Israel enmeshed in complex Syrian refugee crisis

Physicians for Human Rights urges Israel to allow wounded Syrian refugees to stay for continued care.

WOUNDED SYRIANS are treated at this Israeli field hospital on the Golan Heights. (photo credit: REUTERS)
WOUNDED SYRIANS are treated at this Israeli field hospital on the Golan Heights.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With the collapse of peace talks on Friday between President Bashar Assad’s regime and the opposition, the prospect of more wounded Syrians seeking treatment and refuge in Israel will continue to rise.
UN special representative Lakhdar Brahimi delivered a harsh verdict for Syrian civilians confronted with spectacular levels of violence: “We’ve had just eight days of negotiations in Geneva.... I’m sorry to report there was no progress.”
The Jerusalem Post obtained Israel Health Ministry correspondence showing the tensions and dilemmas among medical professionals and advocates for the refugees.
In one letter from the ministry, the agency defended its care of Syrians, but added that “the medical establishment does not have the tools to ensure continuity of care after discharge, nor to protect patient from risk to his life.”
The NGO Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)-Israel has urged Israeli governmental agencies to ensure “availability of continuity of care” following the discharge of hospitalized Syrians.
Israeli medical centers, including a military field hospital, in the North, have provided healthcare services to roughly 700 refugees since 2013. The Post reported last week the first known case of a Syrian – a 17-year-old female – requesting asylum. The High Court of Justice rejected her petition and sent her back to Syria in late January. All of this helps to explain the growing involvement of Israel’s legal and medical personnel on the edges of the Syrian civil war.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 136,227 people have been killed since protests broke out against Assad in 2011. More than 2.4 million Syrians are defined as refugees.
Yossi Melman, a leading national security analyst who has written extensively about Syria, told the Post, “Zionism would not collapse if we accept 200 refugees. Why not?’” Hadas Ziv, public outreach director for PHR-Israel, told the Post last week that Israel should press the UN to set up a safe haven in Syria, near the Israeli border, to create a humanitarian escape corridor.
Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, told the Post that the Syrian refugee crisis is “another example of the bankruptcy of the international humanitarian system.”
There is “no UN mechanism” to address the problem, he stressed.
The UN is “entirely politicized and has nothing to offer.”
Steinberg, who has an expertise in the inner workings of NGOs in the Middle East, said the Syrian refugee situation “leaves Israel completely on its own without the capacity to deal with the issues in a coherent manner. Israel would not get international assistance [even] if it would increase aid.”
Israel is in a “very complex position,” because it is technically in a state of war with Syria and the potent presence of al-Qaida there has added another threat, he said.
Major news organizations have recently started to delve into effects of the crisis on Israel. Writing in The New York Times on Friday, Isabel Kershner reported on Syrian interactions with Israelis.
Her article was titled “Israel quietly treats Syrians.”
One Syrian, who brought his granddaughter for medical treatment in Israel, said: “When there is peace, I will raise an Israeli flag on the roof of my house.”
“I grew up hearing that Israel was an enemy country and that if you met an Israeli he would kill you,” said a Syrian mother, who was treated at Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya along with her two wounded daughters.
One of the takeaways from PHR-Israel and Syrian observers is the need for Israel to do more.
As Melman said about the crisis, Israel needs to be “at the front of humanity.”