Times of crisis bring out both the very worst and the very best in people. If one is intrinsically motivated by empathy, acts of kindness and benevolence emerge. If one is basically evil, then one revels in the misfortune of the other.
A heartwarming, global humanity began emerging last week, when the fire in Israel’s Carmel forest quickly spread throughout the Haifa region. Before it finally was subdued on Sunday, the most catastrophic blaze in the nation’s history had killed 41 people; destroyed tens of thousands of trees and more than 20,000 acres of forest; damaged a kibbutz, artist’s colony and a youth village; caused the evacuation of 17,000 people, as well as of neighborhoods, prisons and hotels; and traumatized Israelis.
As the magnitude of the inferno became clear, the United States dispatched a team of American firefighters along with five tons of fire retardant and 12,000 liters of firefighting foam. firefighting aircraft, fire-retardant chemicals, fire engines and, of course, qualified personnel reached Israel from Croatia, Cyprus, France, Great Britain, Greece, Russia, Rumania, Spain and Switzerland — and from Muslim countries Turkey, Azerbaijan, Jordan and Egypt.
In what seemed like a miracle of Chanukah, even the Palestinian Authority sent three civil defense units, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas promised Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu any additional assistance.
Netanyahu said he expressed his appreciation to Abbas. Having spoken to more than 30 world leaders since the crisis began; Netanyahu stated that their response “must warm the heart of all Israelis. There is very great solidarity here, and there is very great cooperation.”
As well there should be, he might have added. After all, throughout its history, Israel always rushes to the front of the international line to dispatch its expertise anywhere to address humanitarian and natural disasters. Time and time again, regardless of whether the victim is friend or foe, Israel is there at the blink of an eye. Israel notable, rapid-response record includes this year’s earthquakes in Haiti, the December 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, India’s earthquake in 2001 and Turkey’s 1999 earthquake. Sadly, by contrast, some governments sacrifice their populations at the altar of hatred.
Within days of the monumental 2003 earthquake that devastated the Iranian city of Bam, IsraAid (Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid) met to coordinate assistance. It should have known better. The mullahs announced Iran’s receptivity to assistance from anywhere — except Israel.
This sentiment reared its ugly head while the Carmel fire blazed.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called the fire “plagues from God,” adding that “Allah is punishing [Israelis] from a place they did not expect it.” As Khalid Abu Tomah reported in the Jerusalem Post similar comments were rampant throughout the Arab media. Many readers condemned Muslims’ assistance to Israel, saying that the fire is Israel’s punishment for responding militarily two years ago to halt the Gaza rocket attacks. A particularly repugnant comment read, “This fire is the result of prayers from our prisoners held in occupation jails. The fire of Hell will be even stronger. May those Arabs who are helping the Jews burn with them in Hell.”
The overwhelming responses within mainstream Arabic websites, not Islamic in nature, such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia, has been sheer delight in the destruction within Israel, and hope that it could result in newer, greater Jewish Holocaust. Some readers even criticized Hamas and Hezbollah for not taking full advantage of the blaze to launch more rocket attacks on an already weakened Israel. This is the result of the consistent and steady educational program of indoctrination and incitement to hate and to kill the Jew, and to simply never accept the state of state of Israel within the Middle East.
We, living within the United States, can make a difference if we utilize our democratic process. This incitement to hate and to refuse to recognize Israel’s existence is at the core of most Arabic textbooks, including those in used in UNRWA camps and schools. America pays the lion’s shares of UNRWA’s expenses. We can simply refuse to fund UNRWA until all of their textbooks are completely revised.
The same should go towards the foreign aid that goes to Egypt and Jordan. Their textbooks have been thoroughly reviewed by organizations such as IMPACT-SE, and they are also replete with hatred of the Jewish state, demonization of the Jew and refusal to recognize the right of Israel to exist. We have spent billions of dollars in American aid building up these countries and their military forces. If we are picking up the tab, we have some leverage. We need to make educational reform within their curricula a major emphasis for continuous American largess. Otherwise, the flames of hatred will only continue to be fanned.
As President Kennedy had once said, “Peace does not exist in signed documents and treaties alone, but in the hearts and minds of the people.” The only way to have a real and genuine peace, not just a paper peace, but one that will endure for generations, is to radically alter the curricula of hatred and incitement that is replete within the Arab world.
During this holiday season, I prefer to focus on the small spark of hope that the horrible fire in Israel brought out. In Israel’s time of need, several Muslim governments did join other countries in doing the right thing. When I lit my Chanukah candles the past few nights, I considered the small spark of hope, too that fire represents — how, like in Maccabean times, good can triumph over tyranny and evil. I cling to the hope that someday, the educational indoctrination to hate and to refuse to recognize Israel’s existence as a Jewish state will be obliterated, once and for all.
I hope that, not just in times of crisis, but in normal times as well, the international community’s good will toward the state of Israel will continue. And I pray that Israel heals from this trauma and emerges even stronger from it.
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