Saturday October 10, 2015
Israel Hayom
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Dr. Gabi Avital

Syrian refugees: Morality and limits

Our knee-jerk reaction to anomalous events derives from our character, from the environment in which we were raised and, especially, from our personal histories. Citizens who live in relative serenity or who are caught up in their daily lives may respond to refugees, be it from war or famine, by shrugging and presenting compelling reasons why we cannot allow in more people who will weigh down the economy, hospitals and welfare agencies.

But now let's look at things historically. How should our elected government act regarding the issue of absorbing Syrian refugees into hospitals in Israel? The easiest and most immediate way to deal with the problem is to say no, because Syria is an enemy country. But the more nuanced way is to reflect on modern Jewish history.

Tens of thousands of Jews, who survived after fleeing the German ovens, were war refugees. They were passengers on ships meant to transport animals, tossed by the Mediterranean sea like pieces of driftwood. Then they encountered another enemy, when soldiers of the British Mandate locked the country's gates with no satisfactory explanation.

With this in mind, we return to the citizens rushing the Israel-Syria border, fleeing a bloody civil war that has left infants, children and the elderly dead at the hands of their brethren. Thousands crossed the border into Turkey, others to Jordan. Israel stands in the middle. I do not underestimate the baggage of our past, nor the belligerent statements from Syria with rebels shouting, "After we finish our rebellion, we will be ready to take you on, Zionist enemy."

One's personal memory cannot forget how one's body trembled after a Syrian shell landed in our midst during the Six-Day War. Later memories bring images of the torrents of hell surrounding the Syrian capture of pilot Avi Lineer, or the buses awaiting Galilee residents to evacuate them to safety upon the outbreak of Yom Kippur War. Still, the Israeli government must set out an absorption program for Syrian refugees requiring urgent medical assistance. At the same time, there must be a call to the free and enlightened world, as it purports to be, to demand reciprocity for such actions.

What type of reciprocity do I mean? By way of example, we turn to France and Britain, both enlightened allies of Syria in normal times. The population ratio of France or Britain to Israel is 10:1. Thus, if Israel takes in ten wounded refugees, the French and British should absorb a proportional number. Such is the case, as well, with the U.S., Germany and other countries. In this way we can solve the problems for these poor refugees.

Even if the enlightened nations refuse, Israel must absorb as many people as it can, on the condition that they will return to their own homeland after their treatment, unless that option means certain death. We can then evaluate our own moral fiber in a positive light, because it will mean that some of the greatest anti-Semites of the day, who defame the alleged immoral conduct of the Jewish state, will have to absorb the refugees in their own territory as well. It is clear that this won't happen, but at least we will know that our own moral fiber, as Jews, remains intact.

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