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Mike Fegelman


In Israel, the Sanctity of Life Trumps Religion and Conflict

Posted: 09/12/2013 3:31 pm

According to Jewish law, if taking a single life is like destroying an entire world, then saving a single life is like saving an entire world.

This concept, known as pikuach nefesh, is derived from the biblical verse "neither shall you stand by the blood of your neighbour" (Lev. 19:16). It's a way of life that's etched into the moral fabric of every Israeli and which helps to explain Israel's resolve in preserving the human life of its own countrymen, of complete strangers, and even of thy enemies.

By now, you have surely heard the story, seen a picture, or at least have heard of the name of Gilad Schalit, but he's not a celebrity or a politician. Gilad didn't choose his fame. Instead, in the early morning of June 25, 2006, Palestinian terrorists crossed Israel's southern border with Gaza through a tunnel and entered sovereign Israeli territory. After attacking his tank with rockets and grenades, killing his commander and another Israeli soldier, Gilad was wounded, abducted and held in solitary confinement for over five years without access to family, lawyers, the Red Cross etc. Gilad didn't even see the light of day while in Hamas captivity for 1,934 days.

Hamas' war crimes and flagrant violations of the Geneva Conventions came to an end after the terrorist organization and Israel agreed to a lopsided exchange of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, hundreds who were convicted terrorists with blood on their hands, just for a staff-sergeant of the Israel Defense Forces. Irrespective of the wisdom, or lack thereof, in negotiating with terrorists for terrorists most likely bound for recidivism, Israel's efforts reaffirmed the tremendous value it places on human life.

This valuation of life was best epitomized in the Israeli film Precious Life which was short-listed for best documentary at the 2011 Academy Awards. The film told of the harrowing tale of a four-year-old Palestinian boy with a rare and deadly disease who could only be saved by a Jewish doctor in the Tel-Hashomer Hospital in Jerusalem. This touching story of how Israeli and Palestinian doctors attempt to save the life of Mohammad Abu Mustaffa is a regular happening that takes place every day in Israeli hospitals where Jewish doctors operate on Arab patients and vice-versa. When it comes to human life in Israel, the sanctity of life is not met with discrimination.

This unique ethos explains why as conflict rages in Syria, Israel has taken in hundreds of Syrian refugees who were in need of urgent medical care. Even though Israel is officially at war with Syria, the preservation of life trumps security concerns. Likewise, when Palestinian terrorists try to make a "martyr" out of their children by indoctrinating them to adorn suicide bomb vests in order to maim and murder innocents, Israel remarkably takes painful efforts to save that child's life. After all, a child brainwashed by terrorists to commit murder is a perfect example of innocence being exploited and human life rendered to be lacking value.

Beyond the conflicts that envelope Israel's borders, wherever a natural disaster occurs, be it small or of biblical proportion, Israeli rescue teams are often the first responders whether in earthquake-struck Japan or in Haiti to provide much needed relief, and to save lives. IsraAID, an Israeli humanitarian organization, offers targeted help including disaster relief, search and rescue, rebuilding communities and schools, aid packages, medical assistance, micro-financing and post-psychotrauma care. These Israelis are there to implement Tikkun Olam, a Jewish mission to "repair the world".

Israeli innovators are also repairing us internally and are on the vanguard in developing cutting-edge medical technologies and surgical treatments. Think of new nanotechnology solutions developed by Israelis or the made-in-Israel PillCam, a breakthrough capsule endoscopy solution to record images of the digestive tract without invasive surgeries. When U.S. President Barack Obama was in Israel recently, he was given a demonstration of ReWalk, a battery-operated exoskeleton suit created by Argo Medical Technologies which allows paraplegics to confidently walk anywhere they want. Meanwhile, Israeli scientists from Mobileye have developed collision-prevention systems to help drivers navigate more safely.

Gilad's situation was as analogous to the ones above with the common denominator being that Israel, which contrary to international headlines claiming the Jewish state has a lust for violence, views human life as irreplaceable. For while Israel cherishes life, its enemies seek death while trying to kill.

