ISRAEL ON FIRE
Firefighters working in Haifa, November 24, 2016. Credit: Ariel Schalit/AP
Civilians in a vehicle watch as flames engulf trees across the street in Haifa on Thursday, November 24, 2016. Credit: Gil Eliahu
A plane drops retardant in Haifa, November 24, 2016. Credit: Rami Shllush
Yesterday, Shabbat, we at Leo Baeck spent the day assisting families who lost their homes in the fire or whose homes have been damaged.
We provided emergency aid to Leo Baeck students, teachers, and employees whose homes or property have been damaged.
All of our community center facilities remained open throughout the day and are at the disposal of all Haifa residents, free of charge.
The entire Leo Baeck Family has come together and with the assistance of our many volunteers from our schools, our Community Center, and our "Ohel Avraham" congregation, we set up a logistics center on our campus.
We called upon the Haifa public to donate urgently needed equipment to be distributed to affected families, and I am glad to say that Haifa residents responded to our call, and opened their hearts. Since early morning yesterday, as we opened the center, there has been a stream of much needed donations: linen and towels, clothing, home appliances, furniture, children's games and toys, books and more.
Teams of students, teachers, employees, board members and many volunteers worked round the clock to sort and organize the equipment as it comes in and deliver it directly to the families.We are still getting calls from families affected, who know that Leo Baeck Education Center will provide speedy and efficient assistance.
We plan to send out groups of teachers, students and volunteers during next week, to the damaged apartments in order to remove items and equipment still in good order, as well as precious objects and items of sentimental value to be delivered to their owners.
In addition, our teams while in the houses and apartments, will sort out what can be salvaged, pack and label the items and transport them to warehouses in Haifa that we have hired for this specific purpose.
We are very grateful to the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston who have responded so generously and quickly to the tragedy in Haifa and have already opened a website to raise funds for immediate assistance.
Thank you also for the warm e-mails and telephone calls that we are receiving from you, expressing your concern for the situation and support for our efforts.
We appreciate every word of friendship and solidarity!
Dani Fesler and Eran Dubovi
We feel it is appropriate to open this update with the words of the Israeli poet Ehud Manor: " I have no other country, even if my land is burning ..."
It is now the day after the outbreak of fires in Haifa and we would like to share with you how the day at Leo Baeck has unfolded.
We began by assessing the damage to property suffered by our students, employees and members of our community, as well as the Haifa community at large. Approximately 170 students from Leo Baeck families were evacuated from their homes, as were 40 of our teachers and staff. Tragically two families of our students and one teacher lost their entire home in the fire, and 6 of our students and teachers who's homes have sustained significant damage. Leo Baeck is personally assisting every family, taking care of their immediate needs. We will continue to stand with the affected families in the long term until their lives return to normal.
Groups of middle and high school students spent the night helping and assisting at evacuation centers in the city, especially helping the elderly population who were evacuated from their homes. In the morning our students provided assistance to special education schools in Haifa and kindergartens throughout the city.
From early morning today when received the all clear from the emergency authorities, we have been operating a large network of volunteers and volunteer drivers and their vehicles from the community center and our synagogue "Ohel Abraham". Volunteers are driving and assisting the elderly and families to return safely to their homes, when the emergency services permit it.
Our students and our volunteers from the community center and our synagogue, have been divided into teams according to age and are helping the 16 support and assistance centers around the city. They are collecting and distributing food, clothing, blankets and medicines mostly to the firefighters and members of the security forces and rescue teams who have been working tirelessly in the affected neighborhoods. Food was packed in boxes by our teachers and students and sent with Leo Baeck drivers directly to the rescue personnel around the city.
And finally, we are keeping our community center facilities open all day free of charge to all Haifa residents.
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, but 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.
Cabinet ministers held an emergency meeting on Thursday night and are expected to hold another on Sunday morning. Finance Minister Kahlon said that there are currently no budgetary obstacles to responding to the crisis and that the government will cover the costs of property damages. Kahlon promised that appraisers from the Tax Authority will begin to assess damage on Sunday. The ongoing terror investigation will have significant implications for the speed, source and nature of damage compensation.
Infrastructure Returning to Normal
Fires momentarily shut down parts of major highways Route 1 and Route 6 on Friday morning, though both are currently operating as normal. Most roads in the Haifa area have reopened. Train service to Haifa and on the Tel Aviv-Kiryat Gat-Be’er Sheva line has been renewed.
Updates from Federation Partners:
Israel Trauma Coalition
A more complete and accurate assessment will not be available until Sunday and depends on the progress of the firefighting. As of now, only incomplete information for Haifa is available:
2 Absorption centers were readied for emergency evacuation, but thankfully they were not called on to leave in the end. At the request of the Ministry of Immigration Absorption, the Jewish Agency found temporary housing solutions for 6 evacuees from a damaged old-age home. The Agency organized apartments, bedding and food through Shabbat.
Eitan Shariel inspects the damage inside his house in the northern city of Haifa following a wildfire, on November 25, 2016. Credit: AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA
A woman walks past burned cars in the northern Israeli city of Haifa following a wildfire, on November 25, 2016. Credit: AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA
Terror and Fire Intifada in Haifa
Leo Baeck Education Center is open 24/7, effective immediately, for the benefit of families affiliated with the Leo Baeck community and Haifa residents at large.
