Israeli military treated and helped Syrians because they are human beings
"The State of Israel is not an enemy and that we want to live with them in peace and willing to help them in such a difficult time," said Eyal Dror.07 Januari 2021 07:44
Lieutenant Colonel (Reserve) Eyal Dror, the commander of Israel military humanitarian mission for Syrians during 2013-2018. He is also the chief of the Good Neighbor Unit at Israel Defense Force. (Albalad.co)
He was very surprised when I was calling him two days ago. "Hello Mr Faisal. It's an honor meeting you," said Lieutenant Colonel (Reserve) Eyal Dror, the commander of humanitarian mission for Syrians and also the chief of the Directorate of Good Neighbor at theIsrael Defense Force (IDF). "I have never thought I will speak a person from Indonesia. It's wonderful."
Dror, 43 years old, shared another side of the Syrian War: the Israeli military's humanitarian mission which treated and helped around a quarter of Syrians lived in the Golan Heights, which has border with Israel.
"The decision was to provide humanitarian assistance, as part of the ability to start meeting the Syrians and prove to them by deeds and not by declarations, that the State of Israel is not an enemy and that we want to live with them in peace and willing to help them in such a difficult time," said Eyal Dror in an exclusive interview with Faisal Assegaf from Albalad.co via WhatsApp.
Why did Israeli military helped Syrian refugees and its members of militias?
In 2011, a bloody civil war broke out in Syria. A war from which one million people were killed and over six million became refugees.
In the cities and villages near the Israeli-Syrian border, 250,000 Syrian residents lived. These people lost their homes, medical centers, schools and kindergartens as a result of the relentless bombing of the Syrian regime. People lived without hope and in a severe shortage of humanitarian equipment.
In this area lived armed groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Aharar al-Sham and in addition Hezbollah. These groups posed a danger to the State of Israel. Syrian citizens have been educated for years by the Assad regime to hate the State of Israel and the Jews.
The State of Israel has realized that there is a historic, one-time opportunity to make the Syrians understand who we really are. The decision was to provide humanitarian assistance, as part of the ability to start meeting the Syrians and prove to them by deeds and not by declarations, that the State of Israel is not an enemy and that we want to live with them in peace and willing to help them in such a difficult time.
Whose initiative of that humanitarian program for Syrians?
In 2013, a number of wounded Syrians arrived at the border fence and asked for help and assistance from IDF soldiers. The soldiers (in Israel, every 18-year-old boy enlists in the army) asked their commanders for approval. The project started - from the bottom up, and very quickly the rumor spread in Syria that Israel was treating the wounded Syrians and more Syrians began to come and ask for help and Israel officially decided to help the Syrian citizens.
In 2016, after 3,500 Syrian citizens were treated in Israel, the Good Neighbor Directorate (unit) was established in the IDF - a unit whose role was to significantly increase humanitarian aid to Syrians (until then, Israel had cared for Syrian civilians wounded in the war).
The first ones in 2013 helped by the Israeli military, Syrian civilians or Syrian militias?
When Syrians came to the fence to ask for help we did not ask them for an identity card or passport and did not ask them if they were wounded in battle/fighting or that their house was shelled. For us they were human beings who needed medical attention.
During the six years that the State of Israel has treated the Syrians, I assume from the types of injuries we have seen that some were wounded as a result of direct gunfire, meaning that they probably were armed and fought against the Syrian army.
Another part was injured as a result of the regime's bombing of population centers and another entered Israel for life-saving medical treatment that was not at all related to the fighting (a woman giving birth whose birth was very complicated for example) and who could not receive it because of the poor state of the medical system.
So that was you who had initiate and led the humanitarian assistance for first time in 2013?
The desire to help those who ask for help and the thought that this way we will know the Syrian side better and they will know us better.
How was your feeling when you treated them for first time and how was their response?
At first, it was complex and sensitive. There was suspicion because as mentioned they were educated to hate us and we did not know if terrorists would not try to harm us through the humanitarian aid channel. The assistance was carried out step by step while building trust between the parties. Trust built on deeds rather than words, on hundreds of humanitarian aid operations on cold, rainy nights.
My father's cousin was killed by the Syrians in the war in 1973 and here I find myself saving their lives. But seeing their gratitude and the smile of their children, was worth a lot. Little by little we saw the fear and apprehension disappear and there is a mutual appreciation relationship. During the years, they got to know us and we got to know them.
From where border gates the wounded Syrians brought in by Israeli soldiers to be treated in Israel?
