The media presents Israel as a pariah but its recent efforts to provide aid to Syrian refugees belies its consistently negative image
The media is full of stereotypes and mistakes about many issues. Yet years of experience as a foreign correspondent has led me to the conclusion that the prejudices and biases against the state of Israel are in a league of their own. There are notable exceptions, of course, but for some news outlets Israel can do no right.
Which is one reason why one of the more remarkable stories coming out of the Middle East over the last two and a half years has been largely overlooked: the bravery of Israeli doctors and civilians who have gone into war-ravaged neighbouring Syria to treat the injured, and feed and clothe refugees from all ethnic backgrounds.
Thousands of Syrian doctors have fled the country and hundreds have been killed as the Assad regime continues to bomb medical clinics as a means of terrorising population groups who oppose his government. Where they can, Israeli medics have gone in to help those few Syrian doctors still working. Other Israelis have defied the Jordanian authorities by helping Syrian refugees in that country.
Although they work independently of the Israeli government, the Israeli army has quietly supported their humanitarian actions, sometimes helping ferry them across the border. In addition to setting up field hospitals, they have brought food. The Economist pointed out in September that in Dera alone, the southern city where the anti-Assad uprising began, Israelis have distributed 300,000 meals to Syrians, as well as medication, mobile phones and chemical protection suits.
The more severely injured Syrians — particularly children — have been brought to Israel for specialised treatment, all at the expense of the Israeli government and Jewish charities. Syrians are taking a risk even entering Israel: the Syrian government makes it a crime for its citizens to go there.
One or two American news outlets have reported on the medical treatment in Israel (though not on the help being given in Syria and Jordan). In July, Jim Clancy of CNN went to the Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed (named after a member of the founding family of Marks & Spencer), where he noted that half of all intensive care beds were occupied by Syrian civilians wounded during the previous week alone.
In May, the New York Times reported from Nahariya Hospital in northern Israel on a three-year-old girl being given skin grafts for horrific facial injuries she sustained during a government missile attack in Syria. In the next bed, the newspaper noted, a girl, aged 12, lay in a deep sleep, having been operated on for a severe stomach wound and a hole in her back. Next to her lay another Syrian girl, 13, recovering from over a month of operations for injuries to her face, arm and leg. In Wolfson Medical Center near Tel Aviv, the life of a four-year-old Syrian girl was saved by open-heart surgery. In another hospital, a Syrian mother gave birth last month, the first Syrian born in Israel.
Although there has been hardly any coverage in British media, one Palestinian website noted: “While the Arab countries make empty promises, the Israelis have crossed the border to provide assistance to the refugees, risking their lives without a word of thank you.”