As many in Israel are concerned over the possibility that the civil war raging in Syria will spill over to the Golan Heights and strengthen the standing of Hezbollah, some Israelis regard the crisis in the neighboring country from another angle entirely.
Jerusalem native Moti Kahana heads a group of Israeli businessmen and American Jews who travel to the Syrian refugee camps to provide humanitarian aid to victims of one of the era's bloodiest conflicts. "We are Jews and Israelis and we can't sit still as women and children are being butchered nearby," he told Ynet.
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Kahana took part in an annual conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he raised the flag of the Free Syrian Army during a speech by an opposition activist. "While I'm here to assist the Free Syria movement, my brother Steve is on reserve service at the Golan Heights, treating injured Syrians," said Kahana, who lives in New Jersey but has family in Israel.
Moti Kahan (photo: Yitzhak Benhorin)
"We said that the Holocaust will not happen again and I do not wish to compare, but people are dying next to us and we cannot sit still," he added.
Since the group's activity has started two years ago Kahana invested over $100,000 of his personal funds, and helped raise over half a million dollars from US Jews. "For me entering Syria is like arriving to Tel - Aviv," he said. "We raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past two years and I'm tasked with transferring donations to liberal organizations in Syria."
Kahana says the organization started as a charity operated by him and a number of friends, but they could not foresee how long the conflict would run. "When we ran out of money we started raising funds from US synagogues," he told Ynet.
Syrian refugees in Jordan (Photo: Reuters)
The group's latest initiative is offering interest free loans to women who wish start their own businesses. The gender bias is no accident as "men are either engaged in the warfare or dead, and 70% of the refugees are women," according to Kahane. "Sadly, women began to engage in prostitution in order to survive, so we give them money."
He said Israelis' reactions to the initiative tend to be favorable, and the group enjoys some influential patrons, including a member of Knesset. "These days Syria looks worse than Gaza. Assad is destroying the Syrian people, but the people there are human beings like everyone else, who want to watch football and eat shawarma."
The annual Soref policy conference attracts participants ranging from Middle East experts to Israeli and Arab policy makers. Speaking to Israeli reporters, two speakers affiliated with the Syrian opposition addressed the possibility of a US aerial attack against the forces of Bashar Assad's regime.
"A few American aerial strikes will cause Assad's regime to collapse. Indeed, Israel has carried out an attack with surgical precision, without any problems" said one of the leaders of the Syrian diaspora in the US, who wished to remain anonymous.
"Assad is never going to flee, and while he's there the country's being taken over by al-Qaeda on the one hand and Iran and Hezbollah on the other."
He and his associate were optimistic regarding the possibility that a future democratic Syrian government will ease tensions with Israel.
"There is no reason one democracy should harbor hostilities to another, and if Israel agrees to territorial compromises in the Golan Heights, Syria can establish peace with Israel, because otherwise there is no animosity between the two peoples," he declared.
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