Why Israel should urgently consider saving Syrian lives

History turns on itself in unpredictable ways.

February 14, 2014 17:20
3 minute read.
Syria-Israel border

Syria-Israel border 370. (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)


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Sixty-nine years after the end of WWII and the liberation of the Nazi death camps, citizens everywhere have had to come to terms with the silence of the world when Jews and others were gassed, shot and starved to death. Jews in particular have internalized the message of the passivity of the majority as they stood by and allowed the brutality of Germany and its allies to dehumanize the millions of victims, most notably the Jews of Europe.

Decades later, a generation of Jews both in Israel and globally have learned the lesson of this unparalleled tragedy.

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The slogan “Never Again” is a declaration, an oath, and a commitment to do all we can to prevent a repeat of history. Simply understood, it is the expression of intent to never allow the mass slaughter of innocents to occur without exerting every effort to prevent these deaths.

But history turns on itself in unpredictable ways.

Israel, the land of refuge for so many survivors of the Nazi killing machine, must now witness the brutality of the Syrian regime toward its own citizens as the world, once again, stands by. The images widely disseminated on the Internet show the result of this calculated and unspeakable crime. Bodies mutilated, emaciated corpses, and mass killings are now part of a predictable news cycle. The most recent estimates of 130,000 dead does not approach the enormity of the human suffering taking place only a few miles from Israel’s borders.

Israel faces difficult choices. From a political and military perspective, it must do what it can to maintain the relative calm of its border with Syria. This also requires close attention to the Iranian threat posed by its surrogate Hezbollah militia. Furthermore, Israel has publicly stated that it has no intention of getting involved in Syria’s civil war, except of course to assure that Syrian weapons are not made available to its enemies.

But there is also a great moral issue at stake. Israel cannot avoid asking itself how it can stand by passively while many thousands of civilians are being brutally murdered. Can it rightfully claim the moral high ground over the world which allowed Jews to be killed when it does the same to others? Put more directly, does “Never Again” apply only to Jews? If it does, then we have truly pronounced to ourselves and to the world that we have abdicated our moral position.


But, if we embrace “Never Again” as meaning we will never tolerate or allow mass killings of any people, we must be prepared to consider where this leads to and what actions may be called upon.

One and a half years ago, this space carried an article which stated why it was in Israel’s interest to open a field hospital in the Northern Golan to treat wounded Syrian civilians. Today, this hospital is in operation and its existence has been covered extensively by media around the world. What started as a closely guarded secret has emerged as a source of admiration for Israelis and all decent people.

Israel needs to do more. It has enough air superiority to air-lift medicine and food to the starving populations in Syria. Israeli pilots would undoubtedly volunteer for this assignment because it is a moral action. The impact this would have on a world paralyzed by inaction is incalculable. But more important, it will proclaim in unmistaken terms that Israel has learned the deepest moral lessons from its past.

Eli Epstein is a New York-based businessman with long-standing interests in the Middle East.

Ghanem M. Nuseibeh is originally from a prominent Palestinian family of Jerusalem. He is the founder of London- based Cornerstone Global Associates, a strategic consulting firm. He is currently a senior visiting fellow at King’s College, London.

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