada like George Habash, and Nayef Hawatmeh.
And now, Yarmouk is abandoned. I am going there, looking for my old friends.
-I am Yahya Abdullah, one of the residents of Yarmouk Camp.
- What do you do, now?
- I am working voluntarily in the National Group. I help them. Of course, I work with the UN office.
Mosques tuned into new haven for the refugees. Very old people in the mosques were bewildered, talking about their first migration or the second.
-I have been living here for a year.
- When did you leave the camp?
- I left there a year ago.
- Tell us why you left the camp. What happened to you?
- We had to leave after the armed attack on the camp.
These stairs which had seen the cold looks of Palestinians orphans did not know what to say to the war-stricken women and wives. Really! What will they say to their children?
- What goods do you need badly and which has not been supplied?
- Warm clothes, mattress, and heater.
-We need food packages; we eat just one meal a day and that is dinner. The distribution is different. We mostly eat soup and rice. We cannot afford to buy food from the outside.
And I was among cries and weeps. I could only take notes and hope for things better that I did not know when would happen.
-We are in front of Tahir Al-Jazairi School. This school is now a place for refugees from Yarmouk Camp and other regions.
-Please! Hello, how are you? Please, brother.
-There were not enough rooms here, so they made these rooms and now they’re living here.
-Our situation here is pathetic.
- What happened that this war started?
- Because of the events in Syria, which we had never expected.
- Are you studying now?
- No, I left school because of the war.
- Why did you leave school for the war?
- After the start of these acts of sabotage, we could not go to school or university anymore. Since then, we are striving to provide security for our families and others. We tried to preserve our jobs and provide our families with tranquility. We cannot stand to see our families sleeping in gardens or streets. So we cannot study; we have to work. We have to help our families and young children.
-Several committees and groups have been formed in order to liberate Yarmouk Camp. They asked me to cover the events. At first, I was uncertain. But after my older brother was wounded, I got determined to do it. I decided to take responsibility for covering the news of Yarmouk Camp. Once, the resistance forces were operating here. One of them was standing here to fire mortar at the militants in Derajah Square. I started to film from here. This is the video I took from here. One of the resistance forces was firing mortars at the square where many of the militants were standing. After the mortar was fired, they started to shoot heavily at us. But I was still filming. A stone hit the cell phone, so I had to move back. Here is the point between the two fronts.
-This place is for the resistance forces to rest. The do not go home at night. Here is their home.
-It is a tunnel dug by the terrorists. This photo was taken before the resistance forces exploded it.
You can see the explosive traps and mines which terrorists planted here. They wanted to stop the resistance forces moving forward.
These are the bombs the terrorists were throwing at us. We deactivated tens of bombs and then used their explosives, which were mostly made of phosphorus. Phosphorus is highly explosive.
We deactivated these bombs. The militants used them as mines.
The Third Day
-You see the debris here. You cannot find even one house unharmed. They even destroyed children's rooms. They have done all these in the name of freedom. Since 1984, when Palestinians escaped from their country, Syria accepted them. So they started to live in Syria. There were not any conflicts between the Syrians and their government. Even there were not any problems between the militants and us. The Militants came here from other parts of the world to fight with the Syrian government.
One side of this place goes to the main street in the camp, and the other side goes to the entrance of Derajah Square.
-We took up arms against them. This is a US gun. This gun has been taken away from one of the Chechen shooters. It is a gun made in the US used by the Israeli army. We resist, using the guns they use against us. God helps us shoot all the bullets in their heads.
-This is my fiancé's photo which I took five minutes before he was wounded. We were told that security had returned to the area, but a shooter was there. When I was taking the photo, some young people were with me. A shooter was spying us from our left. My fiancé was standing on my left. The shooter started to fire, my fiancé along with the youths took a shelter. I took shelter on the side, but the shooter fired at me several times. After five minutes, I noticed my fiancé was wounded. I gave him first aid. I managed to control the bleeding with a bandage and other medical equipment. Then the young people and I transferred him to a certain place. After that, the ambulance came to help us and took him to hospital.
