A grassroots Israeli campaign that has raised close to $550,000 for aid to children in Syria is pressuring the government to get involved as well.
Since ‘Just Beyond Our Border‘ began to crowdfund in October, over 8,000 Israelis have donated money to the campaign, which sends aid specifically to children, including clothing, food and medicine.
According to Shivi Froman, one of the leaders of the campaign, two large deliveries have been sent to the war-torn country, in which an estimated 500,000 people have reportedly been killed since the start of the conflict six years ago.
The aid is brought to refugee camps in southern Syria through the help of Israel Flying Aid, a nonprofit that, according to its website, “specializes in bringing life-saving aid to communities affected by natural disasters and human conflict, especially where local regimes prevent entry from formal international humanitarian organizations.”
Six months ago, the campaign also organized 14 different prayer groups around Israel for the people of Syria.
After the unexpected success of their campaign, Froman and his partners are now calling on the Israeli government to step up and provide both humanitarian aid and political support for the establishment of a safe zone.
“We want to the see the government acting as a partner and pushing for a safe zone in [southern Syria] and in other places in the country, in order to allow people who want to get away from the war to seek refuge,” Froman told The Times of Israel Wednesday.
Israel and its northern neighbor have formally been at war for seven decades, and fought three wars. But since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, the Jewish state has been treating Syrian casualties, including wounded fighters, although it hasn’t taken in any refugees.
More than 2,000 Syrians have been treated in Israeli hospitals since 2013, according to the Israeli army. Israel maintains a field hospital at the border.
The campaign to pressure the government is primarily being waged over social media, but Froman said he and his partners are mulling the option of a protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv. In December, hundreds of Israelis formed a human chain outside the embassy, calling for an end to the bloodshed in Syria.
Russia provides essential military assistance to the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.
On Tuesday, a chemical weapons attack in the Idlib province in northern Syria killed scores, including many children, and injured hundreds of others. The attack is widely being blamed on Assad’s air force, including by Israel.
“With the revelation of the latest horrors that continue to happen literally right next to us, it is time for the government to do something that is Israeli, Zionist and Jewish,” a Facebook post by the campaign published on Tuesday said.
Asked why Israelis would donate to Syria, rather than causes within the country, Froman said: “I am a believer, a religious man and I believe in the phrase taught by our sages that ‘all of the world was created for me’ — When something is wrong in my surrounding, there is something wrong in my world.”
“And now in Syria there is a dramatic need,” he added. “It is something that is outside the rules of the game. This requires us to get out of the regular considerations of who we give to.”
Forman is the son of the Rabbi Menachem Froman, a well-known peace activist from the West Bank settlement of Tekoa who died in 2013.
In a blog published on The Times of Israel on Thursday, Froman wrote, “My father taught me that we were born with two hands. One hand with which to defend ourselves, and a second hand to extend in peace, compassion and caring for others. He taught us that our lives should be the clapping that happens when these two hands come together. Our lives should be an ongoing encounter between these conflicting motivations.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “sharply condemned” the gas attack on Tuesday and called on the international community to complete the process of removing all of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.
“When I saw pictures of babies suffocating from a chemical attack in Syria, I was shocked and outraged. There’s no, none, no excuse whatsoever for the deliberate attacks on civilians and on children, especially with cruel and outlawed chemical weapons,” he said.
Recalling the Holocaust, President Reuven Rivlin said on Tuesday evening that Israel cannot remain indifferent to the gassing of Syrian civilians, and offered to help survivors of the civil war there.
“We, as a people who survived the greatest of atrocities and rose from the ashes to be a strong and secure nation, we will do all we can to continue to aid the survivors of the horrors in Syria,” the president said in a statement.
“We know all too well how dangerous silence can be, and we cannot remain mute,” he added.