I opened my eyes, it was the Hebrew month
I saw above me one small
The blue of the sky and a single cloud
And I saw the evergreen mountain
mountain that is green all year round,
I still dream and ask to
breathe your air
as in days of old
and lie in your shadow, Carmel
‘The Evergreen Mountain,” by
iconic Hebrew lyricist Yoram Taharlev, is both a paean to the Carmel and an ode
to lost innocence. Taharlev describes “mischievous childhood games” and “chasing
butterflies” but also youths going into the army “big, but perplexed” and
returning “from the wars as brothers.”
As the song develops, so does the
main voice: “Our children are now young men and our parents’ hair is white.”
Nonetheless, says the song, every morning “as we look at our brother, the
evergreen mountain, we will still feel young.”
The lyrics, themselves
evergreen, came to mind as the country braced itself for the anniversary of the
Carmel Disaster this month. It was one of those events so traumatic that those
two words in Hebrew “Ason Hacarmel” are scorched into the Israeli collective
psyche, like the Helicopter Disaster, the Versailles Hall Disaster or the Yom
A year has passed. For the families of the 44 victims, it has
passed painfully slowly – every day a reminder of what they lost. The same is
true for those whose homes and belongings went up in flames.
For the rest
of the country – distracted by the missiles in the South, terror attacks, the
social protests and the saga of Gilad Schalit – the time has gone faster. While
we were looking elsewhere, flowers began to bloom again on the Carmel; saplings
started to shoot up; wildlife returned.
In one of those strange ironies
of nature, the fire that destroyed some 9,900 acres of forest also provided
fertile ash for regrowth.
That’s why, for the most part, we were able to
put the tragedy and devastation behind us and focus on
After all, every disaster we survive serves to strengthen
us. Or should do.
As I noted last year, the Carmel Disaster was a turning
point. It was the Fire and Rescue Services’ equivalent of the Yom Kippur War.
They fought bravely and eventually won the battle, but they had been caught
unprepared and ill-equipped. And the voices of the dead call out from the
Fire and Rescue Commissioner Shahar Ayalon, appointed
after the disaster, pointed out last week that if the response time to
emergencies is reduced, so is the damage. Or, in his words: “The Carmel fire, as
well as other fires, could be extinguished with a glass of water when they’re
The emergency services, like the government that funds and
oversees them, are judged by two measures: preparedness – as in the ability to
avert a disaster – and the response when an emergency is happening.
cases of thwarted terror attacks or wars prevented, it’s not always easy for the
general public to see or measure success. Failure, on the other hand, is
And in this case, just looking at the burned-out shells of
homes, scorched paths and wounded patches of once beautiful forest, the failure
is as evident as a physical scar. Perhaps it’s less stark than a year ago,
slightly less painful to see, but it’s still there marring the face of the
The loss of innocence is even harder to handle.
lost a sense of security. Forty-four people died in the flames on the Carmel –
ignited by two youths smoking a nargila. Clearly another war, terror attack or
even a few Katyusha rockets – like the four fired on northern Israel from
Lebanon last week – could result in damage of a scope we don’t want to
Ayalon’s glass-of-water analogy notwithstanding, we all know we
are facing even worse threats than scrub and forests made brittle by another dry
winter. Ayalon, who previously proved to be one of the Israel Police’s most able
and imaginative officers, also knows this.
So do Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, whose ministry is responsible for the
Fire Service, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Internal Security Minister
Yitzhak Aharonovitch, each of whom has been required this year to say where the
Every few years, the state comptroller has issued a report
warning that the fire service is dangerously illequipped and under-funded.
Similarly, the reports on the lack of readiness in the event of an earthquake
are published regularly, and every so often a small tremor takes place which
shakes some of the dust of the pile of warnings stacked on shelves in various
Not all emergencies are man-made. The response to
emergencies, however, always rests in our hands. So, too, does
The disaster, as all disasters in Israel, brought out the
best in people: Months before the term “social justice” became the summer’s
catchphrase, people proved they could pull together to help others; the Diaspora
began emergency fund-raising; and foreign firefighters rushed to our aid.
Temporarily, even Turkey and the Palestinians put aside their differences with
Israel and helped fight the inferno on the historic mountain range. Perhaps the
most positive thing at the time was the way it proved that the whole world isn’t
against us all the time, as most Israelis occasionally suspect.
war, a battle between man and fire – perhaps the most primeval fear we
Before the flames had died down, many were throwing the blame on
Yishai, as if he personally had lit the match, or personally directed the bus
carrying Prison Service staff into the furnace which killed more than 30 of
them. A year later, Danny Rosen, partner of Haifa Police chief Ahuva Tomer who
perished in the blaze, wrote to the prime minister saying Yishai would not be
welcome at the memorial ceremony.
Rosen was angry with Yishai, the leader
of the religious Shas party, or perhaps even with God. Yishai certainly makes a
convenient – even conventional – target in Israel. But blaming him, and only
him, will not help prevent another disaster. For that, you don’t need to see
just who is to blame but what: Changing procedures is more essential than
watching the heads of politicians roll.
If planting trees was the
hallmark of the Zionist endeavour, the fire was a warning that care still needs
to be taken. Out of the flames comes a chance to ascertain what can be done to
prevent an even greater tragedy.
This is not about saving trees and
wildlife in the North. It is about making sure the country, its citizens and its
lifestyle are safe – so that future generations will also have something to sing
and dream about.The writer is editor of
The International Jerusalem