Revealed: Israel and Donors to Spend $32m Sending Goods to Syrian Civilians This Year

At first Israelis ensured that there was no Hebrew on any of the goods transferred, but after a few months this effort was dropped ■ Syrian drivers are told to take everything so that it is impossible to leave a bomb behind

An Israeli soldier stands by packages of aid meant for Syria.
Gil Eliyahu

Israel and donors to the country are set to spend at least 115 million shekels ($32 million) sending goods to Syrian civilians this year – about 95 million shekels from donations and 20 million shekels from the army budget for the cause.

The 95 million shekels has already been spent on medical equipment, food and medicine. Donations have come from organizations such as the Peres Center for Peace and private citizens including a Syrian living in Chicago. Haaretz obtained the figures through the Freedom of Information Law.

The numbers do not include the cost of providing medical treatment for Syrian civilians inside Israel, which is estimated in the tens of millions of shekels or higher. That sum is funded by the finance, health and defense ministries.

More than 3,000 Syrians wounded in the civil war have been treated at Israeli hospitals, and another 600 adults and 600 children have been brought to Israel for other medical treatment.

From August 2016 to June 2017, transfers to Syria included 92 pallets of drugs, incubators, ventilation machinery, two ambulances, 600 meters (1,970 feet) of pipes, seven generators, 100 tons of warm clothing, 363 tons of food and 1,800 packets of diapers.

How Israeli aid enters enemy territory

All this equipment, paid for by donations, is transported over the border by Syrian trucks that have been allowed to reach special collection points in Israel just over the border. The area and process is supervised by the army.

At first the Israelis ensured that there was no Hebrew on any of the goods transferred, but after a few months this effort was dropped, in part because the shipments were so large.

At the border, a Haaretz reporter witnessed a transfer, which happens almost every night after the shipments are coordinated by phone with village contact people. The Syrian drivers are told to take everything, even empty boxes, so that it is impossible, for example, to leave a bomb behind.

One war-racked village receiving Israeli aid is Jubata al-Khashab, two-thirds of a mile from the border in the Golan Heights. Unlike other villages in the area, its social structures did not fall apart during the Syrian civil war that began in 2011. “There’s somebody to talk to,” an Israeli officer said.

Syrian refugees carry belongings as they return to Syria after crossing the Jordanian border near the town of Nasib, Daraa, August 29, 2017.
MOHAMAD ABAZEED/AFP

Israeli officers have met with leaders of the village, which had no heating oil last winter and had special medical needs like insulin.

The army set up its own administration for the overall effort a year ago. The four officers running the program speak with village contact people, and occasionally Brig. Gen. Yaniv Asor meets with village leaders.

The army’s assistance does not stop with transferring goods. For example, after Israel sent tons of flour, army intelligence enquired if pita prices had fallen in the villages. In another instance, the army sent kitchen equipment before Ramadan.

Displaced people from Raqqa wait to receive food at a camp for internally displaced people in Ain Issa, Syria, August 22, 2017.
DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP

“At the end of the day this is help for people who are really suffering on a day-to-day basis,” an officer said. “The Israeli aid is helping save lives every day.”

The army has taken some criticism for helping Syrians, but it says its efforts also have a military significance: Good neighbors are more likely to restrain hostile groups near the border.

“It’s not a burden. This is a significant element in defending the border, and it has operational significance,” Asor told military correspondents last month.

It’s also why the army has sent over prefab houses to serve as classrooms. “There’s a whole generation of Syrian children who haven’t studied for years,” one officer said. “The only thing that requires no education is guns.”