Israeli officials thanked on Tuesday the hundreds of foreign volunteers who came to the country's aid during the Carmel forest fire, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon speaking at an event attended by over 250 volunteers, including firefighters, pilots, and rescue workers, along with diplomats and officials of foreign governments. Israel National News TV's Yoni Kempinski spoke with Ayalon and representatives of the foreign delegations.
Among the foreign dignitaries attending the ceremony were the Deputy Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, Dimiter Tzantchev, and diplomats from Spain, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Switzerland, the United States, Azerbaijan, Croatia and France.
Speaking at the ceremony honoring the foreign volunteers who helped Israeli rescue services put out the huge Carmel forest fire, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that he had spoken with world leaders on the need to build a joint response team to ensure that all countries in the region were prepared to deal with natural disasters. Netanyahu told about 250 volunteers, including firefighters, pilots, and rescue workers, along with diplomats and officials of foreign governments, that he had spoken on the matter with, among others, the leaders of Russia, Greece, and Egypt on establishing the effort.
Thanking the volunteers, Netanyahu said that “our experience here shows that those who seek peace can be hopeful. We saw how it was possible to put aside misunderstandings and provide assistance. This kind of thing can bring peace, something that would help us all.”
Ayalon gave a heartfelt thanks to the volunteers. “Each and every one of you left behind a family, home and a country and boarded a plane at a moment's notice to extend your hand in assistance to save lives, both material and physical, in a foreign land. Many of you have probably never been to Israel before yet you demonstrated that your love of humanity and courage literally has no borders,” Ayalon told the group. “Despite very real risks, each of you showed a true commitment when you joined with members of Israel’s firefighting forces to fight the flames in the Carmel. Together you became a united and powerful force who fought the fire that threatened to consume everything in its way without mercy or discrimination.”
Ayalon expressed Israel's appreciation for the friendship and helping hand the foreign volunteers gave the country during its time of need. “I would humbly like to send the deepest gratitude of the Israeli people and its government to your respective leaders for answering our call for assistance without hesitation. From your response you proved your friendship to the State of Israel and its people,” Ayalon said. “Those who are here and other firefighters that have already returned are already acknowledged as heroes in your own countries and now you are heroes in our homes as well. We will forever cherish and remember your courage and bravery.”
President Shimon Peres, in his remarks, focused on the political implications of the rescue effort. “The event puts a new face on our relations with other nations. I now feel that humanity is better than it had been, and you are the ones who represent this hope. Perhaps we can also work through our political difficulties and bring peace to the mothers and children of the region, and show the young generation we can change,” Peres said.
In his remarks, Ayalon also touched on the political aspect of the volunterr effort. Israel also appreciated the fact that the volunteers were willing to rise above politics to help out. “Unfortunately, during this disaster we heard voices from our enemies who celebrate and relish in our tragedies,” he said. “These same people have lit the fires of conflict and terrorism during Israel’s short history. While they failed to defeat us through these means, they now try and fan the flames through an assault on Israel’s legitimacy. However, with the assistance of good people and like-minded nations in the international community, we will also douse and finally extinguish these flames as well.
Luis Sutch, head of the Spanish volunteer delegation, spoke at the ceremony as well, saying that the volunteers found Israel to be a “very interesting place,” adding that he had never seen a forest fire as fierce as the Carmel fire.
Presenting the volunteers with a certificate representing a tree that was planted in the forest in their names, Ayalon told them that with their efforts in helping save Israel's trees, “now you all literally have roots in Israel.”