Opinion |

Suddenly Gideon Levy Doesn’t Care About International Law

Attacking Israel for not getting involved in Syria is hypocrisy.

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Syrian refugees are pictured in a camp as Syrians fleeing the northern embattled city of Aleppo wait on February 6, 2016 in Bab al-Salama, northern Syria, near the Turkish border crossing.
How can Israel help the Syrian refugees?Credit: AFP

Gideon Levy calls everyone hypocrites. The fact that so many people are horrified by the massacre in Syria, even if too late and even if without any real ability to influence events, infuriates him. By what right, asks Levy, do ordinary people, neither politicians nor journalists, neither wealthy nor influential, dare to react to reports in the media and be horrified at the massacre of innocent civilians?

Levy claims that anyone who is shocked is worse that those who engage in schadenfreude or those who are indifferent, and here’s why: Those who are horrified don’t think that Israel is obligated to absorb Syrian refugees or help them. Nor are they willing to sacrifice their children to a war in Syria, and still they are calling on the Western countries to fight and stop the atrocities. They think that everyone has a responsibility except Israel, although in fact it has a greater responsibility because it borders on Syria.

Here is a point on which Levy is right: Israel has a moral responsibility for what is happening in Syria, especially because we are the only developed country that shares a border with it. The other countries that share a border with Syria – Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – are already collapsing under the burden of the millions of refugees who have crossed over to them in a desperate attempt to save their lives. Lebanon, incidentally, is facing economic collapse because every fifth person in the country is a Syrian refugee.

But the solutions that Levy suggests for the situation are what belie the reality, because they ignore any responsibility for it. Israel need not and cannot invade Syria, not even for humanitarian reasons. That would be an invasion in contradiction to international law (and after all, international law is usually Levy’s guide). Nor is Israel a great power, therefore the chances that such an invasion would deteriorate into an overall regional war are great.

The organization that was supposed to begin such a process is the United Nations Security Council. That’s precisely why it exists – in order to try to ensure that not every country can invade its neighbor with humanitarian claims, and that’s a good thing. That’s why it’s logical and even necessary to demand of the influential powers in the Security Council to take immediate military and humanitarian action in Syria.

Aside from that, absorbing hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Israel is not possible, both for security and diplomatic reasons, despite the morality of such a step. I don’t know how many Syrian refugees Levy spoke to, but if he tries to do so, he will discover that for many of them receiving help from Israel is considered treason. The lack of confidence in Israel would make the absorption of masses of refugees difficult, even if we decide to ignore the basic security problem of bringing hundreds of thousands of Syrians into Israeli territory.

Levy ignored the fact that Israel does help Syrian’s civilian population in a variety of ways, both overt and covert. The treatment of the wounded that he mentioned is one of them, but there are additional humanitarian and diplomatic activities being carried out by the diplomatic, security and civilian establishment (with combined forces), which Levy didn’t mention. Perhaps he didn’t know and perhaps he didn’t check. Even an op-ed in a newspaper must be based on facts, even when the situation is complex.

Several months ago I was involved in an international initiative to establish a refugee camp in the Israeli-Syrian buffer zone. A senior Haaretz journalist, with whom I consulted on the subject, immediately suggested that I write an op-ed in the paper about it. At the time I decided that before writing I first had to understand the feasibility of the initiative in humanitarian, economic, security and political terms, then to implement it, and only later to write about it. Because empty thoughts don’t contribute a thing. Not even an op-ed accusing others of hypocrisy.

The writer is a journalist and a graduate of the Master of Public Policy program at the University of Oxford.