Tikun Olam, December 5, 2010
The Israeli government hasbara brigade appears to have assigned several recruits to "monitor" this blog and publish official talking points here. So I think it’s worthwhile to update yesterday’s post with the latest news developments and a few ripostes to the worst of the nonsense.
There is a meme running through the apologist comments–only a few nuts are blaming Israeli Palestinians for setting the fire. To put that little baby to rest, let’s quote the Israeli media watchdog, 7th Eye, which writes:
Live coverage of the tragic Carmel fire contained negative stereotyping of ethnic minorities and the hurling of unconvincing accusations of guilt by the Interior Minister [Eli Yishai of the Shas Party] and other politicians representing the ultra-Orthodox and settlers.
…Those reporters broadcasting from the field emphasized in discussing the new fires which broke out in places that hadn’t previously been alight, that this was the result of arson. They all quoted sources in the police or fire department which described these new conflagrations as taking advantage of efforts to fight the original fire. The connotation was that those setting the new fires were taking advantage of the nation’s weakness to terrorize it and make conditions worse. There was no doubt they were alluding to hostile acts by elements of the Arab community. It never occurred to a single one of these correspondents that the wave of fires was not the result of evil intent by a fifth column…
During the reporting on the causes of the Carmel fire, from the first moment radio and TV disseminated reports that hinted it was the result of deliberate acts by residents of [the Israeli Druze village] Isfiya….On Channel 10, a [Jewish] survivor of the fire said: "We’re lost. Everything of ours is burned. Everything is alight behind me. They’ve been trying to burn us down for some time. Now, they’ve succeeded.
There was no doubt what he meant. That the Druze residents brought this disaster on the State. And they did it deliberately. No one at Channel 10 corrected him and pointed out that this serious charge was unfounded…
Haaretz confirms that two 16 year old (in another Haaretz account, 14 and 15 years old) minors from Isfiya have been detained under suspicion that they started the fires in the village dump. But they aren’t charged with arson, rather with negligence. This may have been a case of two young boys playing in a place they shouldn’t have, and perhaps having a match or finding something flammable and setting it alight as part of the mischief teenage boys do when they’re looking for kicks. Was it dumb for kids to be playing with fire under such conditions? You bet. But doing something dumb is not the same as deliberately committing an act of terror. That distinction seems to be lost on most Israeli Jews.
Further, the suspects’ father claims the boys are completely innocent, that the fire started far from their home, and that his children weren’t anywhere near the scene. So it is possible that these boys are being framed by a government looking for patsies.
What is far more serious is that in a region facing the worst drought in the history of the State, when notified by an aircraft pilot of a small garbage fire that could’ve been extinguished by a garden hose, authorities engaged in far more severe negligence by not bringing fire equipment to the site until two and a half hours after the first report of the fire:
A flight instructor said yesterday he spotted the Carmel fire early and alerted the fire department, but the first plane sent to battle the blaze took off more than two hours later.
The instructor, Alon Chaim, noticed the fire near a rocky area on the outskirts of the Druze village of Isfiya during a flight lesson. Chaim said he reported the fire to the air traffic controllers at Haifa Airport, who in turn alerted the fire department at 11:14 A.M. Chaim filmed the fire while continuing with his lesson.
"I flew with a student. I saw smoke over the Carmel hills," he said. "I flew over the fire, which at that point was a tiny blaze just outside Isfiya. It was very easy to get to it with a fire truck. I reported the fire to the air-traffic-control tower at Haifa Airport."
Chaim said he had noticed the fire when it still could have been put out quickly.
The pilot said he later learned that the air traffic controllers first noticed firefighting aircraft in the region at 1:45 P.M.
That’s what caused this disaster: government negligence. As the residents of Oakland who survived the devastating 1989 fire can tell you, a small fire left unattended becomes a monster given the right conditions. In that incident, a fire crew extinguished the initial flames but did not do so completely and the fire reignited. Death and heartache resulted from that mistake too.
Do you think the corrupt Interior Minister Eli Yishai, someone far more concerned with deporting children of foreign workers from Israel than fighting fires, will resign? Think again. His Shas Party is critical to the health of the current coalition government. The Prime Minister can’t afford to jettison him. So Yishai rises to his level of incompetence thanks to cronyism and backroom Likudist political deals.
In a nation run by responsible leaders mindful of their obligations to lead, such individuals would realize they must be extremely careful in their statements during such a traumatic event. That they must not amplify rumors, foment hostility and mistrust with unfounded accusations. But such a nation is not Israel. Here the Interior Minister who is most culpable for the disaster tries to pin the blame on the weakest link in the social chain, the Israeli Druze community. Reporters allow suffering victims to pin the blame where it doesn’t belong. People look for scapegoats rather than pinning the blame where it really belongs.
On a related matter, the prime minister’s military attache, Gen. Yonatan Locker, Googled "biggest fire fighting supertanker in the world" to find the Arizona company which has the distinction of owning such a plane. That’s how Israel leased it to fight the Carmel fire. When you can use Google to fight Israel’s worst natural disaster, you know the guys at "Do No Evil" have got a good thing going. Now, if General Locker could just use Google to end the Israeli-Arab conflict!