JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel is “not indifferent to the human tragedy” of refugees from Syria and Africa, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, but it is too small to absorb mass numbers of them. “We have already devotedly cared for approximately 1,000 wounded people from the fighting in Syria and we have helped them to rehabilitate their lives,” the Israeli prime minister said Sunday, Sept. 6, at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting. “But, Israel is a small country, a very small country, that lacks demographic and geographic depth; therefore, we must control our borders, against both illegal migrants and terrorism,” Netanyahu said.
His statement came as Israeli lawmakers debated how to respond to the regional refugee crisis. Deputy Minister for Regional Affairs Ayoub Kara, an Israeli-Druze lawmaker for the Likud party, said Israel should take in thousands of Syrian refugees, as did opposition leader Isaac Herzog. “Our people has experienced first-hand the silence of the world and cannot be indifferent in the face of the murder and massacre raging in Syria,” he said in a Facebook post. Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party said that allowing Palestinian refugees from Syria in to Israel could legitimize the Palestinians’ claim of a right of return.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the U.N. to pressure Israel to allow Palestinians living in refugee camps in Syria to enter the West Bank.