Carmel fire 311.
(photo credit: Israel Police)
The High Court decided on Wednesday to postpone deliberation on petitions filed
against the government for its alleged failures before and during the Mount
Carmel forest fire, until the state comptroller completes his report, expected
to be published in October.
The petitions, filed by government watchdogs
the Movement for Quality Government and Ometz, as well as families of some of
the 44 men and women who died in December 2’s fire, called for a series of state
actions. These include the firing of Interior Minister Eli Yishai, forming and
implementing a comprehensive plan to remedy the deficiencies in the Fire and
Rescue Services, increasing firefighting budgets, establishing an airborne
firefighting squad and launching a state commission of inquiry to investigate
failures leading up to the blaze.
In its response to the petition, the
state said there were no grounds for the court to intervene in the government’s
decisions, especially in light of the fact that the government was already
taking measures to both investigate itself and to overcome the deficiencies
identified in the wake of the fire.
The state argued that instead of
establishing a new commission of inquiry, it was preferable to implement the
recommendations of previous investigations, some of which were launched after
previous large fires.
The state also dismissed the petitioners’ requests
that Yishai be removed from his post because of his ministerial responsibility
over the fire and rescue services, saying was not in the scope of the court’s
authority to order such a move.
“It should be noted that the interior
minister was aware and very active on the matter of the Fire Services and their
lack of preparedness to fulfill the duties required of them, and was busy in
promoting changes, including the establishment of a national firefighting
authority and arranging budgets, as granted to him by the government, for
providing immediate aid to the existing services, months before the Carmel fire
occurred,” the state’s response read.
In Wednesday’s hearing the sides
debated whether the fire warranted the court ordering the government to launch a
state commission of inquiry. The law states that the government is entitled to
establish such a commission when it deems an incident has vital public
importance and requires investigating.
Shmuel Shenhar, who represented
the Movement for Quality Government, argued that while the court’s authority to
intervene was limited, this was possible in unique cases, and that the Carmel
fire warranted such intervention.
He said that even though in other
instances, such as the Second Lebanon War, the court declined to intervene, in
light of the government’s inaction since the fire, the court needed to step
“The [State Inquiry Commission] Law states that the cabinet is
entitled to launch an inquiry commission, but the cabinet hasn’t debated the
fire at all.
There was a decision by the Ministerial Committee [for
Legislation], but it never went back to the government table. Later it was
decided that the state comptroller would investigate, but the prime minister is
wary of launching a commission of inquiry because of coalition considerations.
If the state comptroller can investigate everything, who needs the law?” Shenhar
Wednesday’s hearing also revealed that the State Comptrollers
Report on the fire would only be published in October, and not, as initially
announced, in June or July.
The justices ruled that the next hearing in
the case would be held in November, following the publication of the State