An Israeli Aid Worker’s Clandestine Effort To Help Syrian Refugees

"I'm just now back from the across the Golan border. Even more civilians are pouring in—they know their protectors will not survive. There!—you can hear a bomb in the background.” Gal Lusky, a founder and leader of the relief organization Israeli Flying Aid, is speaking to me by phone from Israel. She has been working covertly—and audaciously—to support displaced civilians in southwest and northern Syria since the beginning of the insurgency against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, in April, 2011. Lusky told me that she wanted to publicly disclose her clandestine efforts in view of what she called “the extremity of the situation”—yet another daunting humanitarian crisis, the result of a massive regime-led military offensive in Dara’a, Syria’s southwest province, which Dexter Filkins described last week, and which seems bound to become yet another military flashpoint along Israel’s northeast border. The lives of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrian civilians are at risk, and Lusky, confident that her group represents Jewish values that her government elides, is determined to rescue whomever she can. Instead of hearing a ring when you call her cell phone, you hear Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.” She wants callers to understand just whom they are dealing with.

Syrian Army forces, supported by Hezbollah and other Shia militias—and indiscriminate Russian bombing—have been focussing attacks in Dara’a, which is about thirty to forty miles east of the Israeli border. Their targets are remnants of the Free Syrian Army (or F.S.A.)—the ragtag force that was haltingly supported by the Obama Administration from 2011 to 2015, and which the U.S. all but abandoned when the Islamic State and its affiliated insurgents proved to be the common, and more serious, adversary of Assad and U.S.-backed Iraq. Last Friday, the F.S.A. announced a ceasefire ahead of “de-escalation talks,” scheduled for this month, in Sochi. But the Russian Air Force violated the ceasefire almost immediately. The push into Dara’a, and the vast humanitarian suffering it is unleashing, will add to the shadows over Donald Trump’s summit with Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki, next Monday.

Lusky’s efforts to aid civilians fleeing Dara’a are focussed on Israel’s border with Syria, the ceasefire line established by the “disengagement of forces” agreement negotiated by Henry Kissinger in the early summer of 1974, following the war in October, 1973. That agreement established a “buffer zone” between Israeli and Syrian forces, occupied by a token contingent of United Nations peacekeepers—a slim band of territory, about fifty miles long and never more than six and a half miles wide, adding up to about a hundred square miles in all. Previous attacks by the Syrian Army have driven about sixty thousand displaced civilians, many labelled by Assad as F.S.A. collaborators, into this buffer zone. Assuming that they can find it—the zone is just a few hundred yards wide in some places—more Syrian civilians seem likely to crowd into the area, raising the total number to more than three hundred thousand.

Read on at The New Yorker