AS INTRACTABLE and circular as disputes in the Middle East have been, responses to wildfires near Haifa — the worst natural disaster in Israel’s history — demonstrate that human need can trump longstanding mistrust. Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had what he called a “warm’’ discussion with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who had offered relief assistance. Netanyahu also thanked leaders of Turkey, whose relations with Israel have recently been strained, for swiftly providing firefighting planes. Now, the two nations are engaged in deeper talks about reconciliation.
The relief effort might even help repair strains within the American Jewish community, which has lately seen divisions over how best to support Israel and promote Middle East peace. (The controversy over J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami, who was recently disinvited from a speaking engagement at a Newton synagogue, was a case in point.) Disaster relief is an apolitical cause that has drawn universal support — particularly in Boston, long designated a sister city to Haifa. The Combined Jewish Philanthropies swiftly mobilized to send hundreds of thousands of dollars to relief efforts, and recently sent a group of leaders overseas to view the damage. Young adults linked to the CJP have held fund-raisers of their own, and raised about $6,000 Thursday night. In one sense, it’s a shame that it takes a natural disaster, with a substantial human toll, to spur progress. Still, the outpouring of relief and gratitude, the reminder that human lives are at stake, offers significant hope for the future.