They call them the “White Helmets.” They’re a civilian rescue force in Syria, working amid the chaos and carnage of the Syrian civil war, rescuing those who have been injured by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless attacks on his own people.
Though the White Helmets are an unarmed, humanitarian group, the Syrian regime considers them enemies. Recently, hundreds of them were forced by advancing Syrian troops into the southwest corner of the country, near the Syrian border with Israel. Had they been captured, they would have been tortured or killed.
Israel saved them. In a daring covert operation, more than 400 of the White Helmets and their family members were spirited across the border from Syria into Israel by the Israel Defense Forces, then sent on to a safe haven in neighboring Jordan. It is all part of what Israel calls “Operation Good Neighbor,” the Jewish state’s ongoing effort to reach out to her Syrian neighbors who are in need.
The rescue stirred controversy. The Syrian government called it a “criminal operation.” The media looked on with typical skepticism, eager to find a way, if not to blame Israel, then at least to focus on the criticism rather than Israel’s pivotal role in the operation. Some seemed to implicitly criticize the Jewish state for failing to rescue all of the White Helmets who were in peril. Others did not acknowledge the role Israel played in the operation at all.
This is discouraging, but entirely predictable – and Operation Good Neighbor will continue despite it. As I wrote several weeks ago, Israel does not engage in such risky operations for good publicity, or in expectation of reward. To Israel, there is nothing “controversial” about saving lives – even the lives of innocent people in enemy countries.
Israel is not perfect; no nation is. But Operation Good Neighbor shows the true character of the Jewish state. In Isaiah 1:17, the Bible directs us to “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.” Surely, Israel has not only learned to do right, but through an initiative like Operation Good Neighbor is showing the rest of the world how to do right.
This, my friends, is what a “light unto the nations” looks like.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President