For some days Israel has suffered from levels of personal hardship, dislocation, mobilization, and property damage equivalent to the 2014 Gaza operation of the IDF.

 
The prime aggressor has been the weather, with incidents of civilian carelessness and aggression by Palestinians..
 
We've been experiencing an extreme case of what typically occurs several times each spring and fall. There have been days of strong winds from the east, bringing a dryness from the deserts that reduces humidity below 5%, this time with a delayed beginning of the usual season of rain. There hasn't been significant wetness since April.
 
The result has been fires throughout the northern and central part of the country, with the prized forests planted by generations of Israelis and visitors contributing their fuel along with scrub land and its wild vegetation alongside villages and urban neighborhoods. Haifa has been a prominent target, with the topography producing especially high winds from the east heightened in velocity as they funnel through mountain valleys.
 
The dryness also causes universal suffering, beyond the capacity of hand and face cream to keep us comfortable.
 
Numbers are vague, and rely on media reports. Perhaps 100,000 families have been forced from their homes for hours or days, hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed, and hundreds of individuals and fire fighters injured. Most of the casualties have been light, and due to smoke inhalation. As of this writing, the absence of any deaths owes something to the skills and experience of authorities, and the discipline of residents to leave their homes quickly when ordered to do so, and to stay away until allowed back by officials concerned with renewed outbreaks of fire.
 
Equipment and personnel have come to help from Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Cyprus, Russia, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. We're arguing if Bibi overstepped good sense in hiring a supertanker from the US, capable of dropping tons of water and fire suppressants. As on the last occasion he ordered the supertanker and then boasted of solving a problem, the 747 will have arrived too late to be used at the most critical period, be less maneuverable than smaller planes, demand lengthy periods for resupply, as well as a considerable expenditure for the fee being charged by its commercial operators.
 
A headline in Ha'aretz, "The Supertanker more useful as a target for photographers than in putting out fires."
 
Also controversial is the matter of responsibility for the damage. While religious politicians are calling for more assiduous prayer for rain, the greater noise is coming from those who see this as another chapter in Palestinians' violence.
 
There has been incitement of action to take advantage of the weather, as well as reliable reports of individuals lighting fires or throwing homemade firebombs. On the other hand, Palestinian officials and Israeli Arabs have spoken out against the practice. The Palestinian Authority has sent several firetrucks and crews to work alongside Israelis. The head of Haifa's central  mosque spoke forcefully about the co-existence that marks his city, and opened  facilities, along with food, clothing, and bedding to all people forced from their homes. Arab and Druze towns along with Israeli local authorities and kibbutzim offered to take in fire refugees. Moreover, Palestinian, Israeli Arab, and Jordanian areas have been exposed to the same weather conditions as the Jews of Israel, and have suffered from similar destruction, perhaps traced to carelessness, vandalism, or regime opponents.
 
The coexistence of Palestinian and Arab aid, and good words along with instances of incitement and cheering on of the saboteurs will take more than the usual efforts to sort out and respond. The police, fire authorities, and intelligence services are operating, taking in suspects for questioning, then releasing some and holding on to others. 
 
The police and Shin Bet have begun making their accusations against individuals. If history repeats itself, and there is a lot of history, sooner or later they'll get most if not all of the culprits. Pressures and incentives appear throughout the localities of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. It's not pleasant work. Arab acquaintances have told me that do not want to be questioned by the Shin Bet or to be informants.
 
Arab politicians have been on the media charging gross exaggeration of ethnic accusations, matching Jews calling for an aggressive response against what they call fire terrorism.
 
Ha'aretz is typically a government critic from the left. One of its editorials was headlined "As Fires Rage Across Israel, Netanyahu Busy With Political Pyromania." It began 


"The prime minister and members of his cabinet have been quick to point to Arabs as the arsonists behind the fires that raged across Israel last week, risking far more dangerous blazes that no supertanker can extinguish."


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A cartoon in Ha'aretz showed a grinning Bibi putting out fires, which were drawing attention from a scandal brewing over the purchase of submarines.
 




So far it appears that police and security personnel have acted professionally, and have quickly freed some of the individuals initially taken into custody on suspicion. Moreover, Prime Minister Netanyahu made contact with the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and thanked him for the sending of equipment and crews. Netanyahu also spoke about Arabs who took in Jews burned out of their homes at the same time that he noted that Arabs had set fires.


There'll be no shortage of problems about who pays for the damage. Israeli laws provide for public compensation of damage due to war or terror, but it won't be easy deciding which buildings and families have suffered from terror and which from civilian malfeasance or bad luck. Some fires have been traced to picnickers or workers who violated orders--usually issued during the dry season--to avoid open fires.  


Government authorities have sent their appraisers to assess damage. There are promises of initial payments to help with immediate outlays.


Estimates are that only half of Israeli homeowners have private insurance, and there are bound to be squabbles over coverage, as well as whether a company or the government should be responsible for a particular claim. Politicians have been insisting that the government help families without insurance, which will bring forth quarrals over the question of who pays, how much, and what should be the role of families to protect themselves financially. Government officials are calling on local authorities to respond quickly to the personal needs of those forced from their homes. We are sure to hear complaints that the Finance Ministry was slow or miserly in compensating local authorities.


The weather is calming and fires are coming under control. The clamor about responsibility and compensation will last longer.


Comments welcome, incendiary and otherwise.
-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Irashark@gmail.com 
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