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Did Palestinians save Yad Vashem?

July 28, 2011

Last week there was a forest fire on the slope below Yad Vashem. Specifically, the north slope, and even more specifically, directly beneath the archives building. As soon as the fire was noticed a group of staff members rushed out to the perimeter with fire-fighting hoses and spent the next few hours dousing the adjacent strip of land so the fire wouldn’t approach. Eventually – apparently not very quickly – the fire fighters arrived, but not before a TV camera had caught the CEO explaining that they “were fighting for their home”.

So far the facts as reported at the time.

Since I participated in the planning and oversight of the construction of the archives building at Yad Vashem, I’m comfortable in saying that no forest fire poses a danger to the collections of documents owned by Yad Vashem. Indeed, the next day the present director of the archives told the press the same: the archives had never been in danger, though of course had the fire penetrated¬†the grounds it would have caused damage – but not to the archives. It just so happened, however, that I was at Yad Vashem the day after the fire, and was told by a number of people, that the team that had so bravely fought the fire was mostly made up of the maintenance and cleaning staff… Palestinians from East Jerusalem.

Yesterday there was a ceremony at Yad Vashem, at which the heads of the institution thanked and commended the impromptu (Palestinian) firefighters.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 29, 2011 4:59 am

    I am glad a large disaster was prevented. These kinds of stories about cooperation and co-existence give a glimmer of hope for the future.

  2. L. King permalink
    July 29, 2011 7:48 pm

    Interesting article, but why not describe the impromptu firefighters as Israelis, (or Arab Israelis) from (east, not East, or maybe “downtown”) Jerusalem? One’s choice of language implies the acceptance of a certain view of reality.

    I realize that one of the goals of the article was to show cohesion across a divide, but in doing so it also contributes to defining that divide.

    My kudos to the staff for taking quick action. A different question – are the archives digitally backed up/replicated in a safe location outside the country? Stewart Brand in the book “The Clock of the Long Now” discussed a project by Danny Hillis to create archives that could withstand the collapse of civilization. While we hope that Israel will continue to strive and survive, the possibility that it might not means that some thought ought to have been given to the preservation of the information at Yad V’Shem against the worst of possibilities.

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