This piece was written originally by Meytal Chernoff, a sophomore studying at the College of Arts and Sciences and published in the Washington University Political Review. Meytal is a proud CAMERA Fellow and an Israel activist on her campus, Washington University at St. Louis.
The past few years have seen large-scale changes in the Middle East. In particular, escalated violence in Syria has forced the world’s eyes toward the region and raised the issues of alliances, human rights, and the potential for the conflict to spread beyond Syrian borders. The state of Israel sits in the physical center of this conflict and serves as an example for social justice work, even as diplomatic relationships shift and border tensions escalate. As the situation progresses, Israel works to provide aid to its neighbors while protecting itself, demonstrating a unique balance between defense and a concern for human rights.
Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, the Syrian government has been using deadly and wide-ranging weapons against its own citizens, a trend that can be best exemplified by the use of chemical weapons against the Damascus countryside this past August. The conflict has also seen indiscriminate attacks on civilians and incidents of kidnap, torture, and execution. This has caused millions of people, many of whom are in need of medical attention, to flee Syria for its neighbors, which include Israel.
Israel sits at a unique position within this conflict. Technically, Israel and Syria have been at war for four decades, and the violence in Syria threatens to spill over the border and into Israel. However, as a nation concerned with human rights, Israel cannot sit quietly as 2.5 million new Syrian refu-gees suffer. The country must find a balance between humanitarian work and defense, and the results offer a unique glimpse into a country that is both focused on humanity and aware of the harsh realities of war.
One example of this balance can be seen in the case of IsraAid, an Israeli nonprofit organization that provided medical, psychological, and food services following the earthquakes in Japan and Haiti. Since the beginning of this year, the organization has provided over $100,000 worth of supplies to the Syrian refugees in Jordan. They have also brought in Israeli medical professionals and social workers to help the displaced to cope with the physical and mental scars of the war. Additionally, Israeli field hospitals have been treating refugees who come across the border in need of care. These efforts show an incredible dedication to human rights, made all the more impressive given the current political tensions between Israel and Syria.
As the war in Syria has progressed, Israel’s Syrian border has seen an increase in violence, and there is no end in sight. Cross-border attacks included a bombing on March 18 that wounded four Israeli soldiers. This latest incident prompted an Israeli airstrike against military targets in Syria. Complicating matters is the fact that the Syrian border is under fractioned control, with 60 percent controlled by the opposition and the remaining parts being controlled by the Syrian governmental regime. This confusion has Israel on high alert and has forced a state of constant preparedness to defend against possible invasion or attacks. “Our policy is very clear,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “we attack those who attack us.”
Incredibly, this policy and the threat to the safety of Israeli citizens have not prevented Israel from working to help and protect the lives of Syrian refugees and citizens hurt during the violence. It is incredible to see a country that manages to prioritize human rights for people outside its borders, even while at war. Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This statement holds true, but unfortunately few countries take it to heart. As most countries turn a blind eye to the suffering of Syrian refugees and citizens, Israel works to help them, even while at war with their government.