- How did the militants enter Yarmouk Camp?
They targeted public places blaming the Syrian army for it. This is one of the militants who targeted an area in Yarmouk with mortar fire. That place is a medical training complex that gives services mostly free of charge to the people. The complex was targeted because it was affiliated with the headquarters.
The Fourth Day
-The militants knew what to do before entering the camp. They started to kill and loot. They plundered the medical centers in order to control the situation. After a lot of efforts, we could have a clinic here. In fact, we found a place in order to change it into a clinic. Here is the basement with a room and a small hall. The barricade, as you see here, was erected to deter the militants from advancing. It prevented them from approaching the people who had abandoned the camp. This is a barricade.
We founded this center to treat wounded civilians, like women, children, people living on the suburbs of the camp, and families of the resistance forces. We treat them all in this center. Each day, we have 300 to 400 people who are wounded. We have a big problem, that is, lack of medicine and medical equipment.
-This is Mohammad Hassaan Ayyoub. He lost his left hand. He was cleaning Yarmouk streets with a bulldozer when he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by the militants. Then he lost his left hand.
He lost his right eye for its severe damage. His left eye is also damaged and painful. Therefore, it should be regularly examined. Currently, he can see only with his left eye.
-I am from this camp. All the people who are with me are from here. The terrorists started the war and attacked us. We saw that they usurped the regions around and settled there. They were doing what we thought wrong. For example, their women spread corruption in the area. They are corrupted. They occupied our homes and stole everything. We entered the war in order to defend our land, people, and honor. This hole is our entrance into the camp because they always use their dirty snipers and weapons to target even the rescuers and ambulances.
-We transferred the wounded via this hole from Yarmouk Camp to our medical center. This hole is the way to transfer the wounded to outside the camp. Of course, it was not the only way. Tens of walls have become like that. Many entrances have also been made to enter the camp.
And a doctor who wore sports clothes. His uniform was burnt in the militants' fire. And now he along with his team helped people without any equipment.
We helped the people in a medical team. We did not differentiate between civilians and non-civilians. We helped all. It was our duty as human beings. Militants fired at our ambulances. They completely destroyed one of our ambulances.
This daughter of mine was born in the camp. He was away from me for a year. Last month, we met each other. I had not seen and known her before. From her birth to a month ago, my family didn’t leave the camp so I could see her. I hope everyone will come back in the best of health.
They also threatened daddy.
They threatened me to stop driving ambulances; otherwise they would kill my father. They wanted me not to save people. They’ve arrested my father several times, despite the fact that I’ve never taken up arms. I only helped the resistance forces and the residents of the camp. I only gave people first aid and transferred them to hospital. This was a great loss to them.
- Tell us how terrorists killed your brother-in-law and his son.
Yes, they killed my brother-in-law and his son. They broke into their house saying that they wanted their guns and money. They wanted to take their money and everything which was in their lockers. They killed both of them. Actually, they killed one of them in the bathtub, and left the other in the toilet. The terrorists killed them horribly.
They poured flammable material on their body and burned them.
-You told they stole their money, didn’t you?
-Yes, they stole a lot of money from them, and burned their house. They left the place after they burned everything.
-We could not find any bread here; there was no cat in the streets. Birds never land on the ground because there were no breadcrumbs here.
Thank God, since we came here, we have had food. When people have food to eat, birds, pigeons, and cats have something to eat, too. Eating cats became halal in the camp, even eating dogs became halal. The terrorists slaughter dogs and eat them. They do not have anything else to eat. Animals escape from here because they don’t want to be hunted and eaten by the militants. Even animals escape from the armed terrorists.
-The terrorists robbed people blind. They left nothing but some rusty iron. They burned everything in order to hide their crimes.
