With the help of the “supertanker” that dropped a combination of water and fire retardant on the Carmel fire during the night, it is hoped that the fire is now under control, although not yet completely out. After consulting with relevant officials, PM Netanyahu (who has stayed on top of the situation throughout) has decided to cancel the arrival of additional planes from international sources.
At the end of this post I will provide ways in which you can donate to help with rehabilitation and restoration.
Half of the Carmel Forest, which is managed by the Nature and Parks Authority, has been destroyed — a combination of natural growth and trees planted by the Jewish National Fund over the years. There has been a loss of thousands of trees that were over a hundred years old; the fire also destroyed shrubs that were unique to the area.
The bulk of the restoration work will fall now to JNF. Explained Eli Stenzler, JNF Chair:
“[After the fire dies down] we will go tree by tree to make sure they are not still burning. After the flames are put out, our foresters will go tree by tree again to see what can be saved and what has to be replanted. We will replant oak trees, but also almond and pomegranate trees so that people can have shade but also see fruit.”
He indicated that it was still too early to tell how long it would take for the trees and greenery to grow back, but that the time required would certainly be substantial.
“It could take dozens of years, but we know how to do it. We have some of the best experts in the world whose specialty is rehabilitating forests after fires. The areas that burned during the Second Lebanon War [five years ago] are green again.”
The animals from the Hai Bar refuge are safe.
The well-know Carmel Forest Spa Hotel was protected from flames and stands intact.
I neglected to mention yesterday that Ein Hod, which suffered severe damage, is an artists’ colony. Losses there were very keenly felt.
Police Chief Ahuva Tomer is still fighting for her life but has stabilized a bit.
As a result of incorrect information I received yesterday, I had indicated that the prison guard cadets who were killed in the fire were mostly Druse. Someone in the Haifa area has informed me of my error, and I stand corrected. My source tells me there were three Druse, one Muslim, and the rest were Jews.
Of course, the accusations, the self-defense, and the finger-pointing have begun with regard to whose fault it was that Israel’s firefighting equipment and firefighting crews were inadequate. I do not wish to consider this extensively now, but may well return to it.
Quite frankly, Israelis are shaking their heads at this sad state of affairs and saying, “That’s Israel.” A failure to do long term planning is almost a trademark of Israeli governments. (If there had been sufficient attention paid even five years ago to the possibility that we might face a drought, and had adequate desalination plants been constructed, we would have sufficient water now. But as it is, we don’t.)
In this instance there are actually two issues. One is the sense that life, and trees, and homes, may have been lost that might have been saved had Israel been better prepared. It’s a fairly unbearable thought. Although I myself have doubts — because of the dry conditions and the high winds that prevailed — as to whether we necessarily would have been able to stop the fire before it became lethal, even with better equipment and more firefighting staff. What might have — should have — been achieved is a lesser degree of damage. (And I’ll have more to say about the difficulty of stopping the fire below.)
JPost editor David Horovitz addresses this issue in his piece, “The impotent ‘if only’ of our northern inferno”:
“[Fire Service spokesman Hezi] Levy said some firemen and women had to be pulled out of the field against their will by their commanders after hours at the front, simply to take a short break, rest, eat and drink a little.
“’They are working utterly without concern for themselves,’ said another senior fire officer late on Friday night.
“In a series of public appearances on Friday and on Saturday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu repeatedly praised the ‘divine heroism,’ the spirit of sacrifice, displayed by the firefighters. By them and all who fought alongside them.
“…Such heroism, indeed, such willingness to sacrifice and such resilience have long since been a dependable characteristic of Israel’s response to emergency.
“…Time and again, when required to pull together, this country has risen to the challenge. And the emergencies never seem to let up.
“…The people of Israel are capable of uniting in times of crisis,” said Netanyahu several times.
“If that heroism, resilience and unity have been one source of comfort, amid a fire-zone described by eyewitnesses as ‘apocalyptic,’ a second source has been the scale and speed of the international response to Israel’s pleas for help.
“Often, in recent years, it has been Israel that has stretched out a hand to other nations in distress, to the victims of natural disaster – most recently to earthquake victims in countries including Haiti and Turkey.
“This time the roles were reversed, and the international community has not failed us.
“…Netanyahu amended his mantra on Saturday night to reflect the remarkable international solidarity: ‘The people of Israel are united, and lots of the nations of the world are united with us,’ he said.
“…Once the flames are finally doused by all the local and international heroes, and the heart-wrenching funerals endured, the dark side of this unprecedented national disaster will have to be confronted head-on.
“Chiefly, it appears thoroughly unconscionable that the Fire Services’ repeated entreaties for greater budgets – to replace and supplement equipment and bolster manpower from the current 1,400 to 2,400 – have been rebuffed for years.
“…Netanyahu said on Saturday that there was ‘no shame’ once this blaze had gathered intensity – borne on the gusty winds, rapaciously devouring a countryside that has seen no rain for months – in Israel’s incapacity to fight alone, in our desperate, answered pleas for international assistance.
