Israel Must Either Protect or Admit the Syrian Refugees

I am more upset and angry than I can remember. Despite an early agreement with the Russians and the Americans, the Syrian army is retaking the southern part of Syria that borders Israel and Jordan. There are reports that thousands of refugees may be making their way to our border. News broadcasts during the last few days have included accounts of Syrian army soldiers leveling threats: “This is where the rebellion began and we are going to ‘take care’ of the people here to end this once and for all” — which, of course, in Syrian vernacular means killing everyone. 

Undoubtedly, after murdering 500,000 of his own people, what difference would it make to Assad to add another 50,000? But it was not the mass killing by Assad that angered me most. We are too used to that; it has become the new norm. What fills me with rage are reports that our government has declared that we would not allow “a single Syrian into our country.” Sure, we plan to provide humanitarian aid, but we would not let any of “them” enter into our precious state. God forbid we set a precedent… Allowing in so many refugees would certainly be inconvenient.

The Syrian people are clearly not economic refugees. These are individuals who are likely to be slaughtered if we do not either take them in or defend them. I know that creating a refugee camp on the Golan Heights, or any other location could be extremely problematic. Once they are here, it will be very difficult to resettle them. But have we not learned anything from our history? It is likely the Swiss also thought it would be problematic to allow in more Jews who were trying to escape the Nazis.

Over the past seven years, I have been voicing an unpopular opinion that we should intervene in the Syrian Civil war to stop the killing. Before the Russians became involved, we had the ability to ground Assad’s one military advantage in a matter of minutes. That is how long it would have taken us to destroy Assad’s Air Force. People repeatedly countered, contending we could not get involved … How would it look?… Would it backfire?… It’s not in our strategic interests. 

Even if you accept all of the aforementioned arguments, after sitting on the sidelines, and watching the carnage taking place on our doorstep in Syria, I believe we no longer have the moral standing to question what the Allies did or did not do to save Jews while they fought the Nazis. Though there were understandable reasons why we did not intervene in Syria, ultimately, we have ended up with the worst of both worlds — i.e., 500,000 mostly innocent people are dead and Iran actively operates in Syria, with Assad soon to be back at our border. Now, we have a chance to redeem ourselves, at least in some small measure.

I want to believe that our government is secretly planning how to accommodate 50,000 or more refugees. It is unimaginable that we remain sitting idly by and do nothing but “proudly” provide humanitarian aid to those still in Syria, while condemning them to possible death, because it would be inconvenient for us to provide sanctuary.

I am an American-Israeli, living in Israel, who finds little to be proud of either in my birth nation these last two years or in many of the recent actions of the Israeli government. 

I want to feel proud. I want to know that my country is willing to really sacrifice to do what is right. Since we have not been willing to go to war with Assad to protect the Syrian people, now it is time to finally do what is right — we must be ready, if necessary, to welcome those whose lives are being threatened with certain death if they remain in Syria. We have no choice. In the wake of the Holocaust, the UN Refugee Convention in 1951 took place and Israel was a member. The decisions of that Convention were drafted to try to ensure that what happened to the Jewish people would never happen to anyone again. 

In accordance with the international laws created as a result of the UN Convention, we have the legal responsibility to accept these people. The answer to this question is not grey. It makes no difference if these refugees are coming from an enemy state. Their lives are endangered because they are Sunni. If they arrive at our border, we legally cannot turn them away, but beyond our legal responsibility — WE HAVE THE MORAL RESPONSIBILITY TO SHELTER THESE PEOPLE FROM IMMINENT DEATH. If our government does not step up to satisfy its obligation and we remain sitting silently in our homes, then we will be complicit, making a mockery of the memory of all those who died in the Holocaust.

About the Author
Marc Schulman is the editor of Historycentral.com -- the largest history web site. He is the author a series of Multimedia History Apps as well as a recent biography of JFK. He holds a BA and MA from Columbia University, and currently lives in Tel Aviv. He is also a regular contributor to Newsweek authoring the Tel Aviv Diary.
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