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Fires In Israel - Help Those Affected

Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, along with other Federations across North America, is collecting funds to help address the impact of more than 200 fires across Israel, which have displaced hundreds of thousands of people, destroying thousands of homes.

The impact on Israelis will be long-lasting. People will have to return to their damaged homes, schools and neighborhoods. Many community institutions that provide vital programs and services—including those of our partners—have been hit hard. They will be struggling to rebuild just when they are needed most. You can help - click here to contribute.

The Government of Israel is supporting those impacted by the fires primarily through local municipalities. Jewish Federations are working with our local partners and the National Emergency Authority to assess urgent and emerging needs. Here is Monday's update:

Israel is assessing the widespread destruction and tallying the damages caused by five days of wildfires which burned across the country. This morning’s report is written with cautious optimism that the fires are finally over. Strong winds are still expected for another 24 hours, but all fires are now under control, and the forecast is for considerably improved weather conditions from Tuesday including a high probability of rain later in the week.

The (Final) Toll
  • Despite the destruction, the almost remarkable take-away headline is the fact that there were no fatalities. A total of 180 people were treated by medical staff, but most of these were for minor injuries (with just three moderately hurt), mainly from smoke inhalation.
  • Extreme weather conditions - very strong winds following an extended period without rain- enabled fires to spread rapidly. Close to 2,500 firefighters fought an unprecedented 480 blazes over the five day period.
  • Thousands of homes were damaged by fire many of which are now temporarily uninhabitable or were completely destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of residents were forced to evacuate.
  • Over the course of five days, multiple schools were evacuated, as were two prisons. Rail lines were cut, many major roads were temporarily closed, and water and electricity supplies were interrupted.
  • The worst fires took place in Israel’s third largest city, Haifa, where some 60,000 residents were evacuated, a full quarter of the city’s population. Authorities say that around 2,000 dwellings were damaged, including 527 apartments that are uninhabitable and 37 that were completely destroyed in Haifa alone. More than 1,600 Haifa residents were made homeless.
  • In addition to Haifa, major fires also spread in Zichron Ya’akov, Bet Meir, Nataf, Halamish, Dolev, Har Halutz, Ya’ad and Gilon.
  • A total of 32,000 acres of natural forest land has also been burned, about 30 percent more than during the 2010 Carmel Forest Fire.
  • A number of dramatic photos from the fire, as published in The Guardian, can be see here.

The Firefighters
In total, 2,000 Israeli firefighters were joined by 450 IDF Home Command personnel. Some 70 Cypriot soldiers also helped fight the blazes, and around 50 American Jewish firefighters volunteered and joined the effort. The Palestinian Authority sent 41 personnel and eight fire trucks to Haifa during the blazes there.

The combined forces unleashed a total of half a million tons of water and flame retardant over the five days of fires.

Fourteen Israeli firefighting planes were joined by fifteen planes from other countries, including the Supertanker, which was leased by the Israeli government from an American company. A total of 480 flight missions were invaluable to the efforts.

Israel has sent special thanks to the countries that contributed planes and personnel: Cyprus, Turkey, Russia, Italy, Spain, Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Greece and Croatia.

The Causes
According to Israeli authorities, the initial fires were likely caused by the extreme weather conditions. However, police and fire investigators have gathered extensive evidence suggesting that many of the later – and largest – fires were deliberately set, with the arsonists taking advantage of the high winds and dry ground.

Some 35 people have so far been arrested for arson and incitement to arson, and police have said evidence indicates that the perpetrators were motivated by Palestinian nationalism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, “There is a price to pay for the crimes committed, there is a price to pay for arson terrorism.”