-This is a bathtub. All these belonged to the people. It took ages for them to work and build this house and furniture. But the militants destroyed all of them in a second.
-These photos are for the residents of Yarmouk. They are full of memories. People's memories are in these houses. I hope they are healthy, everywhere they are.
-One of our combatants was martyred here. God bless him! This is his blood. We follow his way, God willing. We’ll never fall back.
-They made these holes to shoot at us. They could target a long distance from here. This way, they tried to kill us.
-My friend's name was Hassan. He was married and had a daughter. They shot him dead from this hole. This is his blood. He was martyred here. The terrorists blocked the street in order that we could not take his body. But eventually, we managed to take his body.
-They destroyed everywhere. These terrorist groups call themselves revolutionary and combatants.
Everything was destroyed, not by Israel, but by a group of ignorant traitors who made Muslims kill each other, and mounted a lose-lose war on the Palestinian nation.
Daham, a martyr's brother, has left his job and currently is a military commander. He used to be in a car dealer.
-This is my personal gun and pistol. I wish I used these guns against our enemy, Israel and fought in the occupied lands; the enemy who has occupied our fatherland and usurped our citrus and olive gardens. However, the current situation made us take up arms.
-Those who took up arms and resisted were ordinary people, including salespersons, engineers, furniture maker, and carpenters. All of them are ordinary people. They never had any experience of fighting.
-We have not taken anybody from Libya, Yemen, or any other country. All our fighters were from the camp. We did not have any foreigners among us coming here to fight against other people. But they recruit foreigners from anywhere. Some of them were from Libya, and some from Yemen.
At that time, none of these countries sent any soldiers to liberate Palestine. But today, they mobilized all their forces to remove us.
Unfortunately, what is more hurting than the presence Muslim militants is that some Palestinian militants have come here to fight against us.
-They do not intend to damage the camp, but they want to damage the Palestinian nation. Therefore, they can distract Palestinians away from their main goal, which is their land. They want the Palestinians to become busy with Yarmouk Camp and forget their goal, which is Palestine, so that nobody would talk about the liberation of Palestine and call others to fight for Palestine.
Unfortunately, some traitorous Palestinians cooperate with the terrorists. Also some of the public committees which were armed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine cooperated with the terrorists.
-It is said that you have ten bullets in every war; nine of them for traitors, and one for your enemy. If they had not betrayed us, this havoc would have not been wreaked on Syria and the camp. It is enough. Go away. Bloodshed is enough.
-Bloodshed is enough. Aim this gun at the Israeli regime. We are brothers; we are Muslims. Bloodshed is enough. Take pity on children and widows. Should the camp be like this!?
We have made the camp since 1948 in great hardship. Should it be like this!?
- Mostafa, my dear, shouldn’t you be at university now?
- Yes, definitely.
- Why did you join the resistance groups and take up arms?
- The terrorist groups attacked our camp and forced us out of our homes. We tried several times to resolve the crisis through dialogue. But they declined our requests. They forced us out with their guns.
-My son, Mostafa, was a sophomore; he left university and joined the resistance forces. Majed also rose up to defend our home. Three of my sons were wounded: Ghasem, Mostafa, and Majed. Their father was also wounded. They were wounded together. I thank God. Whatever we do for this land, it is not enough.
-The extremist groups came to spoil the security of the country as well as citizens. My daughter! This scene is disturbing; After 60 years of living in Syria, my beloved home, some hirelings came here to fight against these beloved people. May God destroy them!
-My brother, Ghasem, who was among the national forces, was in charge of the main street. They fired a rocket from the third floor of that building to this side. So my brother and his friends had to retreat to that side.
-The militants blocked a street; they stopped the vehicles. They intended to assault the passengers. We had seen such misdeeds by the hirelings. So we started to fight against them immediately.
-Many of them were strangers. Most of them were from the al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda because they wore black headbands with “There is no God but Allah” on them. They had black and green flags.
