President Rivlin meets firefighters at Nataf.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
It was one thing to see visuals on television and newspapers of the damage wrought by fire in recent days, but it was a much more emotional experience to actually stand in front of burned-out ruins from which the acrid smell of cinders still emanated.
Despite a crowded schedule on Sunday, President Reuven Rivlin felt a need to visit Nataf in the Judean Mountains, where flames had consumed the homes of 10 families, and the legendary Rama’s Kitchen Restaurant by the entrance to the communal settlement had been reduced to ashes.
Less than an hour before flames engulfed the premises on Friday, Rotem Azulai and Yonatan Mashiach had celebrated their marriage there under a bridal canopy. But neither they nor their guests got around to sampling the wedding banquet, as everyone was hurriedly evacuated.
Israeli security forces evacuate homes in Nataf, near Jerusalem, as wildfires encroach properties
Rivlin met with residents, firefighters, police and home-guard personnel. He heaped praise on the firefighters who had worked without let up at the end of last week to prevent the blazes from spreading and had courageously saved many lives.
“Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism wherever it strikes and must be dealt with in the most severe manner that the law allows,” Rivlin said.
Rivlin noted the cooperation and assistance from Israel’s Palestinian neighbors, saying that this action gave cause for hope.
If he was able to do so, the president continued: “I would shake the hand of every single firefighter, policeman and member of the security forces engaged in this nationwide rescue operation. I thank each and every one of them in my name and in the name of the whole nation.”
Among the locals whom Rivlin met personally were Tamar and Yaakov Cohen whose home was burned to the ground, and heard from them about the frighteningly dramatic moments when they and their four children had to leave, not knowing what to salvage in the split seconds which they had in which to make any decision.
The family showed Rivlin what little was left that had remained untouched by the fire, but they were optimistic because none of them had been hurt. They would build their home again, they said.
Standing amid the ruins, Rivlin said: “This is a family that had been in a safe and pastoral setting, and in the blink of an eye found itself confronting enormous gushes of water and threatening flames, which they would not have imagined minutes earlier.”
The president repeatedly praised all those who had worked toward saving human life and putting out the fires, and said that all the foreign teams that had labored shoulder to shoulder with the Israelis had come with a sense of mission, and were deserving of every commendation.
Rivlin continued on to the Hatzor Air Base, near Ashdod, where he met teams of foreign fire fighters, and again voiced his praise for their endeavors. While at Hatzor, the president could not resist getting into the cockpit of one of the firefighting planes and schmoozing with the pilot.