Social networking sites used to gather aid for fire victims

Nonprofits, gov't offices and concerned individuals all utilize Facebook, Twitter and YouTube through the weekend to appeal for help.

December 5, 2010 04:56
3 minute read.

Facebook 311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Within hours of realizing the size and scope of the Carmel fires, non-profit organizations and individuals turned to social networking websites to initiate and collect humanitarian aid.

Already on Thursday evening charity Lev Ahad had created the Facebook page “Fire on the Carmel, Forest Ablaze,” for people to share information, their concerns and their willingness to help out in anyway they can with this disaster. Many of those who posted messages on the page were offering to take in people who had been evacuated from their homes due to the blaze.

“I put myself in the place of those who’ve lost their homes and I decided I just had to help,” Aws Hamdan of Jit al-Muthallath near Baka el-Gharbiyya, in the center of the country, told The Jerusalem Post Saturday night just hours after posting a message on the site.

Hamdan, who also changed her Facebook profile picture to one of firefighters with the slogan “We are with the Carmel,” said she had room for up to 12 people and that did not care if those who needed shelter were Jews or Arabs.

The Carmel Mountain has a mix of Jewish, Arab and Druze villages, hundreds of people lost their homes to the fire over the weekend.

“We can take in anyone who needs a place and we don’t care who they are,” Hamdan told the Post. “We don’t ask people’s backgrounds, we only want to help.”

Hamdan was not alone in her generosity, hundreds of others heeded the advice of the authorities to stay away from the disaster zone, where the fire was still raging after three days, but came forward to do what they could in the virtual world.

Aside from Lev Ahad's page, the organization also established a Facebook page to help collect goods such as food, blankets, clothes and personal items for the evacuated families. The page also allows for donations to help provide other essential aid.

By Saturday night, that organization’s Facebook page was also advertising an event for next month called “Planting the Carmel anew,” which calls for volunteers to come forward and plant trees to replace the millions that have now burnt down.

Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube were all utilized through the weekend to appeal for help. On the video-sharing website some 40 or 50 videos showing the raging fire swallowing up one of Israel’s most renowned scenic spots were already posted by Saturday night and the Government Press Office had used the resource to show its appreciation for the international forces that have now arrived to help.

In English, the Facebook page “I support Israel – Fire Disaster 2010,” had gained more than 800 supporters by Saturday afternoon, with Jews, Israel supporters and other concerned people posting their condolences and messages of sympathy. The messages were moving, showing how distraught people are all over the world at the loss of lives and nature.

Meanwhile, on the ground, the social welfare services were active throughout the weekend to provide assistance to displaced families and individuals. Welfare and Social Services Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog on Friday pledged emergency aid of some NIS150,000 for social welfare services in the areas affected by the fire.

Professionals and experts from the ministry set up a situation room in region in order to coordinate all the efforts of volunteers and non-profit organizations. Social workers were also brought in from other districts to assist the local welfare departments and help relatives to who lost loved ones in the fire.

The ministry’s emergency hotline is 118.

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