Whilst in captivity, Gilad did not know that his government, the Israel Defense Forces, Jews in the diaspora, friends of Israel, and the international community were all tirelessly campaigning to win his freedom. Israeli Defense Forces soldiers are always taught that their country would never leave a soldier behind, and one can only hope that Gilad found solace following his release when he learned of the incredible efforts taken by a number of countries, organizations, and individuals who advocated for his welfare and safe return. Such efforts were best epitomized when Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the following about Gilad: "We have great sympathy for him, his family and all those who know him. He stands as a symbol and remembrance that terrorism is a very real fact in Israel's day-to-day existence. He is a symbol of that reality and of the complete lawlessness of those in that region who threaten Israel's existence." Likewise, the efforts of Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, along with the Liberal Party of Canada, deserve recognition for their fervent lobbying for Gilad's release, along with the tens of thousands of Canadians from coast to coast who rallied and prayed for his redemption.

On Sept. 16, Gilad is coming to Canada to convey a message of thanks to the Canadian people in a cross country tour organized thanks to the sterling efforts of the Jewish National Fund of Canada. This venerable organization is also deserving of praise for honouring Prime Minister Harper for his efforts to ensure that support for Israel is non-negotiable and sacrosanct.

You may be used to hearing tired libels of alleged Israeli brutality in the media, but as sunlight is the best disinfectant, let us hope that Gilad's story will put a spotlight on Israel's steadfast resolve to preserve precious human life.

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  • Turkey

    Turkey has struck the Syrian military repeatedly in response to shelling and mortar rounds from Syria since Oct. 3, when shells from Syria struck the Turkish village of Akcakale, killing two women and three children. The incident prompted NATO to convene an emergency meeting and Turkey sent tanks and anti-aircraft batteries to the area. Turkey's military has also scrambled fighter jets after Syrian helicopters flew close to the border. <em>Caption: Turkish soldiers patrols as Syrian nationals pass the border between Syria and Turkey on November 10, 2012, near the town of Ceylanpinar. (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Turkey

    There are about 120,000 Syrian refugees sheltering in Turkish camps, with up to 70,000 more living in Turkey outside the camps. Thousands more wait at the border, held up as Turkey struggles to cope with the influx. Turkey also hosts much of the opposition and rebel leadership. <em>Caption: A Syrian-Kurdish woman refugee sits in the courtyard of a house in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar, bordering Syria, on November 10, 2012. (PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Turkey

    Turkey has called for a buffer zone in Syria where the opposition and civilians would be protected, a step that would likely require international enforcement of a no-fly zone. Russia and China have blocked robust moves against the Syrian regime at the U.N. Security Council, and the United States has been reluctant to use its military in another Mideast conflict. <em>Caption: Turkish soldiers patrols as Syrian nationals pass the border between Syria and Turkey on November 10, 2012, near the town of Ceylanpinar. (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Israel

    Israel on Monday became the second country to strike the Syrian military, after Turkey. An Israeli tank hit a Syrian armored vehicle after shells from fighting in Syria exploded in Israel-controlled Golan Heights. A day earlier, Israel fired a warning shot near a group of Syrian fighters. <em>Caption: Israeli tanks, one in position, the other getting into a firing position in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights overlooking the Syrian village of Bariqa, Monday, Nov. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)</em>

  • Israel

    Syrian shells have exploded inside the Golan several times in recent weeks damaging apple orchards, sparking fires and spreading panic but causing no injuries. In early November, three Syrian tanks entered the Golan demilitarized zone, and in a separate incident an Israeli patrol vehicle was peppered with bullets fired from Syria; no one was hurt in the incident and the Israeli military deemed it accidental. <em>Caption: Smoke rises after shells fired by the Syrian army explode in the Syrian village of Bariqa, Monday, Nov. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)</em>

  • Israel

    There is concern in Israel that Assad may try to spark a conflict with Israel, opening up the potential for attacks by Lebanon's militant Hezbollah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israel has also warned that Syria's chemical weapons could be turned on the Jewish state. Still, while no friend of Assad, Israel is also worried that if he is toppled, Syria could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists or descend into sectarian warfare. <em>Caption: Israeli troops and UN peacekeepers inspect on November 8, 2012 the area where three mortar shells fired from Syria landed in Alonei Habashan in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967. (JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Lebanon

