Operation “human warmth”

29/01/14

Barak Sella’s speech in the International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2014.

Teaching of the holocaust is a very integral part of an Israeli child’s education. On a things I find most memorable, is the Evian conference, in which the nations of the world decided to ignore the severe situation of the Jewish people, by refusing to take in a substantial number of Jewish refugees. As a young student I was of course very naïve and didn’t understand how could this happen. How could the world’s leaders ignore such an obvious human crisis? How could they not see the meaning of the decision? As I grew up I became less innocent and was exposed to how most leaders make their decisions most of the time. It is very hard to realize, that while I was educated that your values, mainly humanistic values should lead your actions, many leaders and politicians are driven mainly by political and economic interests. Therefore, I think that the Syrian situation has caught most of the Israeli society in great embarrassment. On one hand, as a state founded by not only, but many refugees themselves, we must be the first to come to the aid of refugees all over the world. We have learned the lesson from evian and shouldn’t act the same. On the other hand, Syria is an enemy state with no diplomatic relations with Israel. This situation is very complicated and demands a complex action by our behalf.

A terrible civil war has been raging for some two years on the other side of the Syrian border. Since the conflict broke out, over 160,000 people have been killed, some half of them civilians, including 40,000 women and children. Approximately 9 million residents – 40% of the Syrian population, primarily women and children – live today without a roof over their heads. Most of the refugees and displaced persons are in constant mortal danger due to shortages of bare survival necessities and lack basic and critical supplies necessary to survive the cold winter. For example, during the recent cold snap in our region Jerusalem was covered with beautiful white snow and Israeli public and service workers worked hard in to keep everything in order, 27 Syrian children lost their lives due to the harsh conditions.

As a response to this awful situation on the other side of the border, Israeli Flying Aid, the Hanoar Haoved VeHalomed Youth Movement and Dror Israel have decided together to lead a nation-wide humanitarian operation in order to collect life-saving winter supplies, including coats, blankets and sleeping bags.

The project was led by Israeli youth, in order to aid non-combatant women and children. Beginning on 29/12 and until January 15, a nation-wide operation took place to collect winter supplies. Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed clubs served as local collection points, 80 in number. Operation organizers called on the public to join this important project and bring winter supplies to one of the 15 movement clubs in which the supplies were initially collected (list attached). In order to assure that all the information is available for the public, a website and facebook page were set up immediately.

Members and counselors of Hanoar Haoved VeHalomed lead the collection, packaging and sorting of the supplies. In each collection point, an adult councilor was appointed to make sure that all packaging protocols were followed.

Those donating supplies were asked to follow several guidelines in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the refugees and displaced persons who will use the items collected: for example, do not donate items with logos of Israeli brands or Hebrew print. Packaging coordinators will remove all tags from each item. After sorting and packaging, supplies will then be transferred to Israeli Flying Aid storage sites. In summary, after 3 weeks 20,000 items were collected in 1,200 boxes and 8 trucks. Approximately 30 tons of life saving equipment that will pass on the Syrian refugees and misplaced persons,

Many individuals, groups and organizations joined the operation: Hamachanot Haolim youth movement, technological schools from the “Ort” network, the Christ church in Jerusalem and more. This is an emergency situation which we cannot ignore. Our history as a nation and the fact that we are a democratic society obligates us from a moral perspective to act in order to help all victims, no matter who they are – to be the voice of the voiceless. We must not stand aside when we can help those who need it. A human disaster of enormous proportions is taking place four hours by car from Tel Aviv, and a mere hour from the Sea of Galilee, committing us as Israelis and human beings to act so lives are saved.

I am proud to be a part of a movement in which young people are not willing to remain silent, and are actively gathering aid for women and children without shelter who are suffering from cold and hunger. Because of our past and our geographic proximity and despite the complexity involved, Israeli citizens, are putting politics aside and not remaining indifferent to the suffering of innocents. To me, these young people are fulfilling the Zionist dream.

 This operation was very meaningful and may even genuinely save lives. It was a great effort of thousands of people, Jews, Bedouin and Muslim Arabs, Christians and Druze who have worked together in order to reach out and do what they can. When you have an opportunity to save human lives we have a real obligation to do so. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small act of human decency or something much larger, everyone has to take part in whatever way they can.

This reminds me of the story about an old man who threw star fish, one by one, back to the sea while thousands of more were stranded on shore. A young child walking by asked him what is the point of throwing them back – he is ne old man and there are thousands… he can’t save them all. The old man smiled at the child and said while throwing another starfish back – “it matters. For him.”

This is a story about the sanctity of life. It is inspiring. But it always made me wonder. As a story on its own it is beautiful and meant to inspire, but how can we ignore the thousands of starfish left to die?.. Have we truly done enough to save them? Or are we just doing enough to quit our conscience?

This is my question and therefore it is also our duty. Not to rest and not to feel good about ourselves, but to prepare for tomorrow and convince more to join us in the struggle to reduce and prevent human suffering wherever it is possible.

Barak Sella

Dror – Israel