As the US Congress debates authorising military strikes against Syria’s Assad regime for allegedly using chemical weapons against its own people, a growing amount of media attention is now being paid to one of the encouraging stories coming out of the Syrian civil war – that is Israel’s public and private contribution to relieving the humanitarian crisis.
This contribution has come in the form of aid shipments for refugees, as well as the treatment of Syrian war wounded in Israeli hospitals, including a field hospital on the Golan Heights that has been expressly built for the purpose.
On Monday, the Jerusalem Post reported on an Israeli aid organisation that is delivering hundreds of tons of food and medicine to Syrian refugees through its “iL4Syrians” campaign, involving the participation of some 1200 Israeli volunteers.
While the media-shy organisation was not named in the article out of sensitivity for its volunteers who are operating in Syrian refugee camps, they said they have been doing charitable work in other countries hostile to Israel for the past decade.
Last year, an Israeli television report on the group’s activities prompted a rebuke in the Arabic media, warning that such publicity could play into the hands of a regime eager to draw links between the rebels and Israel – which may explain why the group has since avoided much press.
By comparison, a large number of stories have emerged in recent weeks about Syrian patients being treated in Israeli hospitals.
While some critics have accused Israel of attempting to exploit its treatment of Syrians for public relations purposes, the evidence would seem to indicate otherwise.
As Ben Lynfield reported for the Christian Science Monitor (a paper with a track record which could hardly be described as overly sympathetic to Israel) back in July:
Israel, which has never been reticent about publicizing its rescue missions when disaster strikes in far-flung corners of the globe, is being unusually discreet about its aid to victims of the fighting in neighboring Syria.
Indeed, while Israel has admitted Syrians into its hospitals for most of 2013, it is only recently that it has received widespread media coverage. The current spike in interest by foreign journalists coincided with reports of Syrian chemical weapons use as well as a marked increase in the number of Syrians being admitted into Israeli hospitals in mid-August.
Here in Australia this emerging story found a local voice in the form of Canberra’s new envoy to Israel Dave Sharma, who (as AIJAC’s Sharyn Mittleman mentioned on August 30) wrote an emotionally stirring Op-Ed in the Australian (originally appearing in the Times of Israel):
At Ziv Medical Centre [in Safed], without fanfare or publicity, they are treating a steady and growing stream of wounded Syrians from the conflict. Some 72 Syrian patients have been admitted to Ziv Medical Centre since February.
After reporting on seeing the excellent treatment Syrian patients are receiving, Sharma concluded:
Ziv Hospital is a profound example of humanity and decency at its most compelling. It is Israel at its very best, and a side of Israel that the world too rarely sees or acknowledges. With all the tales of human woe and misery that continue to emerge from Syria, such small stories of hope should be cherished.
In addition, Israel has operated a field hospital for wounded Syrians on the Golan Heights since March. On September 4, Yediot Ahronot published a feature about the hospital. (While it has not been officially translated from Hebrew to English by the paper, an abridged translation of the story has been translated independently and can be found here.)
Regarding the Syrian patients that are coming to the field hospital, reporter Yossi Yehoshua asked military reservist surgeon Dr. Ofer Merin, “Did it enter your minds that we are not talking about Israel-lovers?”
To this, the doctor replied:
“That does not occupy me for a second. It is of no interest to me if the wounded and their family-members are on Assad’s side or with the rebels. A mother was standing before me whose children we saved. Here were no Syrians and Israeli’s but human beings”.
The influx of wounded Syrians into a number of civilian hospitals in northern Israel has received extensive coverage over the past month in online, print and television media in Israel and beyond, including the Times of Israel (August 3 and August 19), Israel’s Channel 10 (August 3, Hebrew report), the New York Times (August 3), the new Israel-focussed satellite network i24 (August 6 and again on August 25), the Associated Press (August 10), the BBC (August 20), CNN (August 25, and reposted on the SBS website), NBC (August 28), and the Agence France-Presse (August 29 in print and video).