Syrian refugees (AP/Hassan Ammar) (AP/Hassan Ammar)
Syria refugees

Israeli “settler” youth donate their skills and time to aid Syrian refugee children on Israel’s border. 

It is a Monday night in late February and the basement of the community center brims with teens. Strewn on the floor, on tables and on makeshift plastic shelves are assorted children’s clothes, blankets, packages of diapers, pacifiers, baby wipes and baby formula. Several youths pack goods into care packages, while others track inventory and sort newly arrived goods.

The activity looks like any other charity drive, but this one comes with a twist: The teenagers are Orthodox residents of Efrat, the largest town in Gush Etzion, and the recipients are Syrian civil war refugees.

“There is a common view, even from friends of other states, that Gush Etzion consists only of right-wingers who don’t care about Palestinians and who consider all Arabs to be enemies,” said Asher Krohn, a 12th grade student at Orot Yehuda school who heads the effort. “But it isn’t true. Aside from the pure humanitarian aspect, it was important to step up and show that people from Judea and Samaria really do care and do want to help”.

Gush Etzion is a cluster of Jewish communities located in the Judean Hills, directly south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Biweekly for the past two months, trucks collect supplies donated by residents of Efrat, Kfar Etzion, Elazar, Neve Daniel, and Alon Shvut. The goods are transported north and brought to needy Syrian children over the border.

The project is run by some 30 teenagers from around Gush Etzion, who are responsible for  publicity, donation colection, and drumming up support from local politicians and business leaders.

“The idea is to help as much as we can and raise awareness, not enough people know what is going on. We are also going to use the mailing list of different local communities that we have in Efrat as a very extensive connection web, to reach a maximum of people,” said Krohn.

Millions of Syrian Children Affected

According to the UNICEF 2016 Humanitarian Results, more than eight million children inside and outside of Syria have been affected by the Syrian civil war since it began in 2011, including more than 2.4 million displaced children.

“The teenagers work at a slightly different rate because for them, participating in the project is part of an educating and maturation process. We adults, do things very fast, but the kids ask lots of questions about how and why. They needed to familiarize themselves with what is happening beyond the border,” explained Shoshi Bogoch, Director of Efrat’s Community Center.

“It created a dynamic discourse inside families that I consider is no less important than the contributions themselves.”

The group also contacted Rabbi Shivi Froman, a resident of Tekoa, another Gush Etzion community and the founder of ‘Syrians on the Fences’, a group that has collected more than one million Shekels from about 8000 donors to buy equipment for children, in collaboration with the Israel Flying Aid (IFA).

“Syrians on the Fences was created after so many Israelis from different backgrounds connected to talk about what we could do for Syrian victims beyond praying for them,” said Froman. “I know where our contributors come from, and I can say safely say that a very respectable part are from Gush Etzion.”

By: Ilana Messika/TPS