Everybody against him: Palestinian-Syrian activist Abdullah Al Khateeb

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Everybody against him: Palestinian-Syrian activist Abdullah Al Khateeb

Both sides in the Syrian conflict attack him, but Abdullah Al Khateeb will not stop. Here he talks to Erin Kilbride.


© Front Line Defenders

Abdullah Al Khateeb can’t believe journalists never ask him about his love life. When I interview him at noon on a Monday, he has already spoken to six newspapers that week about his human rights work in Syria’s Yarmouk Refugee Camp. In all his conversations he speaks about the war, Palestinian rights, death threats and his activism. But no-one asked him if he has a girlfriend.

It’s easy to see why journalists might forget to ask about his personal life. In 2014 and 2015, in the siege of Yarmouk, Abdullah, as a Palestinian human rights defender, was one of the main sources of information for the media, rights groups and aid workers. They all wanted to hear about the 150,000 starving people in the camp.

But for many years before that, – before the Syrian civil war began, before ISIS came, and before the world was interested in Yarmouk – many people in the camp knew Abdullah. He was as one of many young activists fighting to keep his Palestinian community alive in Syria.

He is now 27. His activism started when he joined the Palestinian Youth Football club when he was nine. People treated Palestinians so badly that creating a community group was an act of resistance.

He started many youth-development organizations, he coached local football teams, he helped international charities give out food in his area, and he wrote human rights reports when international observers were not allowed in.

Abdullah supported the revolution against Bashar al-Assad, and he nearly died more than once. Government and non-state armed groups (including the Al-Nusra and ISIS) tried to kill him.

ISIS was against him. Militia tried to capture him in his home. In July 2016, they tried to kill him. ISIS shot him in the chest and he has been hiding since then.

But ISIS is not his only problem. A few weeks after he was shot, he was in trouble with the local Syrian Islamic Commission in Yalda, west of the camp, because he was ‘teaching swimming to girls’ on a Yarmouk children’s programme.

Violent groups are trying to stop people who fight for human rights like Abdullah in Yarmouk and across the country. They do peaceful work to protect and feed communities.

When no food could get in the Yarmouk camp and its people starving, Abdullah organized community-farming projects to produce more food; when militant groups took children to be soldiers, he got support for their families; when human rights organizations could not get in Yarmouk, Abdullah stayed to send photos, audio clips and reports to international journalists.

How did he get the skills he needs for nearly 20 years of activism in Yarmouk? Abdullah says, ‘We’re Palestinian. We are very, very good at surviving.’

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL AND MORE ABOUT ABDULLAH: https://newint.org/features/2017/03/01/syria-palestinian-activist/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).