There were several gates in the fence along its entire length (nearly sixty kilometers) through which we brought Syrians into treatment in Israel and through which we transferred humanitarian aid. There was also a spot on Mount Hermon (the highest mountain in Israel) to which the Syrians came to transport the wounded from the villages in the mountainous area and to receive humanitarian aid. In this area the traffic was on mules and not vehicles.
Can you mention the border gates used to help wounded Syrians?
I can't of course say exactly where the gates were. I will just mention that there were a number of gates through which we operated along the entire border. Some in the northern Golan Heights, some in the center of the Golan Heights and some in the southern Golan Heights.
Did Israeli military established field hospitals in the border or brought them to existed hospitals in Israel?
Israel established a small field hospital in 2014 by the military inside Israel near the border.
Also in 2017 the "Good Neighbor" unit established through a Christian, American aid organization (Friendship unlimited) a field clinic east of the border fence where 8,000 Syrians were treated.
In the hospitals in Israel, where we brought the Syrian citizens, 4,500 adults and 1,400 children with chronic diseases were treated. We also moved equipment to establish a maternity hospital for pregnant women, across the border. The hospital was established by Syrian doctors (1,000 syrian babies were born there).
In addition, hundreds of tons of medical equipment and medicines were transferred for the rehabilitation of hospitals and clinics in Syrian cities and villages.
Did Israeli military also built a refugees camp near border inside Syria or Israel?
We did not build refugee camps, but in the summer of 2018 when the Syrian regime began to occupy the villages in the border area and about fifty thousand Syrians fled their homes in light of the heavy bombing, we moved them in 41 humanitarian aid operations, over 700 tents and thousands of tons of food, clothing and diesel to help them.
When this humanitarian programs for Syrians was finished?
After six years of aid that included 700 humanitarian aid operations, in which thousands of tons of equipment such as food (flour, oil, sugar, etc.), warm clothing, medicines, medical equipment, diesel, baby food, diapers and more were transferred. Thousands of Syrians were treated in medical facilities and more than 400 "white helmets" and their families were rescued.
The project ended in the summer of 2018 after the Assad regime occupied all the territory to which the aid was transferred and banned residents from receiving aid from Israel.
Totally, how many Syrians helped by Israeli military during six years humanitarian assistance project?
Israeli aid was provided to a population of nearly a quarter of a million people. Some were physically treated in Israel and the majority enjoyed the diverse humanitarian aid dispute detailed in the previous question.
What was your role in that humanitarian project?
I established the "Good Neighbor" unit and served as it's commander. I coordinated the transfer of aid to contacts on the Syrian side, I coordinated the activities of the Christian, Muslim, Israeli and Jewish aid organizations that transferred the equipment to us and I led all the aid operations with my soldiers.
What was your impression about the whole humanitarian mission for Syrians?
This was a historic and extraordinary operation, in which the State of Israel helped people living in an enemy state, a state whose leader calls for our destruction and helps the Iranians and Hezbollah to establish itself in it and try to open another front against Israel. The Syrians we met, got to know us.
Understand that we are human beings just like them, who want to live with them in peace. They appreciated us and I am sure that for many years to come they will remember the State of Israel and the fact that thanks to us many of them are still alive. I, personally was privileged to do this, and to save and help innocent people
Is there any sweet memory from those humanitarian operations that will be never forgotten?
There are of course thousands of moments I remember from the operation. The most significant for me was this painting of the Israeli flag.
A 9-year-old Syrian girl, suffering from very severe diabetes, has reached the border. We evacuated her to a hospital in Israel, where the doctors told me that if she was delayed by 24 hours she would not be able to survive. She was treated in Israel for six months and before returning to Syria she painted the state flag and wrote on one side her name (Wiham) and on the other side the name the Syrians used to call me (Abu Yaakov)
So do you still keep in touch with some of them?
Unfortunately not anymore. The Syrian regime forbids talking to Israelis. Anyone caught talking to Israelis will be charged with treason and will be considered a collaborator and therefore they are afraid. I am in contact with Syrians who no longer live in Syria and they tell how much they appreciate what we have done for their people. I wish one day I could meet the people we saved ... I wish one day I could meet Wiham.
What was the most important thing from this humanitarian project will you teach to your children?
I learned that in order to get to know other people it is important to talk to each other and not listen to prejudices. I learned that trust builds in deeds and not in words. I will educate my children to be humble, to help anyone who asks for help and to appreciate what we have - it is not obvious.