Palestinian firefighters returned home Saturday after working alongside Israeli firefighters for 36 hours to fight the nationwide fires that raged since Tuesday, forcing thousands to flee and destroying or damaging hundreds of homes.
Israeli crews were joined Thursday night by the PA firefighting teams, who joined the battle to contain massive blazes in Haifa and at Sha’ar Hagai on the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.
Palestinian firefighters from Ramallah also swung into action in the early hours of Saturday to help douse the flames at the West Bank settlement of Halamish, where dozens of houses were damaged or destroyed.
“It’s our duty to help,” Muhammad Amayra, one of the veteran firefighters on the PA firefighting team, told Israel Radio. “This a humanitarian situation.”
“The Israeli firefighters welcomed us very nicely,” Amayra said. “They helped us with everything, and always asked if we needed anything. Israeli firefighters are excellent firefighters. Maybe they lack big things like planes or supertankers but they are excellent firefighters.”
He added that he was touched when Israeli families with children came out to shake their hands and thank them for their hard work “in Hebrew and Arabic and all the languages.”
“That gave us a great feeling and it gave me hope that in the future we will be alright,” he said.
Palestinian firefighters also had to contend with blazes that broke out near West Bank cities Saturday, including in the village of Qusim, near Nablus, according to Ma’an News Agency.
Fires in the region have been fed by unusually dry conditions, though Israeli officials have also blamed arson.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday evening to thank him for the Palestinians’ help in battling the fires. In the call, Netanyahu expressed his gratitude for the eight fire trucks and 40 firefighters provided by the Palestinian Authority to fight the fires, alongside help from other countries including Cyprus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, Turkey, Russia and the United States which sent a supertanker, the largest firefighting aircraft in the world.
The head of the Palestinian Authority fire service, Yousef Nasser, was in Israel on Saturday. He toured the Fire Service command centers at Neve Ilan, near Jerusalem, and in Rishon Lezion,and visited his firefighters working alongside their Israeli counterparts.
In the call to Abbas, the prime minister also noted his appreciation for the on-the-ground cooperation between Jews and Arabs who opened their homes for those affected by the fires, according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog also thanked the Palestinian Authority for its help, expressing his belief that “from this tragedy, there is a glimmer of hope that things can be different.”
Herzog said that the cooperation was “proof that there are those interested in suppressing terrorism, who have a true desire for cooperation and coexistence in the region.”
The head of the Zionist Union party also thanked the “dozens of firefighters and aerial firefighting teams, sent from around the world who helped to “save the lives of thousands of Israelis who were imminently threatened as the flames spread.”
“Among them, 44 Palestinian firefighters, who have today completed their mission after three days of fighting fire on several fronts, stood shoulder to shoulder with our firefighters, risking their lives to assist. They were highly praised for their actions, and we are grateful for their assistance, and that of all the firefighters and pilots from around the world who helped us,” Herzog said in a statement to the press.
Jordan and Egypt have joined the host of nations sending assistance. Both of the Arab neighbors with which Israel has peace treaties offered help and Israel accepted, the Prime Minister’s Office said Friday. Jordan sent firetrucks and Egypt two firefighting helicopters.
The show of solidarity from Egypt, Jordan and the PA was a welcome sign after many Arabic-speaking social media users in Israel and abroad cheered on the fires. The Arabic-language hashtag label “Israel is burning” became the third most trending tag on Twitter in several Arab countries.