-I am fifty years old. I have been working for forty years. We got whatever we wanted and took them for our wives and children. But all of a sudden, we see that everything is destroyed. Are they for freedom? They are receiving dollars from their masters. They are worshiping their masters. And we are suffering the costs of that. Why should we suffer these disasters!? What wrong have we Palestinians done?! Why should these happen to us?! Isn’t it enough that we have been refugees for 60 years!? It is 60 years that we have no home! Syria gave us refuge. It gave us a place to live. Now, why do they want to destroy us?! Is it not enough!? Now, at least one member of every Palestinian family has been martyred. The camp was our shelter.
-This video clip shows when they took his body home.
-What did you do to us? You came and destroyed everything. You did not fix anything. You came and destroyed everything. You have done nothing for people so far. It is enough! You cannot do anything. Go away the camp! Leave the camp! Leave the people! Don’t you see that people have taken refuge in schools and shelters?
- Were you satisfied that all joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and defend the camp?
Definitely yes! If we are not satisfied, then who should stop these militants? Who should stop these terrorists? If I take my children and escape, and others do the same, then who should stop them? Besides, we have lived in this country; it is our duty to defend it. All Palestinians who lived in this country must defend this land because this it did us great favors. We lived and grew in this country. We used its facilities. We should not betray it.
-When violence and war block all ways with gun, the blood of martyrs solves the problem. Cease-fire was announced in the camp, and the slaughter of people was stopped. It is agreed that some persons are chosen from different groups to pave the way for people to come back home.
-Currently, a security group made up of Palestinian public committees will enter this area in order to clear the bombs and mines used in Yarmouk camp by the militants.
God willing, the national committee of Palestine along with other organizations will take necessary measures to break the siege so that the residents of the camp can go home.
I was a trader. I had an office. I was in construction industry. But currently, I prefer to solve these problems. I want to the refugees and residents of Yarmouk return home.
-We started our efforts so that the residents of Yarmouk could return to their homes, lands, and shops. But in the beginning, our efforts came to nothing. But when the Palestinian youths who lived in Yarmouk cooperated with each other and took the militants away, we contacted these youths to help the residents of Yarmouk return to their home.
-I was the only journalist who went with the negotiating group among the militants and saw the people who were under siege.
-People in Yarmouk fought the siege. Prices soared up in a wrong way. Every kilo of rice reached to 3 to 4 thousand lires. After Palestinians killed each other, people found the camp destructed. They hoped to return to Palestine. When the -peacemaking groups were leaving the camp, thousands of Palestinians chanted and emphasized on the return to Palestine.
-Who can believe that a Palestinian open fire to his fellow countryman? Who can believe that a brother kills his brother?
Alleys that must be full of children’s peals of laughter are now a cemetery of stony silence.
What did the militants aim at?
-However, the logic of resistance paid off and gave us hope again. People under the siege could send patients and wounded people to us. They preferred to be away from their children rather than lose them.
-People ate lentil bread here because there was not flour in the camp. I ate lentil bread too. This is the barricade used by the terrorists.
-After one of my comrades was martyred, four of five terrorists were killed.
- When will the Palestinians return to the camp?
- They will come back soon because all the Palestinians are in our neighborhood.
- All of them will come back. You think that only the camp is in bad condition. No, all the places close by like Tazamon, Yalda, and Hajar al-Asvad are under the same circumstances.
-Time is passing and everybody is doing something. The negotiators are busy negotiating. Fighters have put down their guns waiting for political agreements. If Yarmouk is liberated, it will serve as a role model for liberating other places. If negotiations fail, tears of innocent people will turn into a flood which can drown us. Among these hopes and fears, the Palestinian life has taken the color of old years trying to use its new experiences and rights to return to Palestine. Yarmouk will see peace. It is a destroyed place, like the place where I got married. Yarmouk is happy that it can smile again and give hope to the Palestinian life.