With the rapid proliferation of displaced Syrians, who are forced to flee their homes as a result of the ongoing civil war, the calls for international communities to facilitate a number of refugees is intensifying. Nations within Europe have absorbed a vast exodus within the last year. Israel’s neighbours have complied too, with millions settling in Lebanon and Jordan. Naturally, as a democratic and stable presence within the Middle East, eyes have been on Israel to take in its “share” of refugees too.
As one would expect, this has attracted mixed responses. A more prominent voice advocating Israel welcoming the refugees has been Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog. He believes Israel has a “duty” to do so. Likely, he wants to restore Israel’s diminishing credibility within the international community, and dispel the criticism it has receives over its foreign policy. As with on many issues, he disagrees with incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has staunchly opposed letting them in. Justifying his dismissal of this, he stated: “Israel is a small, a very small country that lacks demographic and geographic depth”.
Of course, there are practicality issues to be concerned with. No one could expect a country occupying a small slither of land in the Middle East, slightly larger than the state of New Jersey, to absorb and accommodate large amount of newcomers in one go.
Yet the issue of feasibility is not the prime concern among Israelis, and those who support the state. Rather, many would reject the influx of large numbers of Syrians, based on ideological grounds; largely down to fear. Many Israelis I know have commented on this, suggesting that letting in many from an Arab state which has been at war with Israel numerous times since its rebirth in 1948 would be disastrous. It would likely increase the trepidation that is present after the recent uprisings, and the incessant threat of rocket fire from Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-arms policy for refugees has received much criticism, and is considered reckless even for Europe; let alone for a state like Israel. One of the primary concerns of those opposed to letting in refugees in vast hordes is that radical Islamists could be smuggled into Europe, and therefore pose a threat to national security. Israel would undoubtedly be at far more risk in this aspect.
Some exceptions could be made however. If Israel were to consider taking some, it could be limited to young children; orphans from the war. A limit of a few hundred could be taken. This way, Israel would be offering a benevolent and humanitarian hand in the turmoil that has torn many lives apart. Young children would not pose such a threat, in the way that fully grown men would. While I do largely share the concerns of many Israelis, that bringing in hordes of adult Syrians would be suicidal, I do believe that Israel can facilitate a number of children to an extent; those who need help.
To ease the growing refugee crisis on a greater scale, other solutions need to be considered. Safe zones could be established in Syria, in locations a distance away from areas heavily afflicted by conflict. From this there would be less need to take in refugees. Of course, this would require cooperation from the broader international community, and is therefore not in Israel’s hands alone.
Israel has shown its benevolence to those in need countless times in the past. Even in the late 1970s, under Menachem Begin’s leadership, it accepted and naturalized around 360 Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Communist takeover in their homeland. Last year, it sent bountiful aid to Nepal after the land was struck by a devastating earthquake; along with sending aid to countries such as Taiwan, Ethiopia and Guatemala. Even my own country England was supported by IsraAID, after suffering from flooding in the North of the country. It would be enlightening to see Israel extend its hand to those who are in genuine need of assistance in the Syrian crisis.