Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that”. For Syrian refugees, these are very dark days indeed. Driven from their country by a brutal war fueled by regional and sectarian ambitions, displaced Syrians find themselves thrown into a world where the environment has over the past year become increasingly hostile towards refugees and asylum seekers.
But while wars and conflicts tend to bring out the very worst in human beings, dark days such as these have also given rise to amazing acts of compassion and humanity. Turned away from Arab countries, increasingly unwelcome in Europe, Syrian refugees have found support, aid and assistance from the last place they could have expected; Israeli and Jewish organizations and individuals.
While thousands of Syrians languish on the borders of neighboring countries, Israeli medical teams and hospitals have been tireless and unstinting in treating Syrians in need. While politicians in the USA race to outdo one another in stating their opposition to hosting even “five year old Syrian orphans”, numerous Jewish congregations in Canada have been raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to sponsor Syrian families for resettlement.
And while some European countries have taken to confiscating the valuables of Syrian refugees who have fled to those countries, Israeli and Jewish organizations are, despite considerable personal risk, on the ground in Greece and the Balkans, providing aid and assistance to the seemingly endless wave of refugees fleeing the mayhem of the Middle East.
No one could have faulted Israelis and Jews had they taken a strictly hands-off approach to the humanitarian catastrophe created by the Syrian conflict. Indeed, with six Arab societies tearing themselves apart and in different stages of failed statehood, the sensible thing for Israelis to do would have been to hunker down, and wait until the mayhem beyond had burned itself out.
And yet the fact that, despite the understandable ambivalence among some in the Jewish diaspora and the considerable personal risk to Israeli medical and aid workers on the Golan and in Europe, Syrian refugees have been the recipients of so much compassion, assistance and generosity from the Jewish people is not only remarkable; when one considers the unfortunate history of the Middle East, it is miraculous.
I remember my own astonishment when the first news reports began to circulate of the assistance being provided to wounded Syrians by the IDF’s medical teams on the Golan. As the years have gone by, my amazement has not lessened with every act of charity and compassion by the Jewish people to my own. Israeli high schools providing collections of winter clothes. IsraAID volunteers on the ground and beaches in Greece and the Balkans. I will never forget the phone conversations I had with elderly Syrians being treated at a northern Israeli hospital, of the stories I heard of the world-class limb replacement and cancer treatment that Israeli medical staff were providing.
A people who I had been told all my life I was at war with, were proving themselves more humane and more compassionate than the Arab countries I, as a Syrian, was no longer welcome in. Dark days may bring out the worst in people, but they also serve to illuminate the truly enlightened societies. Every humanitarian catastrophe is also an opportunity for individuals to display the best of humanity, and as a Syrian refugee myself I can truly attest to the fact that this generation of Jews have done their people proud.
And as a Syrian, I am morally obligated to ensure that the goodwill that Israelis and Jews have displayed towards my people will not be overlooked nor forgotten. The day will come when the conflict in Syria will come to an end, as all things come to an end. On that day, it is imperative that Syrians reciprocate the enormous goodwill shown towards us by Israelis and the Jewish people. Whatever supposed reasons we may have had to be adversaries is dwarfed by the compassion shown to us during our darkest days, a time when we have nothing to give back except our gratitude.
Heaven forbid that the Jewish people ever need the assistance of other people the way that war has forced Syrians to seek out the assistance of Europeans, Arabs and the world at large. History will record that when Syrians were being turned away from Arab countries and most European ones, the Jewish people opened their hearts to our plight.
Let history not record that one day we forgot the kindness shown to us. If a person’s situation prevents them from reciprocating the kindness shown to them, it does not prevent that person from saying “Thank you”.
For what it is worth, you have the thanks of at least this Syrian. I myself am not a media mogul, or a well placed columnist. I am at heart a simple Syrian village boy caught up in events far bigger than himself, trying to muddle through as best as can be expected. My powers of persuasion are limited. Heck I cant even convince one of my own brothers to stop being such a Russophile.
But by chronicling and acknowledging the numerous acts of compassion and generosity shown by the Jewish people to my own people, I can try to ensure that Syrians, Arabs and the world at large never be allowed to forget what you have offered and provided to Syrian refugees, at a time when you had every historical and practical reason not to.
Thank you Am Israel, and may you always be safe and blessed.
Aboud Dandachi, Istanbul January 2016