A grassroots movement initiated by a 29-year-old Israeli activist and teacher aims to galvanize a fly-in to Damascus International Airport later this month, in the hopes of mobilizing international action in the Syrian crisis that has claimed more than 10,000 lives.
The movement is the brainchild of Yovav Kalifon, who readily acknowledges the complications inherent in leading the effort from the Jewish state, with which Syria has long been in a formal state of war. He said this week that he hopes the idea will be taken up by individuals or organizations based outside Israel.
As of Tuesday, 32 Israelis, Americans and Europeans had signed up for the fly-in on the group’s Facebook page. Kalifon and other participants say that large numbers will be required for the project to be successful, but that the effort has to start somewhere, and they hope it will catch international attention and gather pace.
“As very few journalists and UN observers are present in Syria now, there needs to be an international force to send a strong message to Syria that everyone is looking… that Syria is not alone,” said Kalifon.
What he can do from here is hold a blood drive at Israeli universities, with the blood being transported to Syria via Jordan. A plan to do so is now in the works.
In a posting on the “Fly-in to Syria May 12” Facebook page, he writes: “We must act now!… Whether you live in the Middle-East, Europe, or anywhere else, please make preparations to travel to Syria on May 12th. If you sympathize with the plight of the Syrian people, don’t wait helplessly for them to become casualties of war. Don’t wait for the UN to conduct meaningless talks with Assad. Don’t wait for international intervention to be vetoed in the Security Council. Take action as a civilian to help fellow civilians like me and you! With your help, we will bring much needed global attention, and a ray of hope to Syrians under heavy fire.”
Kalifon’s is not the first Israeli expression of solidarity for civilians on the other side of the northern border. Two hundred Israelis protested the ongoing violence in Syria in Tel Aviv on March 31. They expressed their support for the plight of the Syrian people and called for immediate intervention to put an end to the 13-month conflict.
The Foreign Ministry also expressed concern a few weeks ago. “The state of the Jewish people cannot sit idly by while in a neighboring state atrocities are taking place and people are losing everything,” said Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman in March.
“Even if Israel cannot intervene in what is being done in a state with which we have no diplomatic ties, we have a moral obligation to at least give humanitarian aid, and to stir the world to act to end the slaughter.”
Western and Arab sanctions and the UN sponsored ceasefire have done little to halt the fighting, or to compel the retreat of government troops from civilian areas.
Though Kalifon has launched the fly-in initiative, he hopes that an individual or organization from outside of Israel will step up to replace him.
American expat in Israel Ezra Waxman plans to participate in the fly-in, insisting its message is only to oppose the violence, without supporting either side.
“The fly-in is an opportunity to show Assad that we will not stand idly by as the good people of Syria continue to be murdered on a daily basis,” Waxman said.
“It would be unrealistic for Assad to start killing foreigners at the same rate at which he so freely murders his own people,” he argued. “The Syrian government would have no choice but to start dealing with the situation at hand in a nonviolent manner.”