Calamities often bring out the worst in humanity. Yet they can simultaneously bring out the best. The spate of wildfires that choked the nation of Israel last week is a good case in point.
Investigators are still probing the causes of 1,713 fires that burned more than 32,000 acres of forestland and some urban areas, especially in Haifa, where 60,000 residents were forced to evacuate. A number of the fires were set deliberately.
Officials have not yet confirmed that terrorism was the motive for the arsonists, but we do know that Arab social media exploded with demented delight at the sight of Israel on fire. Wielding the despicable hashtag #IsraelIsBurning, it mattered not at all to them that human and animal life came under dire threat or that the fires wreaked environmental disaster. It only mattered that the Zionist entity was ablaze.
Contrast that to the heartening response from many nations, the United States among them, that rushed to Israel’s aid. By sending personnel, firefighting equipment, air tankers and more, they showed solidarity with Israel and fundamental human decency.
It is important to note that the Palestinian Authority, under orders from PA President Mahmoud Abbas, also sent trucks and teams of firefighters to pitch in. That displayed a compassion rarely seen in the fraught realm of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Even at the local level, we saw a sympathetic response. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who visited the S.F. sister city of Haifa last April, has directed his SF Gives Back initiative to solicit donations to the Jewish National Fund.
The JNF Bay Area office also went out to Jewish day schools, talking to children about the fires and what Israel will need to do to recover. As our heartwarming story this week shows, even 9-year-old kids understand the gravity of the situation and the bravery of the firefighters.
The fires burned for a week. Miraculously, no one died. It is time for nature to begin healing over the scars, with a little help from JNF and others who will replant and restore the land. The homes and structures lost also will be rebuilt. And the arsonists who set the fires will, we hope, be caught, prosecuted and convicted.
Our love for the land of Israel is deep, and it hurts us to see it ravaged like this. At the same time, we are encouraged by the international show of support, and we extend our gratitude to firefighters from around the world who came together in common purpose.