Every citizen whose property was destroyed in the recent fires will receive help even if they don’t have private insurance, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon vowed Monday during a visit to the community of Nataf, which was severely scorched by the fires in the Jerusalem mountains.
Questions remained, however, as to how people without private insurance whose property was destroyed in fires not proven to be arson will be compensated.
“We will not abandon a single citizen. Even in cases where the fire was not the result of hostility, we will stand with the victims in dealing with the insurance companies,” said Kahlon, though he did not offer specific details.
Kahlon expects assessors from private insurance companies and the state will finish inspecting all victims’ properties by Thursday.
The finance minister was accompanied to Nataf by Moshe Asher, director-general of the Tax Authority, whose property-tax compensation fund is charged with compensating citizens whose property was damaged by acts of terrorism.
“As of yesterday, representatives of the authority and the fund have been deployed all over the country – in the Haifa area, Zichron Ya’acov, Nataf, Halamish and Beit Yair – and we are in the middle of the assessment process,” Asher said. “Very soon, we will be notifying which areas are entitled to be compensated in accordance with the property-tax and compensation- fund law.”
According to the property- tax law, the state will compensate citizens for direct and indirect property damages caused by hostile acts, war or terrorism, whether or not a citizen is privately insured.
“Even in cases having nothing to do with nationalistic motivations, we will not let any citizen fall between the cracks,” Kahlon said.
“We were invested with full authority by the government to provide all affected citizens with aid and we will not abandon a single one. All the regulations are already there; we had to invent nothing. The ministry and all the authorities involved are well practiced and prepared for emergency scenarios like this.”
According to Asher, the ministry and the Tax Authority have reached an agreement with the private insurance companies, according to which the companies will begin paying their eligible claimants immediately and without question and will be reimbursed by the property- tax fund in cases deemed a result of hostility.
“The insurance companies can start sending their assessors out into the field today, they have no problem, and later the fund will settle all accounts so all citizens are able to receive the fastest service,” Asher said.
However, this still leaves victims living in areas where fires did not break out as a result of deliberate hostile activity without coverage, if they aren’t privately insured.
According to data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, roughly 45% of Israelis with home insurance are not covered in case of fire, and of those who have this insurance, not all have extended their coverage to include their possessions inside the home.
Kahlon refused to provide a clear answer on this subject during his visit in Nataf, saying only that “in cases where victims do fall between the cracks we will do what we can to accommodate them.”
“According to indications we got from the police, [residents of] the Nataf area will be entitled to full compensation by the fund,” Asher said.
Four construction workers were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of being involved in the breakout of the fire.
According to a statement last week by police, the four are suspected of negligence and not deliberate arson. However, a nationalistic motivation hasn’t been ruled out. The four were working on road construction near Nataf and are suspected of lighting a campfire that got out of control. The four were released on bail on Thursday.
Finance Ministry director- general Shai Babad said Monday at a Knesset Finance Committee meeting on compensation for fire victims that he was told by police most of the damage was caused by arson with nationalist motivations.
Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ) said the fires were “no less than a national disaster... Israeli citizens cannot be left without a response.”
“As a country, we must make sure to take care of all citizens who were harmed, and if there’s a problem, we cannot just stand by,” he said. “We will act and amend the laws so that victims of natural disasters will be compensated.”
“In a civilized country, citizens get help without checking who was hurt for nationalist reasons and who for other reasons,” he added.
Unlike after the Carmel fire in 2010, Gafni said, there is already a budget set aside to help victims of the fire. He praised the Finance Ministry for giving NIS 2,500 and a hotel stay to anyone whose home burned down.
Babad said the checks will be sent on Tuesday so that victims can afford immediate needs like clothing and food.
“We’re working overtime to provide extra budgets for hospitals and schools that were evacuated and for extra manpower for the police and firefighters to work overtime,” he said. “We are not blocking anything.”