Monday, October 28, 2013

Helping Beyond its Borders: Israel’s Humanitarian Aid to Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Helping Beyond its Borders: Israel’s Humanitarian Aid to Syrian Refugees in Jordan

October 23, 2013

This past August, Near East Report published an account of Israel’s military bringing injured Syrians across its border for medical treatment.

Despite decades of hostility from its northern neighbor, Israel has responded to Syria’s tumultuous humanitarian crisis by quietly opening its world-class hospitals to those marred by the violence.

As the situation worsens and the death toll rises, the task of providing aid to Syria’s victims has become increasingly difficult. Syria’s refugee crisis continues to intensify, with more than 2.1 million Syrian refugees flooding transient camps throughout the region—the majority of whom depending entirely on aid for survival. Yet, while the Israel Defense Forces work to bring afflicted Syrians into its emergency rooms, Israel’s humanitarian agencies are engaging in comprehensive relief efforts for refugees beyond state lines.

In Jordan, where 500,000 refugees have poured in from the north and an estimated 3,000 Syrians are entering the country daily, an Israeli organization is quietly distributing vital aid to refugees in need.

For over a decade, IsraAID has worked to help people all over the world overcome crises by providing vital support and assistance. According to its mission statement, the Israeli humanitarian agency operates to bring millions “from destruction to reconstruction, and eventually, to sustainable living.” As hundreds of thousands of Syrians flood across the Jordanian border, IsraAID is extending its hand. In Jordan’s northern region, tens of thousands of Syrians have sought refuge in what are now overcrowded, disease-filled and crime-ridden camps.

Outside the refugee camps, Syrians stand in line waiting to be greeted by truckloads of purple bags, delivered by Jordanian NGOs that have partnered with Israeli agencies. Each bag is filled with lentils, rice, sugar and other dry foods—a small but critical byproduct of charitable donations from Jewish groups around the world.

Earlier this month, The Times of Israel interviewed a number of volunteers taking part in the relief efforts.

“We are concerned for their livelihood,” said the director of an international humanitarian organization partnering with IsraAID. But just as those involved in Israel’s aid missions face the challenges one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades, they must likewise be constantly vigilant of the political tensions between Israel and Syria that complicate their efforts.

“You see a lot of Americans doing humanitarian work all over the world,” says Mickey Alon, a volunteer with IsraAID. “It’s a bit more complicated for Israelis to do it.”

Several Jordanian NGOs, for instance, are forced to remain silent about their involvement with Israeli aid organizations. They fear the Syrian government’s retributions upon refugees’ family members who remain in Syria. In many cases, individuals have faced gruesome punishment once their relatives’ support from Israel is discovered. Yet for IsraAID and its volunteers, people are suffering. This is enough of a reason to continue the work, despite the obstacles in play.

“For us, this has nothing to do with politics at home…We come because we are people who want to do humanitarian work,” says Alon. For the many volunteers at IsraAID, distributing vital assistance to the men, women and children escaping Syria’s bloodshed is simply a necessity.

Humanitarian aid organizations within the United States work with countries and communities in need throughout the world with relatively little hindering their global reach. Israel, however, faces challenges unlike most countries in the world. Amid the constant threat of regional neighbors seeking its destruction, and despite the challenges presented along each of its borders, the Jewish state remains steadfast in its commitment to human values, bettering the world and preserving life. The tireless work of IsraAID across its eastern border is proof of this reality, ensuring that even the citizens of nations whose governments oppose Israel’s existence are entitled to the very freedoms Israel promotes.

These values embody the key partnership between the United States and Israel. The strength and security of the Jewish state allows its citizens to serve as beacons of democracy in a region where dictators can deprive their citizens of the most basic, inalienable rights.

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