UJA-Federation of New York has opened an Israel Fire Relief Fund to support the work of its partner organizations who are assisting the Israelis displaced by a recent series of fires and the firefighters who lost crucial equipment in the blazes. The partners include the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distrubution Committee and the Israel Trauma Coalition.
During more than a week of fires throughout Israel that began in late November, some 10,000 acres of forest were destroyed. The fires injured about 140 people, destroyed nearly 600 homes, damaged another 700 and dislodged 75,000 residents.
The Jewish National Fund has also created a fire relief fund. “For a week our beloved homeland was engulfed in devastating fires forcing hundreds of families to abandon their homes on the front lines,” JNF-USA CEO Russell Robinson said in a statement. “We are on the ground in Israel every day improving lives, but now we are needed more than ever.”
UJA-Federation is offering direct assistance to the fire victims. The charity announced that it is providing $100,000 for immediate needs.
JNF’s partners in the national replanting and recovery initiative include Israel Firefighters and Rescue Services and Nefesh B’Nefesh. The Jewish Agency has provided cash grants to the displaced families, absorption centers have taken in many people evacuated from the fires, and the American Jewish Committee has offered support to the elderly and individuals with disabilities.
Funds are needed for such expenses as new firetrucks and other firefighting equipment, 10 new fire stations and fire suppression systems. In the days since the fires, JNF announced that it had raised $4 million from 10,500 donors.
Arson, most likely committed by Israeli Arabs or by Palestinian Arabs who live in the West Bank, is suspected to be the cause of at least some of the fires.
“In most areas you won’t find many things that say whether it was arson,” Ran Shelef, the Fire and Rescue Authority’s chief fire investigator, told The Jerusalem Post. “In other cases like Halamish [a West Bank settlement], we can say that it is arson.”
Shelef said the authority has found evidence of arson in four areas: the Galilee, the broad area from Umm el-Fahm to Betar Illit, the West Bank and the central region. Investigators have not, however, determined the cause of the fires in Haifa. Police have declined to comment on ongoing investigations and do not publicly confirm the authority’s comments.