President Peres: Today, the people of Israel thank you.  You acted on a mission, with bravery and dedication, and you saved lives and natural resources

 Remarks by President Peres and PM Netanyahu at the ceremony in salute of the foreign assistance forces


President Peres and PM Netanyahu with foreign assistance forces today at the President's Residence (Photo: Yair Engel)

(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Following are President Shimon Peres’ remarks  at the eventheld today (Tuesday, 7 December 2010) at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem in honor of the foreign delegations who assisted in extinguishing the fire in the Carme Mountain range:

President Shimon Peres hosted a special event this morning honoring the foreign rescue and fire fighting delegations that assisted in extinguishing the Carmel Mountain fire.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also participated and together they presented certificates of appreciation and awards to the heads of each foreign rescue delegation for their efforts and assistance in extinguishing the fire.  Each of the 18 delegates ascended the podium, shook the hands of the President and Prime Minister, and were photographed while the fire fighters in the audience applauded enthusiastically.

300 members of the various delegations participated in the event including fire fighters, pilots, emergency response experts, and Ambassadors from 10 countries.  There were delegations representing Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Britain, United States, Russia, Jordan, Turkey, and the Palestinian Authority.  The participants crowded into the expanded Hall in the President’s Residence specifically so all of the delegates could be included in the event.

President Peres said: “On behalf of the State of Israel, on behalf of all the people; children, women, parents, I want to thank all of you and each of you for coming so courageously, so promptly, to save lives and save land.   Many times Israel has sent its people to aid countries that suffered earthquakes or fires.  This is the first time that we have needed assistance from others.  We were touched by the amazing response – the response of countries and the human response on a personal level.  We lost many good people in this fire and we feel that you saved lives.  God should bless you.  Fighting fires is a horrible thing.  Many of you jumped into the fire to save lives.  The pilots in their planes often operated in harsh weather conditions.  The wind was strong and uncooperative, changing direction all the time.  In spite of these difficult conditions you didn’t hesitate.  You came from near and far – from Russia and the United States, and also from the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.  What more can we say to you other than to give you the thanks of children and mothers, thanks from our nation on this extraordinary courageous demonstration of solidarity.  You overcame the fire and brought new hope.”

The President also praised the quick response and said: “Thank you for your mission which is neither diplomatic nor foreign relations but rather expresses the highest form of human responsibility.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu said in his remarks: “In helping us douse the flames you have warmed the hearts of the entire nation and you have shown us that we are not alone.  You have shown us that around the world there are people of good will that will help us in our hour of need.  I believe that this rapid international response can be model for future cooperation in our region.  I thank each and every one of you for your courage, your dedication, and your friendship.  The people of Israel, an ancient people with a long memory, will never forget what you have done for us.”

Christos Oikonomou, head of the 70 member Greek rescue delegation spoke on behalf of all of the foreign teams and said: “Mr. President, thank you for the great honor and invitation to the President’s Residence.  On behalf of those who contributed in the fighting of the fires in the Mount Carmel region of the last few days I wish to express our deepest   sorrow and profound sympathy to the relatives of the victims.  At the same time I wish to express our deep satisfaction and pride for being able to assist our Israeli colleagues in their tremendous struggle to control the fire.  Real friends speak with their deeds, we are your friends and that’s what we tried to do.  This is exactly what Israeli fire fighters did when a wildfire was burning in Greece.  We certainly hope that this is the last time that you will need our assistance but be assured that if the need ever arises you can count on us.”  The Greek pilot then said in Hebrew: “Thank you for your hospitality.”

Following is a translation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Hebrew remarks at the ceremony: 
"The Psalmist says (83:15):
‘As the fire that burns the forest, and as the flame that sets the mountains ablaze.’
This is a strong and poetic expression that gives one pause.  This past week, to our sorrow, we saw it in all its strength, not in a poem and not in this verse, but in reality, on Mt. Carmel, where the prophet Elijah brought down fire from Heaven.
There are times when modern and technological man feels how small he is against the forces of nature but it is precisely these times in which certain, select people transcend the ordinary and show the greatness of humanity.
Such brave people from all over the world came to help Israel in this hour of need and joined our brave firefighters and police.  Among them were pilots from a dozen countries who repeatedly circled, landed and took off, through fire and water, swifter than eagles and stronger than lions – over the fire.
The People of Israel are an ancient people with long memories.  We will not forget how you helped us in this fateful hour.  Carry blessings and our gratitude as you return home."