The Syrian city of Aleppo is 400 miles from the Israeli border. It is closer to Turkey, Cyprus and Lebanon than it is to any hospital in Israel. That’s one reason why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement last week that his government is looking into ways to bring thousands of Syrian civilians who were wounded as Aleppo was pulverized to Israel for medical treatment is such a big development.
Israel has studiously stayed out of the Syrian civil war, although it tacitly leans toward President Bashar al-Assad as the best-known of bad choices among the players there. And the Jewish state has responded to nearly every incident of cross-border mortar or gunfire attacks, while coordinating with Russia, the power behind Assad.
But Israel has also treated thousands of wounded Syrians along the common border in the Golan Heights.
That humanitarian practice was a local affair compared to what the prime minister suggested on Dec. 20: bringing thousands of wounded civilians – “women and children, and also men if they’re not combatants,” Netanyahu said – from the far north of a country at war with Israel to the heartland of the Jewish state.
“We’d like to do that,” Netanyahu said. “Bring them to Israel, take care of them in our hospitals as we’ve done with thousands of Syrian civilians. We’re looking into ways of doing this; it’s being explored as we speak.”
We applaud this humanitarian initiative. While it will not turn the tide of the civil war or eliminate the suffering of the millions who have been displaced in the last five years, it will be of immeasurable benefit to those who do receive treatment and will bring relief to their families.
At the same time, we note that others have called for wider action. In September, opposition leader Isaac Herzog called on the government to let thousands of Syrian refugees into the country, out of the estimated one million refugees on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. But we recognize that the well-intentioned humanitarian proposal is fraught with security and political concerns that are dramatically more immediate and potentially more consequential than the similar policy debate playing out in our own country.
We acknowledge the obvious: The civil war in Syria has been a tragedy for the Syrian people and destabilizing for its neighbors and for every country where refugees have fled. It has given immigration opponents in this country another reason for denying the tempest-tossed a haven here.
In the face of that international reality and reaction, Netanyahu’s offer is remarkably compassionate and generous. And it may offer some Syrians a way out of their ruined country.
Israel has long been a leader in the humanitarian arena. It’s a shame that the Jewish state doesn’t get the recognition and credit it deserves.