Should Israel Offer Assistance To The People Of Syria?
Some months ago, I suggested that Israel offer humanitarian aid to the opposition in Syria. As expected, this idea received mixed responses from both sides. Many Israelis share the feelings expressed by their government’s inaction: “This is none of our business; we should not get involved at all.” And it’s no secret that the Syrian people have never been friendly to Israel. Even when not engaged in open warfare against Israel itself, Syria has consistently backed and supplied terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Although some Israelis – such as Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara, a Druze Arab MK and ardent Zionist – have taken a similar stance to my own, and attempted to build semi-official lines of communication with the Free Syrian leadership, these efforts have been stopped directly by Israel’s Prime Minister and Foreign Ministry.
Among the Syrian opposition leadership, the thought of Israelis coming to their aid has been received with a mixed response at best. The editor of a Syrian underground opposition newspaper told me that his paper would write about my proposal, but that they (the Syrians) could take care of themselves without Israel’s help. One Arab friend put it to me this way: “If there is one thing all people in Syria have in common, it is their hatred for Israel.” Currently, both sides in the Syrian conflict believe accusing their enemies of accepting help from Israel will strengthen their respective positions in the eyes of the Syrian public.
That being that case, offers by Israel to help the opposition might actually be counter-productive, since the acceptance of them would be viewed as colluding with “the enemy”.
For years, the Arab people have been told their greatest enemy is the Zionist. As a result of this unrelenting propaganda campaign, while their own government continues to shoot and kill civilian protestors, the Syrian public has still not fully grasped that the “Zionists” have nothing to do with the suffering they are currently experiencing at the hands of a second-generation corrupt Arab tyrant.
The logic I’ve presented in the past on this matter has been that Israel is known for extending humanitarian aid to people in need around the world. This is an imperative for our country – first and foremost because Jews are a compassionate people, but also because it is in Israel’s best interest to peel away anti-Israel prejudices pedaled by media. Videos of IDF doctors delivering Haitian babies in the only operational field hospital after the recent massive earthquake there, are a source of pride for all Jews. If we can reach the farthest ends of the earth to help people in need, then why not use the same means to help distressed people only a few miles from our borders, who are fighting for their lives and being gunned down in the streets by a bloodthirsty tyrant? The very same Assad who is currently using the Syrian army to massacre his own people would just as soon attempt to do the same to the Jews of Haifa and the Galilee, were it not for the IDF presence in the Golan.
Building bridges with the leaders who come to power after Assad’s inevitable demise would be a wise move for Israel. Helping bring Assad down would surely be a moral thing to do, and the chance that new leadership would maintain more anti-Israel inclination is difficult to imagine. No one can predict the future, but there is definitely an opportunity to open a new page with the leadership soon to arise in Syria.
A Syrian dissident recently told me, “Even the Syrian people who do not believe in the government’s anti-Israel message can’t express themselves freely, since they’ll be considered traitors. The Syrian opposition’s views may be less hostile towards Israel, and they may be willing to have direct peace talks, but they are precluded from doing so by the legacy of anti-Israel propaganda that has long saturated the Arab public. Any interaction with Israel will lead to a loss of the opposition’s credibility.” On the other hand, he maintained, “most Syrians see Assad as a greater enemy than Israel. Israel treats Arabs much better than Assad, especially in jail – they do not torture and mutilate like Assad does. Also, the Assad family has killed more Syrians and Arabs (Palestinians) in the past 41 years than Israel has – for example, in the Syrian city of Hama during the Lebanon War in the 1980s, and now today.”
Israel must weigh the pros and cons of interference, and choose their approach carefully. It’s a complicated situation with many uncertainties, but the debate must be had.
David Ha’ivri is the director of the Shomron Liaison Office. He and his wife Mollie live in Kfar Tapuach, Shomron with their eight children. Follow him on Twitter @haivri