By Anav Silverman –
Tazpit News Agency –
In what UNHCR officials have described as the worst refugee crisis in 20 years, over a million Syrians, half of which are children, have fled the country in the past six months. Since the outbreak of the Syrian war in March 2011, the total number of Syrian refugees is now up to 2 million people. According to Jordan’s minister of state for media affairs, Mohammad al-Momani, over one million of those Syrian refugees have flooded into Jordan.
For neighboring Israelis, the tragic developments have not gone by unnoticed.
“There are a number of Israeli citizens and organizations involved with aid distribution to Syrian refugees, which have sent hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid to Jordan,” said Dr. Nir Boms from Haifa University in a recent interview with Tazpit News Agency.
Dr. Boms himself is involved with aid distribution to Syrian refugees through an Israeli group called Hand in Hand with Syrian Refugees. Made up of concerned Israeli citizens and NGOs, Hand in Hand was initiated in the beginning of 2013 to address the Syrian situation
Partnering up with an American Christian charity, Operation Blessing, and Israel’s Reut Institute, Hand in Hand has been raising funds, sending and distributing humanitarian aid to Jordan’s Syrian refugees throughout the past year.
In May, Hand in Hand sent a special truckload filled with 5,000 winter jackets and sweaters, along with 1,000 pairs of shoes and toys, with the aid of Operation Blessing to Syrian refugees.
“We didn’t know at first if we would succeed in getting the truckload of items into Jordan and to the Syrian refugees,” says Melanie, who asked that her last name not be mentioned. An Israeli mom from northern Israel who spearheaded the distribution project with Dr. Boms, Melanie collected thousands of clothing items and raised money to make the project happen.
“It began as word of mouth – first we started collecting from neighbors and friends, then from different sectors across the nation including Jews and Arabs and finally from international supporters,” explains Melanie.
“What we are doing is our Jewish duty,” Dr. Boms explains. “This is a Jewish message – we cannot ignore what is going on in Syria after everything our own nation has been through. On a humanitarian level, we owe the Syrian people this help.”
Melanie says that when the truck finally reached its destination, the Syrian refugees were ecstatic. “Our Israeli delegation reported that many of the children were missing winter jackets and other articles of clothing, so the truckload was met by many happy faces.”
The political sensitivities also had to be addressed – Melanie removed any Hebrew labels from the clothing. Moreover, the items were sent through a Christian organization because Jordan would have refused to allow the truck entry had it become known that Israel or Jewish organizations were behind the clothing collection.
“We are getting a lot of positive feedback – especially from Syrian refugees via our group’s Facebook page,” says Melanie. This year, Hand in Hand is collecting funds to purchase woolen blankets to keep Syrian refugees in Jordan warm during the winter.
“There’s always bad news from this region – the humanitarian aid is the only positive outcome from the Syrian tragedy. Maybe projects like Hand in Hand can help create a different Middle East,” concludes Dr. Boms.