Many of us know of people affected by the fires that raged across Israel this past week. Even if we don’t, the sight of Israel ablaze kindles all kinds of emotions.
Not least, it brought back terrible memories of the Carmel forest fires of 2011, and the misery they caused. But unlike then, this devastation of recent days seems – at least in part– to have been caused deliberately.
It represents, in a word, a new kind of terror, one in which those who mean Israel harm need only wait for hot weather and high winds before striking a match. Even in the arid Middle Eastern heat, it is a chilling thought. Yet even from the ashes, there are positives. The range of countries coming to Israel’s aid was both wide and heart-warming. By sending dozens of Palestinian firefighters to help, Mahmoud Abbas has done more for good relations with his Israeli neighbours than he has done… well, ever.
The fires also saw new Israeli technology tested, with crews in fire-resistant vehicles sent in to the danger zone to assess the situation and advise on the response. Yet the biggest plus to come out of this sadness was seen on a community-level, with strangers opening their homes to strangers, offering refuge from the flames.
You often see the best in people in the worst situations. But after years of hatred, of village against village, you’d think Israelis may be reluctant to house complete strangers, perhaps of different ethnicity or background. Not a bit of it. The sight of Jews housing Arabs, of Arabs housing Jews, of Christians and Druze, Orthodox and secular, all mixing in to help, cuts through politics, and represents the Israel many of us want to see.
Just not in these circumstances.