Partners
The Jewish Agency for Israel

The Jewish Agency has announced that it will provide cash grants of $1,000 to families whose home was entirely destroyed and/or has been structurally damaged and cannot be lived in for the foreseeable future. It is estimated that there are around 700 such families. Funding for the grants will be provided by special contributions from Jewish Federations.  In addition, a number of Agency absorption centers have taken in people evacuated from the fires, including the Amigour housing facility in Kiryat Yam, which opened its doors to provide nursing care for 22 elderly Holocaust survivors who were evacuated from their nursing facilities in Haifa.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)
The JDC has been focused on two of its traditional areas of expertise:

Most Vulnerable Residents - Elderly, people with disabilities, and families at risk typically need more than the standard provisions being provided by the government. JDC is looking to provide targeted support to enable residents to recover from the damages caused by the fires – both physical and emotional – and adjust to their new reality quickly. JDC is currently identifying additional support services to meet the needs as they are assessed, including temporary respite if needed.

Strengthening Response and Preparedness Systems – In addition to meeting the immediate needs of the residents affected by the fires, JDC is assessing improvements needed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of Israel's emergency response systems. Possible directions include: enhancing coordination between agencies such as community centers, NGOs, government and municipal authorities; capacity-building; improving service provision, and introducing complementary support services. For example, JDC has activated its "Center for Independent Living Online" so that people with disabilities can receive real-time help 24/7 from professionals to help them regain composure, assess their situation, and solve their problems.

The Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC)
The ITC is conducting a mapping of trauma needs with smaller municipalities that have been hit by the blazes (all except Haifa and Zichron Ya’akov).

Last week, ITC was called in to provide trauma relief at the Carmel Hospital, evacuation centers, and to provide backup to existing welfare teams in Haifa. The municipality in Haifa has requested further assistance from ITC in providing direct care to some 1800 individuals in the city, 20 emergency welfare teams, and 8 institutions that were evacuated. Similar requests for assistance have come in from Zichron Ya’akov and Halamish.

ITC is also considering adding another emergency call line in Hebrew and Russian which in addition to helping direct people to municipal services being provided, would help identify potential trauma.

Previous update from Sunday:
New fires erupted across Israel over Shabbat as firefighters fought blazes in Israel’s north and in the Jerusalem Hills. While damage is extremely widespread, no deaths have been reported. Some 180 people have been injured, mainly suffering from smoke inhalation. Most are in light or moderate condition.
 
Israel expects to continue fighting the blazes over the coming days as the dry weather and strong winds are forecast to continue until at least Wednesday, and fire fighters have been ordered to remain at the highest level or alert and preparedness for another week. At the time of writing, a number of smaller blazes continue to burn, mainly in the Jerusalem hills region.
 
Major Fires
A major fire broke out in the Jerusalem hills near the village of Nataf on Friday. At least 12 homes in Nataf were severely damaged by the fire. Evacuated residents were allowed to return on Saturday afternoon. Also on Friday, a fire broke out in the northern Jerusalem Hills near Kibbutz Maale Hachamisha. An Israel Police spokesperson said that they suspect that a Molotov cocktail sparked that fire.
 
Fires in Halamish, a West Bank settlement, consumed 15 homes and lefts tens of others damaged. A number of other fires erupted in the settlements of Dolev, Alfei Menahse and Karnei Shomron. On Saturday afternoon, a fire erupted near the Druze village of Daliyat el-Carmel, near Haifa, and was brought under control after a large firefighting force arrived at the scene.
 
Haifa
In Haifa, where some 60,000 residents were evacuated at the end of last week due to massive fires, authorities said that around 2000 dwellings had been damaged, including 527 apartments that are uninhabitable and 37 that have been completely destroyed. More than 1,600 Haifa residents have been made homeless and a number of schools, kindergartens and other public buildings were also damaged.
 
More Forest Damage than the 2010 Carmel Forest Fire
Israel’s Parks Authority said that about 32,000 acres of natural forest land have burned, about 30 percent more than the 2010 Carmel Forest Fire. Most of the territory burned was in the Judean Hills National Park and the Kfir Nature Reserve. While damage to forests and homes have been extensive, quick action by authorities and local municipalities has succeeded in preventing any loss of life. In the Carmel Forest fires, 44 Israelis were killed.
 
Many commentators are praising the effective recommendations - and their implementation - that came about as a result of the Carmel Forest fires six years ago. Following that disaster, a complete overhaul and restructuring of Israel’s firefighting capabilities took place, including major investments in new equipment as well as new emergency fire protocols. Similarly, in the current crisis, the government was quick to act and request back up resources from other countries, including the Supertanker from the U.S., considered to be the world’s most effective firefighting plane.
 
