Israel Turns Away Syrian Refugees As Fighting Nears Border

Early morning on July 18th, reports emerged out of the Middle East that the Israeli army turned away scores of Syrian refugees as they approached the border fence along Golan Heights. The incident happened in the Syrian province of Quneitra, one of the regions which has experienced the most fighting in recent months. The Syrian government’s renewed push to expel the last pockets of rebels belonging to ISIS has left tens of thousands adrift and desperate, as the government’s indiscriminate tactics endanger civilians and rebel fighters alike.

Reuters TV footage showed an Israeli soldier shouting “You are on the border of the State of Israel. Go back, we don’t want to hurt you. Go back before something bad happens. If you want us to be able to help you, go back. Get a move on.” Of course, the Israeli army has only recently been in the midst of a humanitarian scandal itself, as it killed or injured thousands of Palestinian protesters earlier in the year as they approached Israeli territory, armed with only rocks or sticks.

According to Al-Jazeera, upon hearing the soldier’s warning, the crowd slowly turned and trudged back towards the IDP encampment. Some of the refugees apparently stopped and waived white cloths, signaling peaceful intent. It is an all too familiar sight for this most recent wave of Syrian refugees, who have been turned away at Jordan’s border as well.

Lama Fakih, deputy director of the Middle East and North African division at Human Rights Watch, told Al-Jazeera that “The tens of thousands that have been displaced are fleeing extensive bombardment. They have left in many cases with literally the clothing on their backs. They are living in areas where there is intense heat without adequate shelter, without adequate humanitarian assistance, and despite the extreme humanitarian conditions and insecurity in the area, both the Israeli and the Jordanian government have persisted in not allowing these asylum seekers to try to seek refuge across the border.”

Though Israel has given humanitarian aid to the refugee encampments outside its border, Fakih suggested that the country’s actions fall far short of what is required. He continued to Al-Jazeera, saying that “Quite simply it is inadequate and inhumane. These are individuals that are desperate for assistance. The response from the Israeli government has been to provide assistance across the border which has been inadequate. There are serious concerns for displaced populations that remain in Syria.”

The United Nations estimates that over 160,000 people have been displaced due to the recent violence in the southern part of the country. Many of these Syrians are scrambling to try to find whatever shelter they can as the fighting follows them towards the borders of the country. As the fighting grows nearer and nearer to these desperate persons, what will be done by the countries who have it in their power to save countless innocent lives?