The press and public declared it a war. And as with all wars in which there was
heavy loss of lives and property, once the flames of the devastating fire on the
Carmel had died down, and the 43 dead had been buried, there came the calls for
an official commission of inquiry.
The Carmel inferno of December 2010
was the Fire and Rescue Services’ equivalent of the Yom Kippur War of October
1973. The forces fought bravely and even won the battle, but they had been taken
by surprise – unprepared and ill-equipped – and the result was devastating. The
physical scars will be evident for years to come. Similarly, the wounds to the
communal psyche. For fire is perhaps the most primeval of fears.
will live and who will die... who by fire; who by water?” we ask in the powerful
Yom Kippur Unetaneh Tokef prayer, and as a severe storm hit the country just
after the drought-fueled blaze was brought under control, the fears were not
The four-day fire was treated as a national emergency.
brought out the best in people: Strangers opened their homes to “refugees”;
youth movements armed with energy and social conscience quickly mobilized;
animal welfare groups stepped in to help house and return pets. The Diaspora
began emergency fund-raising. Even foreign firefighters raced to our
The language in the Hebrew press went far beyond “Firefighters
battling the flames.” The sort of military terminology usually reserved for
major campaigns prevailed. “The aircraft will win,” announced one typical banner
headline in Yisrael Hayom
“Don’t tell the Turks who came to help,”
quipped a colleague, “they’ll go back if they know that we’re treating this as a
JPOST VIDEOS THAT MIGHT INTEREST YOU:
“Sheket, yorim,” is a headlineturned- catchphrase coined by the
late Amiram Nir during Lebanon I.
“Silence, we’re shooting,” summed up
the feeling during the battle of the Carmel, too. Let the troops get on with
their jobs before calling for an investigation.
But winning a war does
not necessarily mean it is over.
Everybody knew that as soon as the
emergency ended, there would be calls for heads to roll.
sfiga,” “Defensive alert,” stated Yediot Aharonot
on December 8 above photos of
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Defense
Minister Ehud Barak, each of whom was on standby for the report by State
Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss concerning the state of the country’s
fire-fighting service – a report dealing with the failings of the fire and
rescue services drawn up in the wake of Lebanon II.
Later, there were
increasing calls for the head of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, made largely
by those who had accused him of making political capital with his tour of the
area during the disaster.
These same people would, of course, have
blasted him for being apathetic and unfeeling had he stayed away. That’s
politics and human nature.
Shas leader Eli Yishai also took a particular
roasting, despite the fact that he had clearly warned that his ministry was not
being granted the necessary funding to upgrade and maintain the Fire and Rescue
Services that fall under its jurisdiction.
You might have thought that
Netanyahu and Yishai had personally struck the matches that started the
Who can judge the families who lost loved ones in the flames? The
need to blame someone, something, for an untimely death is probably as deeply
rooted as the fear of fire itself.
Netanyahu as prime minister made an
obvious target even though the serious inadequacies of the fire and rescue
establishment had been pointed out in state comptroller report after report for
decades, the conclusions each time mentioning old and outdated equipment which
got older and more outdated from publication to publication.
became a scapegoat because the head of the religious party, sometimes
justifiably, is the default politician to blame at the moment. It’s become
almost a matter of routine.
THE KNESSET last week delayed establishing an
official commission of inquiry into the fire when Netanyahu instead asked
Lindenstrauss to conduct an investigation into the events.
Committee Chairman Yoel Hasson (Kadima) was particularly vocal in his calls for
an official probe, and went as far as to suggest that Netanyahu had managed to
stave off such an inquiry by offering funds to yeshivot, thus buying off the
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni also continued to publicly
seek Netanyahu’s resignation saying: “We are witnesses to a situation in which
those responsible for the disaster are trying to prevent an investigation
because, God forbid, such a committee will determine who is
She, however, ignored the fact that the failings of the
fire service during Lebanon II came during her party’s watch. Although she had
called for then-prime minister Ehud Olmert’s resignation in 2007, and was more
than willing to take over for him, it was not the conclusions of the Winograd
Committee into the war that forced Olmert to step down but the mounting charges
of corruption that he is still fighting.
Official inquiries are no
guarantee that the buck will stop at the right person. The Agranat Committee
into the Yom Kippur War infamously found chief of General Staff David Elazar
responsible but did not rule on the personal responsibility of defense minister
Moshe Dayan. It was possibly the public anger at the interim report as much as
the war losses that forced Golda Meir to finally announce her government’s
Had Netanyahu appointed an official committee of inquiry,
Hasson and Livni would likely have been leading the criticism about wasting
funds and whitewashing.
The saddest aspect of the party bickering is that
while concentrating on political lives, the politicians are ignoring the very
real life-and-death situation posed by poorly equipped and understaffed
emergency rescue services. This is particularly crucial in Israel, which has to
deal with the ever-present problem of missile attacks, periodic wars and –
substance for many worrying reports – the likelihood of a major
Even last week’s storm damage, including the collapse of
priceless archeological sites along the coast from Caesarea to Ashkelon, was a
disaster just waiting to take place. Everybody knew what would happen and where;
the only blank was the “when?” Inquiring minds deserve answers but in the case
of the Carmel fire, it is not conclusions that are lacking but implementation of
I do have one question I’d like answered, however:
Which idiot was responsible for blocking the entry into the country of the
Palestinian firefighters invited to attend a ceremony in their honor on December
14 to thank them for helping extinguish the blaze? It shouldn’t take a whole
commission of inquiry, but if we can find out how that bureaucratic blunder
occurred, we’d probably learn a lot that could help prevent future
fiascos.The writer is editor of 'The International Jerusalem
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