National leaders joined bereaved families and commanders of emergency services on a scarred Carmel Mountain on Monday to mark a year since the fire disaster that claimed 44 lives and left behind wide-scale devastation.
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During the ceremony, a large monument was unveiled to honor the bravery of the Prisons Service cadets, firefighters and police officers who died in the blaze.
In the year since the fire, which was eventually put out by fire-fighting planes sent from abroad, Israel created its own squadron of seven planes that have put out 150 blazes since the disaster, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the ceremony.
Netanyahu said that while it was impossible for the families to ever be fully consoled over the loss of their loved ones, “some consolation can be found in the example of heroism they left behind as a legacy.”
The families will also find consolation in life itself, the premier said, noting that since the fire, nine babies had been born to families of the victims. He said he was amazed at the resilience and the strength of the families now raising those children.
“It is possible to extinguish fires, but the flame that your loved ones ignited, no one will put out. It will be in the memory of our people forever,” Netanyahu said.
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The event was marred, however, with controversy when Kadima blasted what it said was a biased narration of the ceremony in favor of Netanyahu. The text, which was read out by Israel Radio announcer Dan Kaner, was slammed by Kadima MK Yoel Hasson for being a “North Korean” attempt to “brainwash the population.”
Kaner said during the ceremony that Netanyahu was “the first to understand the size of the incident, recruited all of the elements in Israel and the world to assist in putting out the fire, and since then had worked tirelessly for the families who lost what was dearest to them.”
“The praise and glorification on behalf of Netanyahu is the height of insolence and insensitivity,” Hasson said.
“We don’t need a state comptroller report to understand what happened in the disaster,” he said, referring to a pending assessment that is expected to highlight major shortcomings in dealing with the disaster.
Hasson added sarcastically that “Dan Kaner apparently summed things up better [than the report], with messages dictated by the Prime Minister’s Office to brainwash the public.”
Most of the relatives of the 44 fire victims arrived at the ceremony, although a few did not, protesting what they said was a lack of accountability by authorities over the handling of the blaze.
A notable attendee was Danny Rozen, partner of Haifa police chief Ahuva Tomer, who died while assisting rescue efforts. Rozen led calls for Interior Minister Eli Yishai to resign in the past over responses to the fire, before recently reconciling with the minister.
“The State of Israel was caught unprepared with a faulty fire-fighting service,” Knesset chairman Reuven Rivlin said, adding that Israel must reform the Fire and Rescue Services to prevent future tragedies.
“A year passed since the fires skipped between the treetops and exposed the bravery of the fallen,” Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said at the event. “[They were] women and men, immigrants and Israel-born, Jews, Druze and Muslims of all ages, from the North to the South.”
The minister noted several changes made to the Fire and Rescue Services since the disaster, including the recruitment of 300 new firefighters, the expansion of the the service’s training center, and the purchase of 91 new fire trucks, as well as equipment for personnel.
“We will turn the service into an advanced, quality and more prepared force,” he vowed, adding, “I know that we have many more difficult tests ahead of us.”
The designer of the memorial was chosen following a competition held by the Defense Ministry. A committee made up of representatives from the emergency services selected Natanel Ben-Yitzhak to build the monument on a hilltop near Kibbutz Oren, which was the epicenter of the blaze.
The committee said his design blends into the natural scenery, and expresses the bravery and sacrifice of emergency responders who died in the disaster.
Forty-four people lost their lives in the fires: three firemen battling the blaze, three police officers assisting in rescue efforts, 37 Prisons Service cadets who were en route to evacuate a jail, and their bus driver.
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