By Gabriela Taveras
Upwards of 200,000 casualties have been lost to deadly civilian and sectarian conflict that continues to ravage Syria, once deemed a role model for progressive development in the Middle East. A number of countries have pledged support to aid civilians fleeing Syria. Last week, Germany committed itself to accepting over 800,000 refugees, while the United States promised to welcome at least 10,000 Syrians into its borders. Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, as well as the United Kingdom, have increased migrant and financial support.
However, not every country has softened or modified its immigration policies to accommodate refugees from Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, and other highly unstable areas of the world. On September 4, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected calls from Israeli liberals to open the country’s borders to refugees.
Netanyahu claims that while Israel is “not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees,” the country is not in a position to take them in. This statement came in response to Israel’s liberal opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who firmly proclaimed Jewish history’s moral obligation to show compassion. Herzog’s statement further challenged Israel’s apparent indifference to the ongoing carnage in neighboring Syria, ignoring that their nation once felt the weight of the “world’s silence” and that Israel is in no position to reject cries for help.
Netanyahu elaborated on his policy decision by claiming that Israel was “a very small country that lacks demographic and geographic depth,” and that he refused to see Israel “submerged by a wave of illegal migrants and terrorist activists.” Currently, the country’s demographic breakdown consists of 6.2 million Jews–roughly 75 percent of the population–and Arab citizens comprising more than 20 percent. Additionally, an estimated 4.6 million Palestinians live in occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Similar to Hungary’s move to build or strengthen fences and walls to keep migrants at bay, Netanyahu stressed that there will be a 30-kilometer extension of the 240-kilometer fence running along the Israeli-Egyptian border, as well as another fence that will be built along the Jordanian border in the east.
Defending the government’s draconian measures, Netanyahu pointed to official figures that counted 45,000 refugees in Israel, along with medical care provided for over 1,000 injured Syrians.