An Interfaith Alliance to Aid Refugees

Syrian refugees at a camp in the Turkish border town of Yayladagi in Hatay province in 2011. (REUTERS)
Syrian refugees at a camp in the Turkish border town of Yayladagi in Hatay province in 2011. (REUTERS)

Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians have come together to help displaced Syrians.

Last month I visited the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan known as Za’atari. With 80,000 occupants, the camp would be the fourth-largest city in Jordan. It occupies a vast desert plain, filled with endless rows of tents that are gradually being replaced with rows of metal-sided caravans. Za’atari is a dreary place, but it is teeming with resilient people.

Residents of camps like Za’atari make up only 20% of the nearly four million refugees who have fled Syria. The rest live in cities, where they are often unregistered and therefore ineligible for services. These refugees tend to live in squalor and are vulnerable to exploitation. Nearly 80% of the refugees are women and children. These figures don’t include the 12.2 million within Syria who are either internally displaced or in urgent need of help.

About 200,000 people have been killed in Syria, many after torture. A photographer, who documented these horrors for the regime but defected, smuggled his photos out of Syria; they were passed on to me by a Syrian non-governmental organization. These emaciated, disfigured corpses could be skeletal Jewish inmates photographed during the liberation of Dachau, but they aren’t. They are Syrian Muslims and Christians—and this is happening now.

As a Jew, I felt compelled to respond, and out of that response came an unexpected union. In partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and with the convening of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, I initiated the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees. MFA includes Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Sikhs, as well as other faith-based and secular groups. In addition to raising awareness of the crisis, MFA raises funds to support organizations that are working on the ground to provide services to refugees.

Many nongovernmental organizations struggle to address this traumatized population’s immense needs. Among those groups are Israeli organizations that are operating throughout the region. Some of them—the Israeli Trauma Coalition, Saving a Child’s Heart and IsraAid, for instance—allow themselves to be identified. Others prefer to operate below the radar because, as Israelis, they are in hostile areas. Despite this animus, the Israeli government has opened its northern border in the Golan to treat wounded Syrians in Israeli hospitals.

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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal
Georgette Bennett

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