World Jewish Relief: It’s our duty to act on Syria

By Sandy Rashty, September 12, 2013
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A Syrian child and refugee (Photo: MaximilianV)

A Syrian child and refugee (Photo: MaximilianV)

A UK-based Jewish charity has launched an appeal to help tens of thousands of civilians affected by the civil war in Syria.

The fundraising drive by World Jewish Relief (WJR) makes the charity the latest in a growing number of Jewish organisations around the world seeking to assist the innocent victims of the war.

WJR will help Save the Children UK provide medical supplies, housing and food to around 70,000 Syrian children living in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. There are an estimated 130,000 Syrian refugees in Za’atari, 54 per cent of whom are under the age of 18.

The chief executive of WJR, Paul Anticoni, said: “In keeping with the Jewish imperative of tikkun olam, we are once again calling on our generous community to help us assist people in desperate need.

“Currently Syria is experiencing the largest refugee crisis in the world and, as a community, we must extend our support wherever there is extreme need.”

Mr Anticoni recognised the political issues that surround the appeal but insisted that “we have a moral obligation to act. British Jewry has always been very generous in its concern and now recognises the unquestionable need over the political complexity of the crisis.”

Ronen Shoval, the chairman of Im Tirtzu, a Zionist movement based in Israel, said: “The civilised Western world has a moral duty to take action. A crying baby is a crying baby. It doesn’t matter if it’s Muslim, Christian or Jewish. People who say otherwise — there’s something missing in their heart.”

Mr Anticoni was keen to stress that WJR’s appeal “will not take away from our efforts to Jewish communities around the world — particularly in the Soviet Union. Our core work continues and this in an additional appeal.”

The WJR appeal follows an announcement last month by the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the New York-based Jewish humanitarian assistance organisation, that it was heading up a coalition of groups to finance welfare programmes for Syrian children.

The coalition, the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, is giving WJR £10,000 to help fund its mission via one of its sub-groups, the Jewish Coalition for Syrian Refugees.

Israeli institutions and charities have also been heavily involved in the relief effort.

One Israeli NGO – which prefers not to be named for security reasons – has been quietly smuggling food, medicine and emergency workers across the border into Syria for the past 18 months.

The CEO of the charity, which has taken some 300,000 meals, five ambulances and 700 tons of aid into Syria via a secret route, said that when one injured Syrian man discovered that an Israeli had come to assist him, he exclaimed, through tears: “We knew the whole time those who would come to us would be Jews — what took so long?”

IsrAID, the largest international Israeli humanitarian assistance organisation, is also distributing aid and food to Syrians, at a refugee camp near the town of Mafraq in Jordan.

Meanwhile, Israeli hospitals near the Syrian border have been treating civilians – and even some rebel fighters – wounded in nearby battles.

Doctors in the Ziv Medical Centre in Safed, for example, have devoted extensive resources to accommodate the complicated and delicate injuries sustained by Syrians who managed to get to Israel.

The WJR is currently in talks with Israeli partners to extend support to other refugee camps in Jordan.

More than two million Syrian refugees have fled to neighbouring countries as a result of the war. Mr Anticoni said: “Unlike other contexts where refugees remove themselves from a situation and then return – here there is little chance of rapid return. It’s a long term crisis.”

Last updated: 12:02pm, September 12 2013