I remember the beginning of Operation Good Neighbor as if it were yesterday. The truth is that we had serious doubts about whether it would really happen — whether the Syrians would actually arrive. Then, at 3:00 am in the freezing cold of the Golan Heights, we noticed them walking along the fence.
Twenty-five children holding their mothers’ hands passed through the gates in what seemed like a modern Exodus. The phrase “The Syrians are at the border” took on new meaning.
You could see the suspicion in their eyes. Tired and barefoot in the darkness, they met IDF soldiers for the very first time, we who had been so demonized by their culture. After many conversations with quite a few Syrians, I have come to realize that it’s no myth: up until the day they received our help, many Syrians genuinely believed IDF soldiers had horns and tails.
It was surreal to see a mother holding her little daughter’s hands, almost collapsing from weakness. Instinctively, one of the Golani soldiers on the scene noticed the woman stumble and leapt towards her, gathering the child up in his arms. Suddenly, it seemed the border had disappeared: it was a human moment shared between people, a moment of distress on the one hand and of compassion on the other. A moment I will never forget.
Since then, we have come a long way. That operation marked the beginning of an intensive period of humanitarian activity. Every day and every night, 24/7, we operated a system that did only good. We provided flour, baby food, medical supplies and medicine in huge quantities, and that was only the beginning.
Across the border there is a civil war – the cruelest of its kind — and our job was to make history and be remembered as the ones who did the right thing. Today, with the perspective I have gained from nearly a year, I realize that that very first moment at the fence was historic. A moment, I hope, that will be engraved in our memory – a moment of Israeli pride and Jewish compassion.
Before all else, I always remember that my mission is to ensure security – to create good neighborly relations on both sides of the border – and we do this, perhaps, in the most noble way possible. It is a great privilege to command a unit with this mission, in this place and at this time. We have been given the opportunity to reshape reality, and with a lot of motivation and good people I believe we will continue to do our very best.
Over the past year I can count dozens of meaningful moments, but one has become engraved in my memory, and I think there is nothing more appropriate to describe the activity of being a “good neighbor.” A week into the winter, during a severe rainstorm, we decided, at the request of the Syrians, to go forward with a plan to take in sick children although the harsh weather dictated otherwise. At the end of the activity, I found myself standing with the Syrian doctor, the operation’s civil liaison in one of the villages in the area. The two of us, soaking wet, looked at each other and laughed.
“I told you it would be difficult,” I told him.
Without hesitating, he replied with a smile, “Every day hundreds of bombs fall on the Syrian people – a little rain will not break us.”
Then the doctor became serious. “Every time you accept us,” he said, “we will come.”
The author is the commander of the IDF’s Operation Good Neighbor, providing humanitarian aid to Syrians harmed in their country’s bloody civil war. The IDF prohibits disclosure of his identity. (Author photo for illustrative purposes only)