Tax Authority, police clash over cause of Israel fires

According to 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.

November 30, 2016 00:24
2 minute read.
Fire near Jerusalem

A man checks the damage to a house during a wildfire, in the communal settlement of Nataf, near Jerusalem November 23, 2016.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

While the Tax Authority concluded Tuesday that the majority of fires that blazed over the course of a week were the result of arson, police disputed this ruling.

The Tax Authority published its list of places whose residents are eligible for compensation by the state. These are Haifa, Zichron Yaakov, Moshav Tal-El, Nataf, Dolev, Talmon, Nirit, Gilon and Halamish.

According to the authority, the appropriate agencies concluded that the fires in these areas are all a result of acts of hostility.

“According to the accumulated information we got from the Fire and Rescue Authority and Israel Police, the conclusion is that the aforementioned places fell victim to deliberate arson suspected of being an act of hostility,” stated the Tax Authority.

Israel Police, however, criticized the authority’s report. According to a source who spoke with Channel 2, the authority’s decision to include Haifa on the list did not rely on police opinion.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld declined to comment on the Tax Authority report, however, he said police are still conducting numerous arson investigations.

“There are a number of ongoing investigations. Some of the suspects are still being questioned so it is ongoing,” Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post. “To look into areas where fires started is not a question of a few hours.”

The Fire and Rescue Authority stated Monday that only about 25 out of the week’s 1,773 fires are due to suspected arson at this point.

The authority added that 13 fires in the West Bank were a result of deliberate arson, including in Halamish, Dolev and Talmon.

According to 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. This law stood as the basis of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s promise to compensate each and every citizen whose property was lost or damaged as a result of the fire.

The law is not subject to interpretation by the Finance Ministry or its Tax Authority, but rather relies on the final conclusion of Israel’s security authorities, including the Police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

Hence, the police’s criticism of the statement and list, together with the ongoing status of most investigations casts a shadow of doubt among victims, especially in Haifa, which saw the majority of damage.

“The list was compiled according to information given to us by the police and fire authorities. The information states that the fires in these locations were caused by arson,” Ariella Solomon of the Tax Authority told the Post. ”Therefore we can assume that the fires originated in hostile activity, which entitles the residents to state compensation.”

Additionally, the Finance Ministry began giving out immediate emergency payments to many of the victims through their municipal authorities.

“Currently about half of the affected properties are eligible for the NIS 2,500 per person emergency grant, that’s between 200 and 250 homes,” Kahlon’s spokesperson Omri Harush told the Post.

Out of all the properties affected by the fires, hundreds have been destroyed or are still uninhabitable by residents. Those without the possibility to return to their home according to a city engineer decision started receiving their immediate emergency payments from their municipal authorities today.

According to the Finance Ministry, more than 120 households were paid on Tuesday in Haifa alone, and dozens more in Zichron Ya’acov, Halamish and the Jerusalem Mountains area.

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