    Mortars and shells from the Syrian side regularly crash in Lebanon, causing several casualties, though Lebanese forces have never fired back. More dangerously, Syria's conflict has heightened deep rivalries and sectarian tensions in its smaller neighbor. Lebanon is divided between pro-Assad and anti-Assad factions, a legacy of the nearly three decades when Damascus all but ruled Lebanon, until 2005. Assad's ally, the Hezbollah militia is Lebanon's strongest political and military movement. <em>Caption: Lebanese army commandos deploy in the Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighbourhoods where clashes are taking place between Sunnis and Alawites in the northern city of Tripoli on October 23, 2012. (JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • Lebanon

    On Oct. 19, a car bomb assassinated Lebanon's top intelligence chief, Wissam al-Hassan. Many in Lebanon blamed Syria and Hezbollah for the assassination. The northern Lebanese city of Tripoli has seen repeated clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites – the Shiite offshoot sect to which Assad belongs. Battles in the city in May and August killed at least 23 people total and wounded dozens. <em>Caption: A memorial poster of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, who was assassinated Friday, hangs near the spot Friday's car bomb attack that killed Al-Hassan, in the Achrafieh district of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)</em>

  • Lebanon

    The kidnapping of Lebanese Shiites in Syria by rebels has also had repercussions in Lebanon. In May, Shiites blocked roads and burned tires in protest over the abductions, and later in the summer a powerful Shiite clan took 20 Syrians and a Turk in Lebanon captive in retaliation, all of whom have since been released. Lebanon also shelters about 100,000 Syrian refugees. <em>Caption: A Syrian man Firas Qamro, 31, who was injured during clashes that erupted between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime, in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)</em>

  • Jordan

    Jordan has taken the brunt of the refugee exodus from Syria, with some 265,000 Syrians fleeing across the border. Around 42,000 of them are housed at Zaatari, a dust-filled refugee camp, where riots have broken out several times by Syrians angry over lack of services. A growing number of stray Syrian missiles have fallen on Jordanian villages in the north in recent weeks, wounding several civilians. <em>Caption: In this Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 photo, a Jordanian army vehicle carries Syrian refugees who have fled violence in their country having crossed into Jordanian territory with their families near the town of Ramtha. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)</em>

  • Jordan

    Late last month, a Jordanian border patrol officer was killed in clashes with eight militants trying to cross into Syria. Hours earlier, Jordan announced the arrest of 11 suspected al-Qaida-linked militants allegedly planning to attack shopping malls and Western diplomatic missions in Jordan. <em>Caption: Jordanian border soldiers guard newly-arrived Syrian refugee families after they crossed the border from Tal Shehab city in Syria, through the Al Yarmouk River valley, into Thnebeh town, in Ramtha , Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo / Mohammad Hannon)</em>

  • Iraq

    Sunni and Shiite fighters from Iraq have made their way to Syria to join the civil war – the former on the side of the opposition, the latter siding with Assad's regime, according to Iraqi officials and Shiite militants. Sunni al-Qaida fighters are believed to be moving between Iraq and Syria, and some al-Qaida fighters in Iraq's western Anbar province have regrouped under the name of the Free Iraqi Army, a nod to the rebels' Free Syrian Army, Iraqi officials say. <em>Caption: In this Saturday, March 17, 2012 file photo, Syrian security officers gather in front the damaged building of the aviation intelligence department, which was attacked by one of two explosions in Damascus, Syria. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File)</em>

  • Iraq

    About 49,000 Syrian refugees have temporarily resettled in Iraq, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The United States has pressured Baghdad to stop Iranian planes suspected of ferrying arms to Syria from using Iraqi airspace. Iraq has so far acknowledged only forcing two planes to land for inspection and said it didn't find any weapons either time. <em>Caption: Syrian refugees rest as they have crossed the border by the Iraqi town of Qaim, 200 miles (320 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)</em>


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