Expressing gratitudeBy DANNY AYALON
Over these last few painful, shocking days, there has been a shining light through the dark, ashfilled skies elicited by the rampant fires that have destroyed large sections of Israel’s northern area and ended the lives of dozens of brave Israelis.
While the Jewish state has become synonymous with providing rapid humanitarian aid to international disaster areas, it is now Israel that requires help. The fires emanating from the Carmel forest quickly spread beyond any plausible expectation, overwhelming our forces battling the flames. Our national disaster, like many around the world, cried out for an international response. Whereas Israel would usually be the first to offer a helping hand in such an event, it was now our nation that required the hands of others.
For many years, Israel assisted nations and peoples in need during overwhelming disasters such as the earthquakes in Turkey, Haiti, Chile and El Salvador, starvation in Ethiopia, Hurricane Katrina in the US and the tsunami in 2004, to name just a few. Regardless of the nation, Israel was willing to immediately send aid. This was even true for nations affected by the tsunami that Israel had no diplomatic ties with.
This policy was first and foremost based on our deep-seated humanitarianism, ensconced in our Jewish values.
The source for our moral obligation was always tikkun olam, and our humanitarian assistance has always remained unconditional.
Now, in our hour of need, we see nations across the world offering and providing support, in an unequivocal show of gratitude for Israel’s past deeds.
In fact, some of those offering assistance were partner nations who in the past received Emergency and Disaster Medicine expertise from the Foreign Ministry’s MASHAV organization, Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation.
The Foreign Ministry constantly receives praise for this country’s absolute willingness to open its hearts to the people of the world regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. While Israel’s humanitarian work in Haiti made international headlines, there are scores of other unreported disaster zones to which Israel provides badly needed succor.
UPON HEARING that the fire was moving beyond the control of our domestic firefighting forces, the Israeli government reached out to world leaders to request assistance for the desperate battle against the raging fires, which started on Thursday.
We were immediately sent ten airplanes and three helicopters; four planes from Greece, one from Cyprus, two from Turkey, two from Russia and one from France, one helicopter from Cyprus and two from Britain. On Saturday, six additional airplanes and three more helicopters arrived; two planes from the US, two from France and two from Russia, two helicopters from Russia and one from Switzerland. On Sunday, we are expecting nine additional planes; five from Spain, three from the US and one from Germany.
Bulgaria has sent around 100 firefighters, and dozens of nations from Italy to Azerbaijan, and including our immediate neighbors, have also provided significant assistance.
The Foreign Ministry’s Heder Matzav, situation room, was promptly opened and staffed around the clock to ensure that all assistance would reach its intended destination. The Foreign Ministry’s increasingly good relations with nations far beyond our borders have meant that expressions of concern and assistance have been received from some unlikely sources.
The rapid internationalization of this government’s foreign policy has been amply demonstrated by the sheer breadth and number of the offers of assistance. It is an incredible and muchneeded response and is proof that Israel can count on its friends during a time of national tragedy. To these, and the many other nations that offered assistance and aid, we send our most heartfelt appreciation.
We know full well how challenging it is to ensure that humanitarian needs are primary and bureaucracy and logistics take a back seat.
WHILE THIS difficult period is far from behind us, we can take some solace from the international reaction to our crisis. This is not a given. Friendships have to be nurtured and reciprocated.
Even though we have our current differences, Israel’s numerous past humanitarian operations in Turkey have led the Turkish government to put aside all other issues to offer help and assistance.
Gratitude is an essential pillar of Judaism and modern Israel’s character.
The great Sage Hillel was famous for saying: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I?” The Jewish state has long recognized that it is not alone in the world and has proffered assistance whenever and wherever it is needed regardless of any extenuating circumstances. Today, we need the help and feel the warm embrace of all those nations who rush to our side.
We express our humblest and utmost gratitude to the governments and their people who surely teach us that Israel is a welcome and appreciated member in the family of nations.
The writer is deputy foreign minister.
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