Eli Epstein, Ghanem M. Nuseibeh
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
June 11, 2012 - 12:00am

Israel’s regional and global image continues to sink to new lows. The political peace process continues to be stalemated.

As internal and external factors allow Israel to keep indulging in self-perpetuating isolationism, the anti-Israel camp finds no difficulty in recruiting sympathizers, further causing Israelis to recoil from the compromises needed to advance toward a final settlement.

Despite this somber setting, Israel’s neighbor, Syria, presents an unprecedented opportunity for Israel to demonstrate its morality and humanity in a way which can not only change its perception in the Arab world but also plant the seeds for an eventual peace in the region. The Syrian people have every reason to feel abandoned by their Muslim neighbors, but that should not provide Israel with a reason to ignore the human suffering underway that will likely continue.

The relative silence on the part of the region’s most affluent nations to the indescribable suffering of the Syrian nation not only goes against Abrahamic teachings, but also contradicts even the most basic human values. But it is precisely in this context that Israel should act for both moral and political reasons.

Arabs everywhere know Jews will always stand united in the face of any threats to Jews, regardless of whether such threats are based in Israel or elsewhere. Sadly, Arabs have no illusion that they can perform with the same compassion and empathy that such unity demands. Assistance by Israel will likely be greeted with a cynical reception in many Arab states. Yet the Koran and the Talmud both set a similarly high moral bar: Whoever saves a single life is as if they have saved the entire world.

Indeed, the world has seen how Israel is rightfully proud of the way it has responded to human suffering, regardless of place and circumstances. Israel aided Turkey after earthquakes; it was a first responder to the disaster in Haiti, and it regularly aids the poor and starving in Africa. When the tsunami struck Asia in 2004, Israel sent food and medicine. It has even offered assistance to Iran when earthquakes hit in the past (these were rebuffed by the Islamic Republic). Syria is closer and the human tragedy there at least as compelling – too compelling for Israel to sit on the sidelines in silence.

Israel can take several practical steps to achieve the urgently needed assistance.

Israeli planes loaded with medical and food packages can be air-dropped over the besieged population centers of Syria.

Israel can set up medical field hospitals in the northern Golan and ask for UN assistance to inspect and pre-clear unarmed civilians in need of medical treatment.

Collection centers for medical supplies, clothing and blankets can be set up overnight in Israel which can even be combined with donations collected from the Palestinian population, thereby conveying a poignant message that our differences are dwarfed by our common humanity.

By taking these steps, Israel can send an unequivocal message that could win it hearts and minds in the Arab World. It could set the tone for a fresh, new look at its interactions with its neighbors.

Relations built on shared human values should aim first and foremost to ensure dignified human existence for all the peoples of the region, regardless of creed or race or religion. The Syrian and Arab peoples will remember such bold and daring steps and this will make a tangible difference in the minds of many in the future.

Israel needs to act and by a show of morality and leadership, not only encourage others to respond but also benefit its own cause for acceptance and respect by its neighbors and the region. Perhaps it will jump-start the stalled peace process and even yield a lasting peace.


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