Column JN July 8 2018
Pious politicians and columnists alike have something in common — they praise action when it is “the right thing to do”.
I will lay bets that almost everyone, across the political spectrum, is in agreement on one thing — the lousy state of Israel’s public image.
Well, I have an instant solution and it does, indeed, lie in doing something because it is the right thing to do.
Israel gets endless international abuse for many of its actions but, frankly, a sin of omission is often as bad as a sin of commission. In other words, not doing something — particularly if you can — is frequently just as bad as an action.
Last summer I had the privilege of working on a film, Love Your Enemies, which told the story of how Israeli medics in northern hospitals were giving unprecedented treatment to Syrians, military and civilian alike.
At the time of making our film Israel had treated more than 4,000 Syrians and was on the verge of establishing a field hospital on the other side of the border to help even more. Two things stood out, for me, from working on the film: first, that despite the world-class treatment they were receiving, not one Syrian had asked to stay in Israel. They all wanted to go home to their families and villages on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
The second thing that became a mantra of the film was when we asked why Israel was doing it. Cynically, it might have been assumed that it was a public relations initiative, but no country invests the sums Israel has in treating Syrians just for the sake of PR.
But not only, we were told repeatedly, was Israel helping the Syrians for PR, but because it was “the right thing to do.” And in addition, as one surgeon told us, if his treatment of Syrians led the population of that country to view Israel differently, not as the Satanic enemy but a neighbour with an outstretched hand — well, that could only be a good thing, couldn’t it?
And so fast forward to today’s burgeoning humanitarian disaster assembling on Israel’s northern border, as the Syrian regime seeks to re-take the rebel-held south of the country.
At least 11,000 Syrians are said to have taken refuge on the border with Israel, presenting — on the face of it — a massive headache for Israel’s government.
Last Friday, six Syrians, including four children, were brought to Israeli hospitals for medical assistance. Three hundred tents, 13 tons of food, 15 tons of baby food, 30 tons of clothes, medical supplies and medicines were transferred — via the good offices of the Israeli army — to those on the Syrian side.
At the same time Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated flatly that not one Syrian refugee will be permitted to enter Israel. Jordan closed its borders two years ago and refuses to change its policy.
So where are the fleeing Syrians supposed to go? Ironically the Israeli border is now “the safest place to be”, according to one Syrian family.
Lieberman may, as former IDF spokesman Lt-Col Peter Lerner suggested, have issued his blanket policy because of fears that Iranian infiltrators may get into Israel disguised as Syrian civilians. But surely this can’t apply to the many hundreds of orphaned children, now living in terror in appalling conditions on the Golan.
Israel has a simple solution — help the children. It’s the right thing to do.