Today, as millions of Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, our beloved city of Haifa was struck by a vicious acts of intentional fires and arson, impacting 13 neighborhoods within the city. A massive forest fire raging out of control across the Carmel Mountains has reached Haifa's residential areas, and dozens of thousands of the city's residents have been evacuated from their homes. Firefighters' efforts to battle the blaze are complicated by heavy winds and dry conditions.
It is suspected that the individuals and/or groups behind these fires acted on the basis of hatred and nationalism, and with the intention of damaging property and endangering the lives of Haifa residents and visitors. Their purpose was to suspend day to day life for hundreds of thousands in Haifa.
85,000 Haifa residents are now at emergency centers or out of their homes across the city. One hundred residents have been hospitalized thus far, following injuries related to burns and smoke inhalation.
We at Leo Baeck Education Center took it upon ourselves to set up an emergency line to receive updates from members of our community and are working around the clock to assist Leo Baeck affiliated families and Haifa residents at large.
Thus far, we are aware of 6 Leo Beck students who have lost their homes to the fires, a number of teachers and staff who's homes have sustained significant damage, and families within our community who were evacuated from their homes.
The Leo Baeck community will ensure food and shelter is provided to families impacted by this disaster. Our community center began offering programs that are open to children and their family as a relief from the difficult reality they are facing. At this time, residents who are with us are unable to return to their neighborhoods, which are cordoned off by police.
Effective tomorrow, we are opening our doors to students in Haifa who's school has caught on fire. At these difficult times, it is important to instill a sense of normality in the lives of our children and afford them with the support of our staff and ongoing learning opportunities.
Dani Fesler, CEO
Eran Dubovi, YEDA-Leo Baeck CEO
Nearly 6 years after the disastrous Carmel Wildfire, our Israel office is reporting a major outbreak of multiple fires across the country. Over the last 48 hours, there have been nearly 200 wild fires impacting many areas, and 15 major fires continue to burn at the time of writing.
Police believe that arsonists are responsible for many of the fires, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has called the blazes "acts of terrorism." A number of suspects are in custody and are currently being interrogated.
The most significant blaze is in Haifa where 80,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. Haifa University has been closed and two prisons evacuated. An unknown number of houses have already been destroyed. Other major fires have broken out in Zichron Ya’akov, Modiin, Rishon le Tzion, and near Jerusalem. Thankfully, no major injuries have been reported thus far.
All leave has been cancelled for firefighters and some IDF soldiers have been called to assist including reservists in the Home Front Command. Israel’s fleet of 12 firefighting planes have been working since the fires began. Nearby countries including Cyprus, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Russia are lending additional air support (some already on site and more are in route). In addition, the only plane able to fight fires at night, the U.S. Supertanker, is on the way from America and should arrive in 24 hours. Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas has offered assistance.
The situation has been exacerbated due to extremely high winds which are expected to continue through Monday and the unusually dry conditions with almost no rain yet this fall.
In many places across the country, essential services such as electricity supply and train lines have been interrupted by the fires. A number of major roads have been closed, including Route 443 to Jerusalem. Fires are burning in the Latrun area near the main Tel Aviv – Jerusalem highway which may be shut down if the situation worsens.
The special text alert system developed by the IDF to message to people in danger zones during missile attacks has been put into service, and is being used to advise residents in certain areas when to evacuate.
JFNA staff are in contact with our partners at the Jewish Agency and JDC, local Federation professionals, as well as RAHEL – the National Emergency Authority. The Government of Israel has made funds available to local municipalities for emergency support services including food and shelter, and has announced that it will cover initial costs of temporary housing for those instructed to flee the fires.
Sources: Israel Channel 2, The Jerusalem Post, Kol Yisrael radio, Army Radio, the Times of Israel.
A state of emergency has been declared across Israel, as for the last three days now an unprecedented massive wave of wildfires burn across the country threatening to consume nature life, forests, and urban residential areas.
The number of neighborhoods across the country that have been evacuated are growing by the hour while major damage to property has been reported.
It all began with winds blowing at high speed and an unusual heat wave, that in just two days turned to below the average temperatures, carrying dry, polluted desert like air.
Evident cases of arson have been found in different locations, indicating a new type of terror, a very scary and efficient one.
In an effort to help Israel contain the fires cropping up throughout the country, Cyprus, Turkey, Russia, Italy, Croatia and Greece have all sent firefighting aircraft. Additional aircraft are expected to arrive from other countries as well.
At the same time that friendly countries reach out to help, the hashtag "Israel is burning" has become one of the top trends on Arab media over the past 24 hours, with countless of people gloating over the recent rash of fire plaguing Israel that is being called the "Arson intifada".
In response to the arson attacks and the state of emergency, there has been a partial army reserve draft call up.
The weather is not expected to improve, as dry conditions and high winds prompting possible dust storms are expected at least through Sunday.
The black color of ashes with the orange of the flames destroyed the ever green Carmel mountains, Jerusalem and Judean hills forests and other breathtaking landscapes of our country.
This is a catastrophe of which we have never known.
As we pray for our black skies to clear, we are grateful for our courageous firefighters that have been risking their lives to save others.