The Great Fire and Self Reliance

Israel is fighting a huge fire raging on the Carmel mountain, southeast of the port city of Haifa. It broke out 24 hours ago, and its consequences so far have been devastating: 41 people are dead, several more are critically injured, more than 15,000 people were evacuated from their homes and over 20,000 dunams of forest have been consumed. During the week of Hanukkah this fiery rage takes on an especially sad meaning.

It is a fire which is beyond Israel’s capabilities to fight alone. Its 1,500 firefighters with their limited resources simply cannot cope, even if they were properly equipped (which they are not, after years of neglect by successive governments who ignored the findings of several committees). For the first time in its history, Israel has had to ask for foreign emergency aid to fight a disaster. Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Jordan and even Turkey have already sent firefighters and planes; Britain, the US and maybe Russia have also promised help.

Israelis are not used to this situation. It is usually Israel that dispatches teams abroad to assist in the events of earthquakes and other disasters. The most recent example was the Israeli field hospital in Haiti, following the earthquake there earlier this year. Given Israel’s unfortunate expertise in the field of search and rescue, it has always been a source of national pride to see our soldiers and experts take off to offer a helping hand abroad. So it is only natural that besides the feeling of gratitude for the quick mobilisation of neighbouring countries, many here feel also some uneasiness. Israeli psyche is one of self reliance, modelled on the image of the confident sabra, so having to ask others for help creates uncomfortable dissonance.

But perhaps there is a positive side to this new reality. Self reliance, a commendable trait in and of its own, may sometimes lead to overestimation of one’s capabilities and, in extreme cases, to hubris. It will not hurt for some Israelis to come to terms with the fact that Israel cannot solve all of its problems alone and that the world can offer a helping hand (and not only in disasters).

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