It doesn’t matter what part of the political spectrum you favour: pretty much everyone is agreed 2016 has been an extraordinary year which few of us are ready to have repeated in a hurry.
Besides the wide-scale lunacy which has overtaken many parts of the planet — that’s the Brexit referendum result and the election of Donald Trump in one misbegotten handful — and the near-misses such as the frighteningly close far-right win in Austria, we are looking back on a year of rising terrorism and misery for so many.
From the mass deaths resulting from extremism in places such as Nice – and, more recently, in Berlin – to the individual agony of the family of murdered MP Jo Cox, 2016 has been a year of desperation and unhappiness.
And yet, I’d like to shine a little sunshine for readers in these last otherwise mean-spirited days that have characterised this miserable past year of 2016.
And that sunshine lies in the quiet, relatively unsung work done by Israel to help, treat and save its Syrian neighbours who have been caught up in Assad’s bloody civil war. It came fully to light last week, when prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu presided over a pre-Chanukah/Christmas reception for members of the foreign press based in Israel.
And, though I would be among the first to note the prime minister’s particular brand of political opportunism, I was also rather happy to hear him announce that Israel was ready to take in injured refugees from Aleppo and arrange for them to be treated in the country’s hospitals.
He said: “We see the tragedy of terrible suffering of civilians and I’ve asked the foreign ministry to seek ways to expand our medical assistance to the civilian casualties of the Syrian tragedy, specifically in Aleppo, where we’re prepared to take in wounded women and children, and also men if they’re not combatants.”
Netanyahu went on: “We’d like to do that: bring them to Israel, take care of them in our hospitals as we’ve done with thousands of Syrian civilians. We’re looking into ways of doing this; it’s being explored as we speak.”
It was just a throwaway line, that “as we’ve done with thousands of Syrian civilians”, but in fact it was nothing but the truth: for the past three years the men and women of the IDF medical corps and of Israel’s northern hospitals have been quietly and patiently treating more than 2,000 Syrians.
And those Syrians have come in all shapes and sizes, and some of them may well be militants fighting against Assad’s government forces.
Since the Syrians began arriving in February 2013, a steady stream have been making their way across the frontier; one of the results to come out of this is that Syrian babies have been born at Ziv Medical Centre in Sfat, just 40 minutes from the Syrian border.
It’s not all sweetness and light; Israel knows that too often it patches up young men who return to violence once back in Syria, and great care is taken to ensure that no trace of Hebrew lettering remains on their post-hospital medication or other aid.
And yet, what a terrific thing for Israel to be doing, and how great a message must inevitably be seeping through to these Syrian patients: that Israel, the great enemy, is actually a good place with good people in it. Not perfect, but pretty nice in contrast to Syria.
So l’chaim to Israel’s medics — and here’s to a peaceful year for all of us.