August 30, 2013
Jews helping Syrians: Never invited, always welcome
As President Barack Obama and the world deliberate over how to respond to Syria’s murderous decision to use chemical weapons, a group of Israeli Jews have been fighting the humanitarian crisis the old-fashioned way—by smuggling aid into Syria. For these Jews, a life lost is a life lost. The 100,000 Syrian lives lost since the war started two years ago have the same human value to them as the lives lost recently through chemical weapons.
That’s why they’ve been at this for 18 months.
“We go where we’re not invited,” Gal Lusky told me by phone from Tel Aviv, a few days after returning from another clandestine mission in Syria, where she and other Jews have brought in about 300,000 meals, five ambulances, and some 700 tons of aid over the past 18 months to help some of the millions of displaced victims of the Syrian war.
Lusky, who in 2005 founded the group Israeli Flying Aid, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides humanitarian relief to communities stricken by natural disasters or territorial conflicts around the world, asked me not to reveal how she got into Syria.
“We got in trouble last time because a previous route was revealed,” she said. “We can’t have this one revealed.”
She also got in trouble when a Syrian rebel commander found out that she was an Israeli Jew. Although Lusky had provided critical humanitarian assistance to the commander’s group, the commander could not swallow that she was part of the Zionist enemy.
“Let me finish with them [the Syrian government], and then I’m coming for you,” he told her.
The problem for the commander, though, was that there was no consensus in his “party” to get rid of Lusky’s group. As Lusky explained it to me, many Syrians in the rebel party were sympathetic to her group because they saw how these Jews were risking their lives to help them.
Eventually, she told me, the group actually splintered over this issue. Those who defended Lusky even signed an agreement to continue cooperating with Lusky’s group.
I asked her to bring this agreement to Los Angeles, where she will be speaking at the Temple of the Arts on Yom Kippur. She said she would, but it wouldn’t be for publication, because she couldn’t reveal the name of the rebel group.
Over the years, Lusky and her team of activists—which comprises volunteers from a variety of professions including doctors, psychologists and social workers—have supplied aid to victims where even the United Nations and the Red Cross have struggled to help. Their missions have assisted flood victims in Chechnya, earthquake victims in India, Kashmir and Pakistan, tsunami victims in Sri Lanka, refugees in Iraq, genocide victims in Sudan, earthquake victims in Haiti, and, most recently, victims of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
Depending on where they operate, they have different “appearances.” If they are in territory hostile to Jews and Israel, they will even appear as a Muslim or European group. The idea, Lusky says, is to enable the aid to enter and to minimize any safety risks, as there are already plenty of those. Having different “appearances” is obviously a small price to pay for saving human lives.
Her biggest enemy is often the regimes that don’t allow humanitarian assistance of any kind. “They even make laws against this kind of help,” she told me. “For them, these laws are more important than life.
“They call us criminals, but the victims call us angels.”
Gal Lusky will speak at the Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts at the Saban Theatre on Friday night, Sept. 13, during Kol Nidre services, and during Yom Kippur services the following day.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at email@example.com.