Eitan seeks probe into circumstances of fire

“One thing I promise you is that I will make sure that everyone who bears responsibility for this fiasco will pay for it,” father of bus victim vows.

December 6, 2010 03:20
3 minute read.
Michael Eitan pointing to a settlement map.

Michael Eitan . (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Government Services Minister Michael Eitan became the first cabinet member to call for a full inquiry into the Carmel fire on Sunday.

He told the cabinet that a clause calling for an investigation should be included in the decision being approved by the ministers.

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Eitan said a further investigation by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called for, was insufficient and that only a proper probe could prevent future conflagrations by revealing why past recommendations were not implemented.

“We have an obligation to investigate this tragedy and its causes in order to learn lessons from it,” Eitan said. “The public wants an objective assessment that will probe deeply, and it is our obligation to enable such a report to be published.”

Eitan stopped short of calling for a formal commission of inquiry. He appeared to lament Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s decision not to resign following the blunder in not providing resources needed by the firefighters, which is in Yishai’s jurisdiction.

“Israel does not have a tradition of ministerial responsibility,” he said. “We have a tradition of letting less good things like commissions of inquiry and courts do the job.”

No other minister hinted publicly that Yishai should quit, but an anonymous minister was quoted as saying that Yishai “knew how to fight for budgets for the haredim and against foreign workers, and if he would have fought with the same emotion for the firefighters, we might not be in this situation today.”

Calls to fire Yishai came instead from the Movement for Quality Government, which wrote Netanyahu threatening legal action if he did not remove Yishai from his post.

“Only removing the interior minister or him quitting can restore the public’s faith in the government that was destroyed in the fire and guarantee norms or good governance and accountability,” the movement wrote Netanyahu.

Ze’ev Even-Hen, a former police commander, mocked Yishai’s call for a commission of inquiry in his speech at the funeral of his daughter Topaz, who was one of the Prisons Service cadets killed in the fire.

“One thing I promise you is that I will make sure that everyone who bears responsibility for this fiasco will pay for it,” Even-Hen said by her grave. “They won’t be able to flee via commissions of inquiry that they themselves form. I will make sure for you and your friends that the proper explanations will be given. This is the second Yom Kippur War-style fiasco in this country and I will make sure that there will not be a third.”

Yishai defended himself on his way into Sunday’s cabinet meeting, saying that a commission of inquiry would be able to find who was really to blame. He told reporters that on the day he took office, he wrote the prime minister and finance minister demanding half a billion shekels for staff and gear for the fire service but only NIS 100 million was allocated.

Sources close to Yishai said that during the seven years between his first term as interior minister that ended in 2002 and his return to the ministry, not a single agora was added to the budget of the firefighters. They also lamented that funding was cut for fire-fighting planes.

Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit, who was Yishai’s predecessor at the Interior Ministry, said he tried to privatize the Fire and Rescue Service as a separate authority and nearly succeeded before his government fell apart. He complained that Yishai did not complete the move.

Ministers from Labor and Likud came to Yishai’s defense.

Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (Labor) said “this is not the time to lop off heads” while the dead were still being buried.

“The calls to blame someone have come too early,” Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) said. “A natural disaster occurred, and now is the time to look into what happened and ponder it. There is no doubt that there was a fiasco, but you cannot blame the government, which has only been in power for a year and a half.

We should wait and not hurry to point fingers at one person or another.”

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