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Israel fires: Arabs donate wood to rebuild Haifa synagogue

'I had tears in my eyes when I heard,' says rabbi of Conservative synagogue after offer of free timber and labour
Israelis examine remains of their home, destroyed in last week's fires (AFP)

Arab Israelis are donating timber to help rebuild a synagogue after it suffered extensive damage when wildfires ripped through much of Israel last week.

Walid Abu Ahmed and Ziad Yunis, who work in the timber supply trade, are donating wood and labour free of charge to help rebuild the Conservative Moriah synagogue, in the south of the mixed port city of Haifa.

Moriah, the only Conservative synagogue in Israel, was nearly destroyed when forest fires engulfed much of Israel’s third biggest city last week.

Fire engulfs a road in the port city of Haifa (AFP)

The synagogue’s rabbi, Dov Hayun, said that there would have been “nothing left” of the building had firefighters arrived just two minutes later.

Some of the building’s structure survived, but about 4,000 books were turned to ash by the blaze.

Hayon, who is in charge of the reconstruction efforts, had asked Abu Ahmed for a quote for what will likely be a costly project – but was shocked when the merchants offered their services free of charge.

“I had tears in my eyes when I heard what was happening,” Hayon told Israeli news site Ynet News.

“It was so emotional to hear that Muslims were asking to donate to a Jewish synagogue. I’ve invited them to evening prayers to personally thank them,” he said.

'I had tears in my eyes when I heard what was happening'

- Dov Hayun, rabbi

Commenting on his decision, Abu Ahmed said: “Jews and Arabs live together in Haifa. We must continue with this coexistence and promote peace.

“We all want to live happy lives.”

He added that Islam is a religion of forgiveness, after a tense week for Israel-Palestinian relations that has seen many of the fires blamed on Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Police say many of the wildfires, dubbed the “Arson Intifida” by much of the Israeli media, were set deliberately, although they have admitted that this is based on “estimates” and are still investigating.

Israeli politicians reacted quickly to the fires, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning that “arson is terror” and would be punished as such, while Education Minister Naftali Bennett promised to build “more and bigger” settlements to replace those damaged by fire.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.