“Perhaps not. The ‘shame’ is that the inferno was not prevented or staunched far earlier.
“And the challenge now is to ensure that Israel moves efficiently and effectively forward to sophisticated self-sufficiency, from the impotent, fatal, heartbreaking “if only” of the northern inferno of December 2010.
Now, after the fact, there will be considerable enhancement of our capacity to fight fires. Netanyahu is talking about a fleet of planes that can combat fires solely from the air. We’ll see.
And this leads us to another concern: There is now an acknowledgement that preparedness with regard to fighting fires is part of being prepared for the next war in the north. Once Hezbollah aims rockets our way, there will be fires started at multiple sites, and we had better be able to put them out quickly.
This unbearably painful episode may have been our wake-up call on this front.
Now as to the other reason why staunching the Carmel fire was difficult: Arson.
I had alluded yesterday to the fact that there was not one fire, but several fires in the forest, far enough away from each other so that it would be extremely unlikely that they were started by sparks carried in the wind.
Since writing that, I have uncovered specific instances of suspected arson being reported in the Carmel Forest area. Firebombs have been thrown in various sites; the IDF has a video of a truck leaving an area where a fire started; etc. At a Friday night emergency press conference at Haifa University, Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen said, “There have been a number of arson attacks in the northern district.”
There is a tendency to call these incidents “copycat arson,” but this downplays what is going on. We are familiar with the concept of “copycat” crimes or vandalism. A primary illegal or destructive act takes place and then certain mentally unbalanced people seek to mimic it, so that in days following the act is repeated in different locales.
But here, my friends, I believe we are dealing with arson as terrorism, perpetrated by Arabs who in the main are Israeli citizens.
According to Arutz Sheva:
“Radio Haifa interviewed several people who witnessed car horn-honking and other acts of public celebration in the Arab village of Furadis, south of Haifa, after news of the tragedy became known Thursday.
“According to the report, Arab citizens uploaded to a Facebook account gruesome photographs of charred bodies of victims. Other Arabs expressed their feelings by clicking ‘like.’ The police are said to be investigating the matter and the Facebook page is said to have been closed.
“However, the pictures have already begun making the rounds worldwide. A group called ‘Mujahedeen of Palestine,’ identified with Al-Qaeda, put the pictures of the bodies on a YouTube video. The video includes text that says ‘Muhammad’s lions’ came out at night to set alight the land of the ‘occupiers.'”
Khaled Abu Toameh wrote today in the JPost about the gleeful response to the fire in much of the Arab world. One of the statements he shared from the Arab media (not clear from precisely where) is this:
“Alahu Akbar! This is an effective weapon. We call on our Palestinian brothers to set fires to all forests.” (Emphasis added)
While the Carmel Forest was the primary focus of the arson, it is important to point out that fires were also started across the country — notably in the Jerusalem Forest, but in other locales as well: in Gilo, close to Nazareth, etc. etc.. Depending on the source, it might be said that there were a handful of such incidents, or actually dozens.
And then there is the question of whether the primary fire may have resulted from arson as well. I was ready, in the beginning, to accept the official verdict of carelessness by two teenage boys from the Druse village of Usfiya. It was said that they had a picnic and didn’t douse the flames from their cooking fire. But now I’ve uncovered too much to feel certain of anything.
There is, for example, this from a CNN report on Friday:
“Israeli police said Friday that they suspect arson in the wildfire that has killed at least 41 people and injured 17 in northern Israel over the past two days.
“Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld cited ‘suspicious objects’ found Thursday. He did not elaborate.”
While, according to Arutz Sheva:
“…Later reports said that while most of the residents of Usfiya are Druse, the youths who were arrested are Arabs.” This is not, to my mind, a final, definitive statement, but it raises yet more questions. (Druse are loyal Israeli citizens and would not likely be suspected of arson as terrorism.)
The father of the boys, who have been taken into police custody, claims they were framed, and that his sons were taken from their home “as if they were terrorists.” Is this simply a distraught father speaking, or did he pick up on a police attitude because there is more going on than what we’ve been told?
All of this requires a hard look because there is an official tendency to play down accusations against Israeli Arabs for fear of exacerbating tensions.
Following are some places for sending donations to help recovery after the Carmel Forest fire:
To the JNF Forest Fire Emergency Campaign.
Friends of Israel Fire Fighters, managed by JNF.
The Haifa Foundation. Go here http://www.haifa-foundation.org/contact_us.htm for information on needs and ways to donate. About a billion NIS are needed. In the US, it’s the American Associates of the Haifa Foundation. Good to earmark your donation for the fire relief.
Jewish Federations Fire Relief Fund.
The Orthodox Union Emergency Forest Fire Fund
Exploration of other issues that I had hoped to write about today will be tabled again for a couple of days hence. It is Chanukah, and tomorrow is a day with my grandchildren. (Schools are closed for Chanukah.)
Since it is Chanukah, let me close with this music video many people are enjoying:
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.