How Israel being a “Good Neighbor” to Syria is saving lives and changing hearts

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Every battle is fought differently. Different tactics, different forces, different weapons. When it comes to the battle against instability on the Syrian border, Israel is arming its forces with something new – spaghetti and baby formula.

It's called the "good neighbor” policy, a formal Israeli operation to offer humanitarian aid to Syrian's along the border. The creation of the policy can be traced back to a cold night in 2013 when seven injured Syrian's managed to crawl their way to the border in the Golan Heights, desperate for help and medical treatment. After a flurry of calls and decisions, the seven were taken across the border and treated. This easily could have been the end of the story, one random act of mercy along a normally tense and uncertain border, but the Israelis didn't leave it there. Instead, they took that incident and ran with it, rapidly expanding the scope and nature of the kind of aid they would offer to Syrians on the border, leading to what is now recognized as the good neighbor policy.

For many Syrians, racked and ravaged by the ongoing multi-sided civil war that has gripped the nation for the past four years, this policy has been a literal lifeline.

Operating in territory that legally belongs to Israel but lies deeper inside Syria, the protected space has become a haven injured and hungry civilians, and a staging area for Israel's humanitarian efforts. From here, the IDF prepares truckloads of essentials such as food, baby formula, diapers, warm clothing, and even fuel to be distributed to needy Syrian's across the border. These trucks are directed to those who need the supplies through coordination with village elders, local councils, and the few remaining medical professionals who have not fled the country or been killed in the fighting. 

These supplies are only one of the ways the good neighbor policy is helping the displaced, wounded, and traumatized. A medical clinic, built just beyond the guarded border fence and accessible to Syrians without the need to cross the boarder (heading off accusations of collaboration and the complication of added security) offers free care and treatment to Syrians, no matter their status or identity (civilians, rebel fighters, and even suspected jihadists). The clinic is staffed by a US humanitarian group, but protected by the local IDF, creating a safe neutral space for the suffering and wounded to be treated.

Chief among these patients are the children. The clinic, with the aid of supporting Israeli hospitals, offer specialized care ranging from eyes, ears, and neurological treatments, to emotional and psychological support. Essential for young children who have grown up in an environment of fear, violence, and uncertainty. The clinic keeps detail patient records for these children, allowing for check-ups and real, ongoing care. They're not only saving lives, but immeasurably improving the living conditions for the most vulnerable impacted by the conflict.

The good neighbor policy has two chief aims. One, is satisfying the moral responsibility to help those in need when possible and to combat human suffering. The other, is more pragmatic; Winning the hearts and minds of Syrian civilians.

Each truck carrying aid, every box of supplies, every medical tent is stamped with Hebraic writing and Israeli insignia. There is no coyness when it comes to where these supplies are coming from or who is helping the people. For as much as the aid helps those in needs, it also serves the extremely important and valuable function of showing the Syrian people that Israel is not their enemy. That despite the propaganda they're fed and the past hatreds that have been stoked for years by opportunists in the region, Israel is a nation that desires peace and harmony with its neighbors.

And that effort is working. Despite the fierce fighting still occurring in Syria today, Israel had only one combat encounter with Islamic State fighters in the area last year while Syrian rebels have yet to engage Israeli forces in any capacity. In such a contentious and hazardous area, this is not luck, this is the result of winning hearts and minds. Its hard to demonize an enemy who has saved your child's life, clothed your brother, and fed you when you were hungry.

Charity and kindness can be some of our most effective tools in the battle against extremism and war. With their efforts today, Israel is not only saving lives and doing good work, but ensuring that a generation of Syrians will grow up knowing the truth about their good neighbors across the border.

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The PURPOSE of C4i is to call Christians to express love in action to the people of Israel.

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