“Salam Aleikum” began the letter that hundreds of Syrian refugees found attached to tents they received last week via the Israel Defense Forces’ Operation Good Neighbor.
Finally, she wanted to introduce herself.
“Although you are considered to be our sworn enemies and although by operating in the field our volunteers were risking their lives, as the descendants of Jews that survived the Holocaust, we, the volunteers of Israeli Flying Aid, proud Jewish citizens of the State of Israel, sanctify life and will not stand idly by as women and children are continuously slaughtered,” Lusky wrote.
Within 24 hours, she started receiving emails in response — including children’s drawings that brought tears to her eyes.
“I’m so emotional about it,” Lusky tells ISRAEL21c. “I needed those people to know who we are. I want them to feel a tiny bit of solidarity, to fill their souls as well as their stomachs.”
Israeli Flying Aid secured most of the 300 tents, 13 tons of food, 15 tons of baby formula, three pallets of medical supplies, and 30 tons of clothes and shoes sent overnight by the IDF last week to tens of thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing Bashar Assad’s latest offensive against rebel holdouts in the Daraa region of southwest Syria.
“We worked delicately in the beginning and didn’t want to embarrass those we are helping,” Lusky says, but recently she explained to opposition political leaders in southern Syria that precious time is wasted removing identifying labels from medication and other desperately needed supplies coming from Israel.
“They said, ‘Gal, we’re risking ourselves anyway and we’ll take what we can to help our people.’”
And so she decided to go public with the effort that has been going on for years in cooperation with the IDF – not including Israeli Flying Aid’s other covert activities around the world since 2005.
Golan Heights residents pitch in
Lusky’s passion to help has been matched by other individual Israelis, especially in the Golan Heights where residents constantly hear shooting, explosions and Iranian missiles flying over their heads as the conflict rages over the Syrian border.
The Golan Regional Council, encompassing 32 Israeli towns and villages, has made several appeals over the past few years for residents to collect items that the IDF deemed most needed by Syrian refugees – everything from blankets to sunshades.
“The heart of the Israeli people in the Golan is just phenomenal. They’re giving to people who would otherwise be considered their enemies.”
A message sent out on July 1 has garnered the largest response to date, council spokeswoman Dalia Amos tells ISRAEL21c.
“This time there was a huge response from all over the country, not only our communities. I think what really excited everyone was that we asked for families to make bags for Syrian children containing small toys, coloring pages and sweets. We emailed all the children in the Golan a blessing in Arabic that they can print out or copy over and put in their packages,” Amos says.
“My daughter asked me, ‘What about the mommies?’ I said, ‘When a mommy sees her child happy, it’s one moment when she will also be happy,’” Amos reports.
The council is getting calls from as far away as Gaza border communities – where Israelis have their own worries daily – wishing to bring care packages to the Golan. “We have factories and stores calling us too,” says Amos. “One toy store here is donating wood toys with Arabic lettering on them.”
Amos emphasizes that Golan residents have been collecting supplies, clothes and toys all year round to transfer to Syrian refugees through the IDF.
Some of these Israeli donations are channeled through the Louisiana-based Friend Ships Unlimited humanitarian-aid organization, which has volunteers from the United States stationed locally.
This week, they sent out a flyer of their own, requesting donations of shoes and sandals, boys’ and men’s clothing, baby bottles, pacifiers, pots, pans, dolls, and bottled water for Syrian refugees.
Teri Shields, head of the Friend Ships volunteer effort in Israel, tells ISRAEL21c that the low-profile organization “is committed to working in Israel for four years, or as long as the IDF Good Neighbor project needs us.”
Friend Ships operates the medical field clinic Mazor Ladach (also called Camp Ichay) set up in August 2017 at a former IDF outpost on the Israeli-Syrian border to care for Syrian war victims. A huge playground was built there as well.
“The army got the area ready for the clinic, and we brought in our tents and equipment and personnel because Israelis aren’t allowed to work there, even those with dual citizenship,” says Shields. “We’re 100% volunteer and in desperate need of doctors and nurses. We have 15 staff members running a camp that has treated 6,000 patients and served a total of 8,000 people in the past 11 months.”
Shields finds Israelis are eager to help in any way they can.
“The heart of the Israeli people in the Golan is just phenomenal. They’re giving to people who would otherwise be considered their enemies. It’s amazing to me,” says Shields.
More help needed
Thus far, the IDF’s Operation Good Neighbor has coordinated the transfer of 1,524 tons of food, 947,520 liters of fuel, 7,933 diaper packages, 54 tons of baby food, 24,900 boxes of medicine and medical equipment, 775 medical equipment units, 250 tons of clothing, 13,920 hygienic products, and more than 300 tents to Syrians since June 2016.
Israeli Flying Aid has sent millions of dollars’ worth of medical supplies to 14 hospitals and clinics in Syria. Equipment is donated by Baylor University Medical Center in Texas, while medication is purchased with contributions from American Jewish organizations and Israelis.
“The IDF brings everything in on our behalf. They take all the risk and do amazing work. In the last two and a half years that the fence is open they are spending millions on the manpower and logistics to make this possible, putting their soldiers at tremendous risk even to bring wounded Syrians into Israel,” says Lusky.
The IDF-sponsored 20-bed maternity hospital inside Syria also is supplied with Baylor medical equipment and baby formula donated to Israeli Flying Aid by Israeli companies.
“Many of the moms are too stressed to breastfeed, and they cannot afford formula,” Lusky explains. “We work with many Israeli manufacturers and supermarkets that open their hearts and give donations of everything from formula to shoes.”
Lusky first allowed her organization’s name in the news in 2013 when it delivered 70 tons of winter clothing and bedding for Syrian civil war refugees collected by Israeli youth groups in 14 cities.
This week, Israeli Flying Aid has arranged for another 3,000 tents to be shipped from China to help shelter hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, and aims to provide 20,000 tents altogether.
Lusky says supplies sent by the UN reach only Assad’s regime, and she hopes direct American aid can be provided, through Israel, to desperate children and women of the opposition.
“The regime is pushing them toward our border fence. In the last week, five girls were killed by scorpion bites. They need anti-venom and asthma medications. Everything is so hectic and even simple infections can cause death when there are no antibiotics,” Lusky says.