Israelis open their homes to shelter evacuees from wildfires

"I don't know what will happen next week with my house, but for now at least I had somewhere to turn to.”

Fires rage across Israel. Courtesy Police Spokesperson's Office.
As wildfires around Israel raged for the fifth day on Saturday, hundreds of Israelis living in unaffected areas opened their hearts to take in evacuees across central and northern Israel.
According to Channel 10 News, more than a quarter of Haifa’s population had to be evacuated. However, since the evacuations began, individuals, municipal and regional councils, political parties and hi-tech companies around Israel began organizing efforts aimed at housing those who had to leave their homes.
“When I called the Haifa Municipality to volunteer my network of establishments, I was told to ‘get in line,’ because more than 700 people had already called them before I did and offered to host Haifa’s fleeing residents,” Ronen, a resident of Moshav Keshet who coordinates a network of businesses willing to host evacuees, told The Jerusalem Post.
“I own a tourism company, but I’m not going to mention its name since I am not doing this for publicity. This means that I have connections with a lot of guest houses, hotels and BnB’s. As soon as I heard about the catastrophe, I made calls and organized dozens of rooms for evacuees, as well as hosting myself.”
Several national organizations, like the Kibbutz Movement, the Zionist Union Party, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), and several youth movements, established call centers and command posts that enabled evacuees to find hosts. The Islamic Movement in Israel set up an emergency center in Kafr Kassem, offering to help all in need whether Muslim, Christian or Jew.
“The State of Israel revealed its beautiful face these past days,” said Ronen.
“People all over the country are still calling me and asking to host evacuees. It’s just heartwarming.”
Yaron Rosenthal, director of the SPNI field school in Kfar Etzion, opened the school’s guest rooms to anyone in need of a longer term solution as well. “People are in trouble. Some even lost their homes and have nowhere to go to, this is the very least we can do to help them,” Rosenthal told the Post.
In Haifa alone, more than 600 housing units were destroyed and some 80,000 people were evacuated, many of whom are still not allowed to return as firefighting efforts continue.
But it wasn’t only Israeli organizations, individuals and institutions that chipped in for relief efforts. The international online homes-haring giant Airbnb set up an emergency service to help match people wishing to share their apartments.
Currently there are close to 200 users listed on Airbnb who have volunteered to accommodate evacuees free of charge. Airbnb waived all service fees for the matchups, but will still protect users and compensate them under its insurance policy if need be. This service intends to remain open until December 3.
“Our thoughts are with those affected by these wildfires, and we thank the firefighters and emergency personnel who are working around the clock to contain the blaze. We are hopeful that the Airbnb community will come together to help ease the strain on emergency housing and ensure that their neighbors have a safe place to stay during this difficult time,” Imri Galai, the Israel market manager for Airbnb, told the Post.
Airbnb provided this service, the Disaster Response Tool, in the Christchurch New Zealand earthquake and the North Carolina wildfires as well.
“I am so overwhelmed by the immense and immediate response all over the country and willingness to help us,” David Bitton, a Haifa resident who found refuge in a stranger’s home in Jerusalem, told the Post.
“I just saw a shared Facebook post by someone I don’t even know and I called the man. Now I have a roof over my head. I don’t know what will happen next week with my house, but for now at least I had somewhere to turn to.”