How a country treats refugees can be the single most defining issue in understanding a nation’s values and commitment to human rights. After the now yearlong brutal crackdown by the Assad regime in Syria, tens of thousands of refugees have set up camp in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Lebanon, which has a long history of mistreatment of refugees, has already showed that it is falling into its old habits when it rebuked the US ambassador’s call to protect Syrian refugees in the country. If Lebanon’s past behavior is any indication of what awaits the country’s newest refugees than the Syrians who fled Assad’s brutal crackdown are likely to face widespread institutionalized discrimination. Palestinian refugees who first fled to Lebanon in 1948 were forced to stay in camps, prevented from many professions, denied education, denied citizenship and faced other discriminatory laws which still apply to their descendents, more than sixty years later.
Israel on the other hand has a long history of showing compassion for refugees and helping them establish a new life. The Jewish Arab refugees that Israel absorbed around the same years Lebanon first received Palestinian refugees were granted citizenship and full and equal rights. These refugees were fully integrated into Israeli society, thrived in government, business and elsewhere, and their descendents are fully Israeli. Currently, African refugees who bypass Egypt and other Arab countries to flee to safety in Israel are afforded protected status and receive compassion from Israeli society.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Israelis are now organizing an aid mission for Syrian refugees in Jordan; or should it? Syria is an enemy country and is technically in a state of war with Israel. Many of the Syrians who are about to be the recipients of Israeli aid and compassion may be the same people who chanted “death to Israel” and burnt Israeli flags at the many anti-Israel demonstrations held in Syria over the years. Despite this, Israelis still maintain compassion for people in need.
That is the difference between a free, moral, just and democratic society and one that is fraught with ethnic strife, power struggles and overrun by terrorist organizations. In a true democracy like Israel, people see people as just that; nothing more, nothing less, we are all equal. A person in need deserves compassion, regardless of their dispositions. That is why Israelis can extend their hand to people who have called for their destruction and that is why Israel has always, and will always, choose peace over hatred and violence.