Syrian dictator Bashar Assad might soon win the war for control over his country, but he's largely lost the battle for hearts and minds concerning the "Zionist entity."
For decades, Syrians were raised to view Israel as their eternal foe. But with the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, many began to see the Jewish state in a very different light.
For the past five years, private Israeli citizens have been donating everything from winter coats to teddy bears to Syrian children, while the Israeli army has been working with hospitals in the Galilee region to provide life-saving medical treatment to those wounded in the conflict.
Regular Israeli air strikes on Syrian regime forces and its Iranian allies have also indirectly aided rebel groups fighting to overthrow the brutal rule of Bashar Assad.
"People in Syria no longer see Israel as the enemy," a Syrian patient being treated at Ziv Medical Center in Safed told Israel Today. "Israel is the most just country in the region," he added, demonstrating how drastically Syrian views on the Jewish state have shifted in recent years.
[An in-depth article featuring interviews with more Syrian patients and the Israeli soldiers, doctors and social workers helping them will appear in the upcoming August 2018 issue of Israel Today Magazine. Don't miss it – SUBSCRIBE NOW]
But the Syrian civil war appears to be wrapping up, as Assad and his Russian allies move closer to reasserting control over the rebellious southern provinces.
Prior to the war, one of the primary ways in which the Syrian regime distracted from domestic problems was by maintaining simmering hostility toward Israel. With the conclusion of the conflict in sight, Assad is keen to reestablish anti-Israel sentiment and reintroduce the Jewish "bogeyman" as a means of avoiding future challenges to his rule.
The scheme is unlikely to work on older Syrians, who by now are fully aware that Israel is no enemy of theirs. But children remain susceptible to the message, ensuring that the official state of war that exists between Israel and Syria persists well into the future, if only Assad can effectively make the case.
A recent survey of school textbooks being used in areas under the control of the Assad regime revealed widespread derogatory references to Israel, even in subjects unrelated to history, politics or regional issues.
Syrian children using these books are told repeatedly that the "Zionist entity" has rewritten history, stolen Arab lands and cruelly forced its own culture and language upon the Arabs living under its control. The Syrian textbooks, which are being used from grade 1 all the way through grade 12, were reviewed by IMPACT-se, an Israeli NGO that monitors textbooks used throughout the region for their compliance with international education standards regarding peace and tolerance.