The recent announcement of Israel’s President Shimon Peres that the state will respond “with force” to any violent attempts by Syrians to cross the border deepened divisions on the issue of the influx of refugees escaping their war-torn country. But some Israelis have determined to help no matter the cost.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Syria’s neighboring states are currently hosting some 120,000 people, with the number expected to reach 185,000 by December 2012. The conflict, which is entering its 17th month, has also left some 1.55 million people displaced within Syria (IDPs), but many experts believe that the actual numbers are much higher.
In a bid to tackle the acute issue, some Muslim countries have already opened their doors to those fleeing the Assad regime. Turkey, for example, is currently hosting some 43,387 Syrians. Many are also registered in Jordan (36,824), Lebanon (31,596), Algeria (20,000), Egypt (10-12,000) and Iraq (8,445).
Yet, the borders of Israel remain sealed, with authorities fearful of giving a “green light” to waves of refugees that could put the tiny country's borders and security at risk.
Nevertheless, there are Israelis who want to help the refugees and have taken matters into their own hands by going into Syria to provide unofficial relief efforts.
An Israeli organization, whose name cannot be disclosed, infiltrates enemy lines in an attempt to provide people with everything from food, clothes, hygiene, and other essentials, to medical help and psychological assistance. Such activists are in technical violation of an Israeli law that bans citizens from visiting countries like Syria that are at war with Israel. Their work is also forbidden by the Syrian authorities, which effectively means that these humanitarian relief activists are risking their lives to help, because capture by the Syrian authorities or army will mean certain death.
“We have some 200 Israelis – both Jews and Muslims – currently working on the project along with a network of local contacts,” said the architect of the organization. “These people – comprised of highly trained doctors, trauma personnel, aid convoy and other professions, most of whom speak Arabic – are ready to risk their lives, even though some of them are not even trade-able,” she continued, referring to swap deals between various terrorist organizations and the Jewish state.
Syrians who collaborate with the NGO (and other, similar organizations) or accept help, are regarded as traitors and subjected to torture, imprisonment and execution. Thus, in order to protect the identities of the organization’s agents, their local contacts, as well as the refugees themselves, the NGO prefers to keep a low profile, secretly operating in Syria and the neighboring states, including Jordan and Turkey.
Listing more than a thousand members – some of whom have already participated in multiple missions in the world’s most dangerous places – the official website of the organization www.il4syrians.org states that the NGO has already helped 80,000 Syrians.
Check back tomorrow for Part II of this exciting story!