International Assistance
In total, 29 firefighting aircraft from around the world have been put into action across Israel. The American Supertanker operated at the Nataf fire in the Jerusalem hills on Saturday. Its operation forced a temporary closure of Route 1, the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway.
 
On Saturday night, Prime Minister Netanyahu called Palestinian Authority President Abbas to thank him for sending Palestinian firefighters and equipment to help fight the fires. The Palestinian Authority sent 41 firefighters and eight trucks to Haifa during the blazes there.
 
Criminal Investigation
Over the weekend, police arrested 23 individuals on suspicion of arson or incitement, bringing the total number of those arrested to 35. Officials believe that the initial fires last Wednesday started due to weather conditions and that later in the week a small number of individuals were inspired to commit arson.
 
In addition, according to IDF spokesperson Peter Lerner, over the past few days security forces have arrested over 10 suspected Palestinian arsonists attempting to ignite fires in the Judea and Samaria region.
 
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday there was “no doubt” that some of the fires had been deliberate. “There is a price to pay for the crimes committed, there is a price to pay for arson terrorism,” he said.
 
Forecast
The Ministry of the Environment yesterday warned of “high air pollution” in southern Israel, due to the fires. The ministry recommended that anyone suffering from heart and lung problems, the elderly, children and pregnant women in those areas remain indoors.
 
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan yesterday stated that the fires were not necessarily over, but were broadly under control, and that emergency forces were deployed to deal with new outbreaks. “A lot can happen between now and Tuesday,” when the weather is set to change and winds to die down, “but with God’s help, we should be able to deal with all events.”

Previous Update from Friday:
As Israel heads into Shabbat, dozens of fires continue to burn across the country from the Galilee to Kiryat Gat, including one that threatens the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway. As of now, no one has been killed due to the fires; hundreds have been injured–but few seriously. Dozens of homes have been destroyed. Dry conditions and strong winds continue to exacerbate the situation.
 
Early Friday morning, 10 homes were destroyed in Beit Meir, a village near Abu Gush about 6 miles from Jerusalem. The village’s residents were evacuated Thursday night.
 
Firefighters have gained control of most of the fires in and around Haifa. A reduced firefighting force and two IDF Home Front battalions will continue to work in the Haifa area to fully extinguish the flames and prevent new flare-ups. Authorities are working non-stop to evaluate building safety and permit residents to return to their homes by Shabbat if possible. Some of the 75,000 evacuated residents have already returned to their homes. Federation partners estimate that 760 apartments in 37 buildings in Haifa were damaged including a number of schools and public institutions. Many of the newly homeless Haifa residents are elderly and Holocaust survivors.
 
As of now, Police have arrested 13 individuals suspected of arson. Two are suspected of starting the fire near Beit Meir. Six of them are suspected of starting the fires in and around Haifa. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that at least half of the fires across Israel were started deliberately. Investigators warned against jumping to conclusions about all of the fires, however, as many may have been caused by accidents and the weather.
 
Israelis from all segments of society have opened their hearts to assist one another. Organizations from the Kibbutz Movement to Bnei Akiva and the Islamic Movement have organized to help those affected find food and shelter.
 
Reserves and Firefighting Assistance from Around the world
Two IDF Home Front Command battalions including reservists were mobilized to assist civilian fire fighters and police to combat the flames and evacuate residents. The IDF cancelled weekend leave for hundreds of combat soldiers to make them available to help with the situation.
 
The Palestinian Authority sent dozens of firefighters and eight firefighting vehicles to help combat the fires. Three firefighting aircraft from Greece and one from Cyprus began working on Thursday. More planes arrived  from Turkey, Croatia, Italy and Russia early Friday morning and will begin working throughout the day. The American ‘Supertanker,’ the largest firefighting aircraft in the world and the only one that can operate at night, is expected to arrive by midnight on Friday. France, Spain and Portugal are also expected to send planes to Israel on Friday.