December 27, 2016

Alarms Blare and Firefighters Scramble As Israel Burns

Aryeh Lande ‘18

Between November 20 and November 27, Israeli Authorities have been struggling to contain over 1,500 fires spreading across the country.
According to the Department of Fire and Rescue Services, 250 of these blazes have been considered major fires. While wildfires are to be expected in an arid climate such as Israel’s, the number of instances during this time span is twice the number recorded last year.
Authorities blamed the staggering statistics on simple cases of negligence along with deliberate cases of arson. Israel is undergoing a dry spell at the moment and scorching conditions along with strong winds have propelled the fires across the country. The fires began just outside of Jerusalem, supported by strong winds and then spread into the north. Additionally, Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, had multiple cases of uncontrollable fires in residential areas.
The inferno forced tens of thousands of residents to flee and left a wake of hundreds of scorched homes. Thanks to vigilant efforts by authorities, however, there were no deaths and only a small number of smoke-inhalation related injuries.
The fires also had devastating effects on infrastructure. In Haifa, especially, large housing developments have been diminished to rubble causing millions of dollars in damages.
What made these fires most frightening was the lack of water Israel had at its disposal to combat the blazes. Luckily, the Israeli firefighters were helped by some unlikely allies.
Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and Russia all sent help in some form, recognizing the humanitarian crisis at hand if they did not act. Additionally, the Palestinian Authority, in a rare effort to help Israel, sent firefighters to help combat the blaze. Images have circulated around social media showing Palestinian and Israeli firefighters battling the fires together.
In response to the outbreak, the government has found concrete evidence that 17 fires were deliberate acts of arson. In connection with the fires, 35 Palestinian terrorists have been arrested and more investigations are to follow. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that he is going to fast track the rebuilding process for those affected and give reparations to the victims. He also called President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to thank him for the aid in a tender moment of coexistence.
With most of the fires under control, the nation is shifting from a frenzied panic to a mentality of rebuilding and restoration. Over 32,000 acres were destroyed and the government has pledged to do whatever it takes to restore the areas hardest hit as soon as possible. Unfortunately, these fires have highlighted just how vulnerable Israel is to environmental terrorism. The incidents have instilled fear into the general public.
As Oshrat Morag, a rabbi and Haifa resident said, “It is shocking to see my city burning. Buildings in flames, the Carmel Mountain blackened and the sky grey from smoke.”
We pray all those affected will achieve a speedy recovery.
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