Exclusive: Israeli, Palestinian officials to coordinate civilian emergency responses

"We left politics aside, and focused on rescue and the saving lives, which comes before everything,” says Hebron source.

December 13, 2013 00:50
2 minute read.
A FIREFIGHTER uses a fire extinguisher during a drill at a school in Jerusalem.

Firefighters 370. (photo credit: Reuters)


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Israeli and Palestinian officials held a meeting in Hebron this week, the first of its kind, to improve joint coordination in responding to civilian emergencies such as fires and accidents, and to figure out ways to protect the local environment together.

The understandings reached by the participants found expression already on Thursday, when two Palestinian bulldozers joined Israeli bulldozers in clearing routes 36 and 60 after a heavy snow storm blocked the two roads that serve Palestinian and Israeli drivers.

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The meeting, held at the IDF’s Hebron District Coordination and Liaison Administration, saw representatives from the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, Palestinian security forces, civilian firefighters from the Israel Fire and Rescue Service and their Palestinian counterparts attend.

“We left politics aside, and focused on rescue and the saving lives, which comes before everything,” a source from the Hebron District Coordination and Liaison Administration told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

“We’re coordinating on aspects such as the clearing of roads [in the Hebron area] in the event of floods, and joint firefighting efforts. Fires know no borders.”

“This meeting occurred because of a convergence of interests. I hope we won’t have to, but if necessary, we should be ready to coordinate with one another and take advantage of the goodwill between the sides as it exists today,” the source said, adding that the meeting was marked by a positive atmosphere from both sides.

Lt.-Col. Shimon Peretz, deputy commander of the Judea Brigade, attending the unusual meeting, told the Post that the understandings reached with the Palestinians would come into effect in both Hebron “and the whole of the area.”

Nature reserves, protected by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, will also benefit from the understanding, he said.

“Nature belongs to us all, and we have the duty to prevent harm to it.

This way, fires that break out can be put out more quickly; through a joint effort,” Peretz said.

“Fires that break out near the security fence travel in both directions. We had fire crews from both sides talk about how to divide their efforts between them. We discussed responses to floods, and rescue missions,” he added.

“If there’s a deadly accident in our area, Israeli ambulances race to the scene, and transfer [Palestinian] wounded to the Red Crescent, or alternatively, they’ll be evacuated to Israeli hospitals,” Peretz continued.

“My vision is that in nature reserves, such as the Suba Forest, we work together, and educate children on how to guard the environment.”

In an Internet forum, Hamas has in recent days attempted to use the meeting to embarrass the Palestinian Authority’s security forces by presenting them as overly “compliant” with the IDF.

The army source dismissed such rhetoric, saying, “This coordination is mutually beneficial to both sides. It’s about saving the lives of Palestinians and Israelis. When firefighters are cutting out a trapped motorists after an accident, such understandings will help keep people alive.”

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