NEWS: JERUSALEM NOTES

A glimmer of humanity amid cruel Syrian reality

 In the savage civil war that has been raging in Syria for over three years, there are seemingly no "good guys," just varying degrees of really "bad guys." 

On one side stands the ruthless Assad regime, which unabashedly used chemical weapons against its own citizens. On the other side there are a dozen or more rebel organizations, most of which are led by remorseless Muslim fundamentalists who execute women and babies in the streets and upload the gruesome videos to YouTube, proof of their "service
to Allah." 

If there is a Jeffersonian democrat among the rebels, I have yet to read his or her manifesto.

The victims in this civil war are the citizens of Syria, men, women, and children who may support one side or the other, but for the most part are innocent bystanders. Nobody knows how many have already lost their lives, caught between a number of equally ruthless armies. Some calculate the death toll at close to 200,000 or more. The number of refugees who have lost their homes is probably ten times as high, with hundreds of thousands fleeing to neighboring Jordan. 

In this dark and seemingly hopeless and endless quagmire, there are faint glimmers of humanity. One of them was Israel's best-kept secret for two years, only recently acknowledged by the Israeli government: Israel has been sending large quantities of aid to the Syrian refugees in Syria and in Jordan; Israeli doctors have been treating hundreds of Syrian wounded, saving countless lives of people who would not have survived had they not made the journey to Israel. 

As Defense Minister Moshe "Bogey" Yaalon declared five months ago, when he revealed that Israel was assisting the Syrian refugees, we could not simply stand idly by and watch the bloodbath in Syria. As the Jewish nation, a people who have suffered countless persecutions, the people of Israel could not let this violence happen literally at our doorstep without lending a helping hand, albeit in a necessarily limited manner and without taking sides in the civil war.

Our assistance needed to be limited for various reasons. First of all, most Syrians have been raised to believe that any Israeli they ever meet will try to kill them. Imagine their surprise when they wake up in an Israeli hospital, only to learn that Israeli doctors and nurses had saved their lives. But their days of fear are far from over. They must face the daunting risk of going back to Syria after having been treated by Israelis. They know that if the Assad forces-or the rebels-hear that they had been to Israel, they will most likely be put to death. 

But it is not only about saving lives in the operating room, at the expense of Israeli taxpayers. Almost since the beginning of the war in Syria, Israeli youth movements and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been sending huge amounts of fresh and canned food, water, baby formula, blankets, sleeping bags, tents, and more to Syrian refugees both in Syria and (through local NGOs) Jordan, home to almost a million Syrian refugees. Israeli youth have been collecting clothes and other goods, cutting out all Israeli labels so as not to endanger the lives of those refugees lucky enough to receive aid from Israel. 

Such is the tiny light at the end of the dark tunnel that is Israeli-Syrian relations. We have been officially at war since Israel's independence, 66 years ago. Syria, for years a close ally of Iran, home to the most ruthless Palestinian terror organizations, supporter of Hamas and Hizballah, has remained our staunchest enemy long after Egypt and Jordan have made peace with Israel. And yet, Israeli youth, humanitarian NGOs and doctors did not think twice before lending a helping hand to Syrian men, women, and children who were suffering and could count on nobody else to save them. We regularly send food packages through the UN forces in the Golan Heights. Other packages are left by Israeli soldiers along the Syrian-Israeli fence, on the Syrian side, so that they may be picked up by the refugees themselves. 

In its small way, Israel is helping to alleviate the suffering of people who were indoctrinated to hate and fear us. That effort must be low key so as not to further endanger the recipients of Israeli aid and medicine. At the same time, it is a real effort, a meaningful one, a demonstration that amid the cruel reality of Syrian life, Israel offers a glimmer of humanity. Maybe some of those being helped today will, one day, remember it when they sit down to negotiate peace with us. 

In the meantime, we do it simply to help those in need.  We do it because it is what a Jewish state should do. For our own sake, and as a light unto the nations. 

Ofer Bavly is the director general of the JUF Israel Office.

Posted: 5/6/2014 2:11:55 PM
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