OPINION: Three lessons from Israel’s devastating wildfires

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OPINION: Three lessons from Israel’s devastating wildfires

After having minutes to run for as firefighters controlled flames, Mandie Winston of UJIA reflects on the lessons Israel can learn from the natural disaster

Wildfires (Photo by Joanne Francis on Unsplash)
Wildfires (Photo by Joanne Francis on Unsplash)

Seeing the images of devastating wildfires outside Jerusalem this week, my heart stopped for a moment.  In November 2016, similar fires engulfed my home village of Nataf in the Judean Hills. We had minutes to literally run for our lives as firefighters controlled the flames just long enough to open the one road out to safety. Driving my children through the thick smoke along a wall of fire is not an experience I wish to repeat.

Most of our Jewish village took refuge that night in nearby Abu Ghosh where we were fed and given shelter by our Muslim neighbours. When the fire had subsided enough for us to return home, we did night patrols while the children slept, scouring the landscape to put out remaining patches of fire. Eventually, after a week, welcome rains put out the residual embers.

We were lucky. A home and a wonderful business were destroyed but thankfully no one died and no one was injured. But the trauma was tenacious and insidious. I took three lessons from the experience which I remembered this last week as I called friends currently affected.

Firstly, Israel’s strength, especially at times of disaster, rests upon its social fabric. I was lucky to live in a place in Israel where co-existence is treasured. The disturbing civic violence in May showed we cannot take this for granted. I am grateful to work for an organisation that recognises the need to work with all of Israel’s citizens to find common ground.

Mandie Winston is the chief executive of UJIA.

Secondly, Israelis live with compounded historical trauma. Fires upon wars. Disasters upon conflict. Stresses from so many directions affect mental and emotional health. Israelis are resilient. We need to be. But trauma needs to be treated. In May, UJIA partnered with the Israel Trauma Coalition to support for Israelis in Ashkelon traumatised by rocket fire from Gaza. The communities affected by wildfire will need trauma support too, as my village did.

Thirdly, in our Jewish community here in the UK we talk a lot about specific challenges facing Israel, whether from BDS, Iran or internal discord. But there is another danger facing Israel but not only Israel: the climate crisis. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recently published assessment report was a code red for humanity.

These fires are a warning for Israel that serious investment is needed to protect communities from future fires. But Israel also has an opportunity to be a light unto nations and use its incredible technological ingenuity in the urgent battle against the climate crisis.

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