‘We Are Family’: Arab Mayor of Nazareth Welcomes Families Who Fled Jersualem Hills Blaze
With Jerusalem-area residents still picking up the pieces in the wake of one of the biggest wildfires in Israel’s history, the mayor of the predominantly Arab city of Nazareth detailed his community’s efforts to extend a helping hand to those affected.
The blaze, which broke out Sunday, tore through some 6,200 acres of forest over three days, forcing over 2,000 people to evacuate from their homes. Speaking to Israel’s 103FM, Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam explained why local establishments have welcomed at least 60 families fleeing the fire.
“I believe in coexistence and I want us to live together,” he told the station, according to Israeli news outlet Walla. “I believe that I live in a country and that I must to give all the appropriate services to the citizens of the whole country. I do it from the heart, and most importantly, so they can rest and that they can have peace and feel at home.”
“Life comes first, before one talks about money,” Salam said. “The most precious thing in the world is a human life. The businessmen I turn to are both supportive and responsive, and many of them have called to say they are willing to accept people in their homes if the hotels are filled.”
Some 200 units of Israel’s Fire and Rescue Service took part in the 52-hour battle, which focused on seven hot-spots among the forest-covered hills outside Jerusalem. They were joined by battalions of Palestinian firefighters who helped gain full control of the massive fire on Tuesday — forestalling an Israeli request for broader international aid, and drawing gratitude from Israeli officials.
Michal Ben Yehuda, who fled her home in the Haredi town of Kiryat Ye’arim and is staying in Nazareth, effusively thanked Salam on the air.
“I am very moved to listen to Ali, I am so moved by his words, and we do not have enough words to say: thank you, thank you, thank you,” Ben Yehuda said. “It’s not taken for granted.”
“No need to say thank you,” Salam told her. “You are one of us, we are together and we will continue together; we are family and we will continue as family.”
Ben Yehuda detailed the terror of leaving their family house with next to nothing beyond a few clothes and photo albums. “I was terribly anxious about what picture I would see when I returned — whether I have a house or not, and what about our whole lives, our things and the landscape, the place we live?”
She said that after initially staying with friends and family, they saw a a social media post inviting evacuees to come to Nazareth. When they arrived, the family saw others from their town and nearby villages, all looking “traumatized” and exhausted.
“From the moment we got here, we received from all the residents, restaurants and people such warm and touching treatment; it is not taken for granted,” she said. “We are very moved about what is happening here.”