Syrian-Israeli Humanitarian Partnership is a Great Glimmer of Hope

Food supplies in the Golan Heights to be delivered to Syrians in need.

Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In an article in the New York Times, Dr. Georgette Bennett, founder of the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, described the newly-disclosed cooperation between Syrians and Israelis to provide direct humanitarian aid to Syrians as “a great glimmer of hope coming out of this tragedy.” Two years of meetings, cultivated by MFA, have contributed to a new channel of relief and a path to future stability in the region. Shadi Martini, MFA's Director of Humanitarian Aid and Regional Relations, explained how many Syrians, brought up to fear Israelis, now have a newfound perspective.

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After story of this groundbreaking partnership became public, MFA issued the following press release:

New York, NY, July 20, 2017 -- Yesterday in Israel the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) held a press conference to discuss the scope of Israeli aid to Syrians. In cooperation with the IDF, New York based Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees (MFA) played a major role in forging a historic partnership between the Israelis and Syrians. For the first time, Syrian NGOs are shipping humanitarian aid from the U.S. to Israeli ports, where the IDF has facilitated deliveries into previously inaccessible areas in southern Syria.

Two years of back-channel and on-site meetings, cultivated by MFA, have contributed to this new channel of relief and a path to future stability in the region.

In 2014, MFA began advocating to governmental and other bodies in Europe, the U.K., Canada, Israel and the U.S. to use Israel as a staging ground for the delivery of international humanitarian aid to Syria. Through its network, MFA developed strong relationships with Syrian NGOs that were willing to work with Israelis to deliver desperately needed aid.

In 2016, the IDF approached MFA with Israel’s newly adopted Good Neighborhood Policy. MFA moved immediately to connect the IDF with its network of Syrian NGOs, using its credibility to engender trust among the parties.

To date, ten containers with a value of nearly $21.5 million of food, clothing, medicines, medical supplies and equipment -- and even two ambulances -- have been distributed to a region of southern Syria with nearly 1.5 million people. This initiative has had a dramatic impact on both sides of the border. Both sides are now setting even more ambitious goals for the future, including an education program for both Syrian and Israeli children cleansed of negative stereotypes, the refurbishing of a hospital by a Syrian NGO just inside the Syrian border with water, electricity and power furnished by the IDF, along with the continuing flow of much needed relief coming from both Syrian relief agencies based in the U.S., UK and Dubai.

“Out of tremendous need has come a great opportunity to build bridges. These former adversaries have risen above enmity and suspicion to work together as humanitarians -- laying the groundwork for a new paradigm for cooperation,” said MFA founder, Dr. Georgette Bennett. “MFA salutes the IDF for its extraordinary role in facilitating the delivery of critically needed humanitarian aid directly to Syria as part of Israel’s Good Neighbor Policy,” continued Dr. Bennett.

As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Dr. Bennett was deeply moved by the Syrian refugee crisis. Having arrived in the United States as a refugee herself, escaping from Hungary to France, she refused to sit idly by in the face of such suffering.

MFA worked with members of the Syrian diaspora in the U.S. led by Syrian refugee Shadi Martini. Martini and his networks were central in engendering the trust that was necessary to make this partnership possible. In March 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on those providing aid to anyone suspected of being in the opposition, Mr. Martini, then the General Manager of a hospital in Aleppo, and his comrades worked covertly to provide aid to wounded and ill civilians. This secret network was eventually discovered in mid-2012, forcing him to flee his country.

“This steady flow of humanitarian aid is not only helping tens of thousands of war victims in southern Syria, and potentially thousands more, but is changing minds and countering generations of hostility, promoting dialogue and understanding between Syrians and Israelis,” said Shadi Martini, Director of Humanitarian Relief and Regional Relations to the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees.

Initial critical, catalytic funding to launch MFA’s people-to-people efforts was provided by the Howard and Abby Milstein Foundation.

“Given the 77% funding gap in the Syrian crisis response for UN agencies, private sector funds are urgently needed to provide the kind of aid-in-place that is being facilitated by the Multifaith Alliance. MFA’s efforts in addressing immediate needs while, at the same time, advancing long-term stability is unique, courageous and highly effective,” said Howard Milstein.

MFA is in the process of creating a mechanism for individuals to sponsor the shipment of containers of humanitarian supplies. The goal is to increase the amount of aid being moving into southern Syria, while continuing to push further into parts of Syria that are currently inaccessible to relief efforts. More than 6.5 million people, including 2.8 million children, are displaced inside of Syria. By the end of 2016, the United Nations estimated that 4.9 million people lived in areas that were officially deemed “hard to reach,” where travel and supplies were blocked or severely limited.


Humanitarian shipments, sent through the Syria-Israel channel, being delivered into southern Syria.

The identities of people and organizations have been obscured to protect those involved.

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