Many Jewish communities highlight the idea of “Tikun Olam” in their programs as they aspire to take actions that will make a positive impact on their surroundings. Keeping this theme in mind, I would like to share the story of an amazing humanitarian operation that not too many have heard about that was completed by the State of Israel 5 years ago. Operation “Good Neighbor,” which took place between 2016 to 2018, was a large scale effort and an historic event where Israel provided medical aid, infrastructural and other assistance to thousands of Syrian civilians who were affected by the ongoing civil war in the country.
The operation was carried out by the Northern Command of the Israeli Defence Force, and while security motives of wanting to keep the northern border calm surely played a role, the operation was motivated also by reason of conscience, where the State of Israel did not want to stand by in the face of a humanitarian crisis. It is not new that Israel sends aid to disaster zones, such as the recent examples of the evacuation teams sent to Turkey following the devastating earthquake or the team sent to Florida following the disastrous residential building collapse. However, usually these operations last for a short period of time and they are assisting counties with which Israel has diplomatic relations. What was so extraordinary about Operation Good Neighbor, was its long lasting, major scale assistance by Israel to its neighbors, citizens of a country with which Israel not only has no peace agreement with, but is a hostile state that never even officially recognized Israel’s existence.
This coming April, we in Students Supporting Israel are excited to welcome on a North America speaking tour the commander of this amazing operation. Lieutenant Colonel (res) Eyal Dror, who served for many years in various positions in the Israeli security forces, was specially appointed to lead the operation. I spoke to Eyal ahead of his visit, where he shared that he got this position due to his previous army appointment as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, a unit of the Israeli Ministry of Defense that is responsible for the coordination of civilian matters between the Israeli government and the IDF, the Palestinian Authority, and international bodies.
“There were many episodes of human interaction that made me understand the significance of this operation” said Eyal. “Watching Syrian children entering the gate to Israel to receive aid by foot, bleeding, and operating right by the security fence while enemy groups such as Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hizballah are watching and can potentially hurt you in any minute make you understand the significance of the work you do. One day, when I was playing soccer with the kids who receive treatment, while wearing my IDF uniform and having my weapon on me, I asked a boy ‘aren’t you afraid of me?’ and he replied ‘why should I? you’re an Israeli officer not a Syrian one.’ Hearing this come from a child who grew up in a country that tells its people to hate Israel made me realize the great impact and difference we are making. Another especially memorable moment was watching an 8 year old girl hugging a doll she received from the IDF while staying at the hospital, the only toy she now had, and taking it back to Syria with her. These events also make you understand what an amazing country we live in, and how grateful we should be.
During his tour, Eyal is scheduled to visit college campuses in Ontario and Manitoba, Canada; Texas and Florida in the USA; including participating at a community event in Minnesota, where Eyal will be speaking alongside the international law expert and University of Minnesota law professor Oren Gross, at an event dedicated to Israel’s 75th Independence Day celebrations, and highlighting the contributions Israel has brought to the Jewish people, its neighbours, and the world.