November 27, 2016

Israel on Fire

Haifa on fire (AFP)
You can call it a fire intifada, an arson intifada or random fires. The truth is that Israel is on fire. Literally. Some 80,000 Israelis have been evacuated from their homes in the last week. 

There have been 220 separate fires burning in northern and central Israel leaving many families homeless, precious forests ruined and fields ravaged.

We have had no rain all November.  There has been just one insignificant rainfall in parts of the country since last winter. Everything here is bone dry. And then the winds picked up. They were blowing furiously last week and our tinderbox of a country caught fire.

I do not know how these fires became an intifada but they did. A single naturally caused fire plus perhaps some suspicious reports about arson literally sparked a blaze. 

There were fires all around Jerusalem, Modi’in, Haifa and many settlements in the Yehuda and Shomron area. Perpetrators starting these fires were caught on camera.  They even tried to set the Haifa fire station on fire in order to paralyze the fire fighting crews. Many have been arrested. And the damage continues.

See the chaos from Saturday in the once tranquil forested town of Beit Meir, which is just outside Jerusalem off Highway 1.

Everyone in Beit Meir was evacuated from their homes, including 300 people from a guesthouse. Three perpetrators were seen fleeing the area and one has since been arrested.

International aid came quickly. The US Supertanker with 50 American firefighters landed in Israel on Friday. With its 19,600 gallons of fire retardant, it was able to contain the flames outside Jerusalem near the main highway. 

Egypt has sent two helicopters and Azerbaijan sent a plane. Jordan responded with fire trucks and firefighters. Turkey, Russia, Italy and Croatia also committed to help. The Palestinians arrived with eight fire trucks and 40 firefighters, working along Israelis in Haifa to help contain the raging inferno.

KKL website home page
From rockets to knives to car rammings to matches, I guess we’ve seen it all here. Unfortunately. 

Yet when the going gets tough, Israelis pull up their sleeves and run to help.  

A hotline was set up by the KKL (Keren Kayemet Leumi) asking for volunteers who had 4x4 cars to guard the forests.  The phone lines were flooded with willing helpers, including my husband Amir.

Plea to guard the forests

Amir left a phone message and received a call back on Friday. He was asked where he lived and then given a choice of forests in our area. 

He chose a forest nearby and was told to bring a companion and to drive around the forest looking for suspicious activity. If he were to see something, he was to call the police or the fire department.

He was grateful to be able to do something. In emergency situations, it is so hard to see suffering and feel powerless. Amir called his fellow adventurer-friend Ken and they arranged to go out Saturday evening for a four-hour shift.  He brought along a fire extinguisher just in case, while Ken decided a baseball bat could be helpful.

Amir and Ken on guard duty.
They set off last night. When they arrived at the tiny forest, a police car was already there. The police stopped them right away, asked them who they were and thanked them for their assistance. 

While Amir and Ken were driving around, they noticed other cars in the middle of the night in this small dark forest. These were other Israeli volunteers also looking around for arsonists.  

Eventually one car flagged them down; it was he next shift of volunteers assigned to this tiny forest. These volunteers were so zealous about protecting their country, they turned up early and told Amir and Ken to go home.  

Turns out this tiny dark forest seemed to be a little crowded for a Saturday night. Hopefully all forests, groves, towns and settlements across Israel are being watched by such caring eyes.

Last week, two arsonists set fires outside the town of Ariel in broad daylight by a road. With glee, they returned back to their village. The Israeli motorists who saw this happen jumped out of their cars and started dousing the fires with water bottles.  

Just outside Haifa, a yeshiva was told to keep watch. As the students guarded the grounds, they saw two young arsonists setting fires right by the school building. The students reacted quickly and were able to stop their school from burning down. They even tried to run after the criminals but could not catch them.

Yesterday, three separate fires were started by arsonists in the town of Neve Tsuf. 350 people were evacuated and 15 homes were burnt down to the ground. An appeal went out last night for people to bring bedding, towels and clothes for the families who now have nothing. Cars left an hour later loaded down with supplies.
Neve Tsuf engulfed in flames (Israel national News)

There is also a hotline for families who have room in their homes to host displaced families. This same appeal happened with northern families in the Lebanon war and also in Tsuk Eitan to aid families living near Gaza.

Fires may burn down homes, schools and forests but the hearts of Israelis burn with pride, unity and love. Now, if only we could have some rain...

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