Shalom on the Front Lines: Operation Good Neighbor

By Thursday, September 7, 2017

It is common to see 18- and 19-year-olds in army green uniforms with M16s slung across their backs walking along the streets of Jerusalem.

Israel is unique, since military service has been compulsory since the beginning of the military’s existence, and Israel’s is the only military in the world that requires both men and women to serve.

But what makes the Israeli Defense Forces a truly unique fighting force in the region?

The IDF has a tenacious commitment to defending human lives and providing care to those who are most in need. Throughout its existence, the IDF has carried out numerous humanitarian missions that have successfully saved thousands of lives.

One of its most compelling undertakings – which was recently unveiled just one year ago – is called Operation Good Neighbor. In August 2016, the chief officer of the Northern Command described it as a relief operation that provides humanitarian aid such as basic medical treatment and food to thousands of Syrians along the border.

The Israel Defense Forces exemplify selfless service in the noblest manner. The IDF is considered to be one of the most able military forces in the world, and certainly the most capable in the Middle East. Israel’s quality and effectiveness regarding technological advances and the training of personnel are unparalleled.

In March 2011, following the start of the Syrian civil war, the IDF took note of the growing number of casualties from the conflict and decided to set up a field hospital on the border to treat injured victims.

That field hospital was initially kept secret, because it was unknown how the Syrians would react and if they would be willing to trust the Israelis, considering that the only narrative they had ever heard or known was of Israel’s being the enemy.

Depending on the level of his or her casualty, a patient is either treated at the field clinic or transported to Ziv Medical Hospital and given more attention by a full team of doctors.

During the recent Philos Leadership Institute trip to Israel, we were able to visit Ziv, which is located in the northern Golan Heights and upper Galilee area. We talked to the hospital staff members and doctors to learn about their role in providing care for the patients they see. We also interacted with wounded Syrians who had been picked up on the border by IDF soldiers. It was so powerful to hear these patients’ testimonies describing how dramatically their view of Israel has changed now that they have crossed the border and received treatment from the Israeli doctors.

Muhammad, a 43-year-old Syrian who was being treated for leg wounds, said that the most surprising part of the whole experience (being treated by Israeli doctors and speaking to IDF soldiers) was realizing how many lies the Syrian government had fed him: “I saw what [Bashar] Assad didn’t want us to see,” he said, speaking of the Syrian president. “I saw how he institutionalized fear and hatred toward the Western World and Israel. I saw the opposite of his lies here. I saw the truth.”

The Syrians expressed their gratitude for the attention they had received from the Israeli doctors and IDF soldiers. Countless have gained a completely different perspective on Israel and now realize how much that country has done and is continuing to do to help the Syrians who are in the midst of so much turmoil.

Israel’s policy of treating all wounded Syrians who reach the border seeking help despite their country’s bilateral relations is a testament to Israelis’ deep commitment to saving lives regardless of ethnicity or nationality.

What are Israel’s personal interests in Operation Good Neighbor?

The country’s provision of care and attention to its neighbors who are most in need is a moral imperative. Israel believes that providing aid will create a less hostile environment between her and her neighbors, and will eventually lead to improved Israeli security. The goal of Operation Good Neighbor is to provide humanitarian aid to as many people as possible, while maintaining Israel’s policy of nonviolent involvement in the Syrian conflict. Through this program, more than 4,000 people – including children – have received medical treatment in Israel.

Ziv Hospital provides humanitarian aid to a heterogeneous group of patients including Jews, Arabs, Druze, children, rebels, civilians, and IDF and United Nations soldiers.

Israel is a powerful and moral force that prioritizes human life and invests its resources and human capital into humanitarian efforts. The country’s military should be commended for its high and intact values and its goal of providing aid to even those who hate Israel. The IDF is committed to upholding the dignity of every human life, and carries out this objective on a daily basis through Operation Good Neighbor.

Gabriela Anciola

Gaby Anciola is an alumna of the 2017 Philos Leadership Institute. She is currently an M.A. Candidate in International Affairs at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C.

  • Amanda Achtman

    Excellent post, Gaby!