The British arms of Israeli charities have sought to mobilise support from within the UK Jewish community for Israelis whose homes and livelihoods have been scorched by more than 200 fires raging across the country.
Emergency appeals were made by Jewish National Fund (JNF), Magen David Adom (MDA) and ZAKA, but other charities, such as UJIA and WJR, said they were not seeking funding, because Israel has not asked for it.
The Jewish Agency is to provide $1,000 to every family affected by the fires, after money was promised by Jewish Federations of North America. “At trying times like these, world Jewry feels closely connected to what is taking place in Israel and comes to our help without hesitation,” said Jewish Agency chief Natan Sharansky.
Money was also given by Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who said those who could not return to their homes because they were damaged or destroyed would get $650 each. “We stand by our residents even after the smoke clears,” he said.
The north of Israel has been particularly hit, with the worst of the fires centred around Haifa, where 80,000 people were forced to flee their homes, but hot dry weather and high winds have fanned flames up and down the country, with other major fires breaking out in Zichron Ya’akov, Modiin and Rishon LeZion.
Israelis have rallied to help their compatriots, with communities outside the fire-affected zones providing accommodation to those who have been forced from their homes. “It is striking that at times such as these, our differences evaporate and we see the people of Israel at their finest,” said a UJIA spokeswoman.
JNF said it was working with HaShomer HaChadash, which has opened emergency response centres in the Negev and Galilee, sending volunteers out to patrol forests and “track arsonists,” after authorities said some fires had been started deliberately.
JNF-UK chief executive Alan Aziz said: “It has been scary to witness and to see the devastating damage caused. I was in Israel whilst it was happening. We have launched an emergency appeal with [national airliner] El Al to help rebuild burnt infrastructure in Israel and we pray that such a disaster does not happen again.”
The fires have claimed thousands of acres of land and hundreds of homes, and the Magen David Adom rescue service said 122 people had been treated for fire-related injuries, mostly smoke inhalation, with one person seriously injured. “All of this comes at a cost, please help us cover it,” said a spokesman for MDA-UK.
Planes were sent from 12 countries including Greece, France, Spain, Ukraine and Turkey, with eight others, including the UK, offering support, while a “supertanker” provided by the United States extinguished flames near Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the “many countries” sending planes, pilots and firefighters, and contacted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to thank him for sending 41 firefighters and eight trucks, after Palestinian and Israeli firefighters fought the blaze alongside one another in Haifa.
“The Prime Minister also appreciates the fact that Jews and Arabs alike opened their homes to those affected by the fires,” said Netanyahu’s spokesman.
However Netanyahu has suggested that the fires were “an act of terror,” adding: “Whoever starts a fire, either by malice or negligence, whoever incites to arson – we will act against them with full force.”
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Sunday that 30 people had been arrested, including one man from Hussan, who “was seen on CCTV starting a fire”.