Comment: Political fires continue to rage in Israel

There are today approximately 400,000 Israelis living over the Green Line. Do they really want to endanger everything they have built because of one illegal outpost?

By
December 2, 2016 11:35
Fire in Israel

A firefighting plane drops fire retardant during a wildfire, near the communal settlement of Nataf, close to Jerusalem November 23, 2016.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Driving in northern Israel during the Second Lebanon War was like traveling through a ghost town.

People were either holed up in bomb shelters, or had fled south, out of range of Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets. The roads were full of military vehicles and journalists. No one else had any real reason to be up there.

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I recall one day in particular. I was heading up to Metulla to meet some tank personnel whom I heard had just returned from fighting inside Southern Lebanon.

On the ride up, I stopped at a gas station just south of Kiryat Shmona near the Koah junction. Rockets were landing nearby, and a group of IDF reservists were anxiously filling their cars with gas as they headed to the front.

To the east of us was the Hula Valley, and to the west the Upper Galilee’s Naftali Mountain ridge, which was covered in bright orange from a large blaze ignited by some rockets that had landed in the dry summer brush.

During the 34 days of war in 2006, some 4,300 rockets landed in Israel, wreaking havoc and destruction and killing 43 civilians. The rockets also caused fires throughout northern Israel – 800 forest fires were ignited by the rockets, which burned over 2,000 hectares (4,950 acres) of forests and thousands more of pasture land and nature reserves.

In last month’s fire, some 4,000 hectares of forests and nature preserves were burned, compared with 3,000 hectares during the famous Mount Carmel forest fire of 2010.



This is important to note because according to IDF predictions, a new war with Hezbollah would be even more devastating.

If during the 2006 war Israel got hit by an average of 120 rockets a day, during a future war it is expected to be close to 1,000. The current number of Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defense batteries will not be enough to intercept all of the missiles, and will anyhow refrain from trying to shoot down those projected to land in open areas.

But fires they will cause. The difference is that during a war with massive missile fire, Israel will not be able to rely on friends and allies to send firefighting aircraft like they did en masse last week when planes came from Russia, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, the United States and beyond.

These countries will not be willing to risk their crews or aircraft during another Israeli-Arab war, which will turn controversial over the question who started it, who is disproportionate in their response, and who is to blame to begin with. Just think back to the Gaza war in the summer of 2014, when the US Federal Aviation Administration banned civilian airlines from flying to Israel for 36 hours because a rocket had landed about a mile from Ben-Gurion Airport. To expect firefighting crews to come here during a future war with Hezbollah would be naïve.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fond of saying that Israel can only rely on itself, by itself. He usually makes this remark in the context of military capabilities, and to explain why Israel needs to buy new submarines or stealth fighter jets.

The same holds true for fighting fires.

The quick enlistment of countries to assist Israel during last month’s national disaster was impressive and to Netanyahu’s credit, but we shouldn’t assume that this will always be the case.

That is why it was disturbing to read a number of articles this week criticizing the government for bringing the US Supertanker – the 747 jumbo jet and firefighting aircraft – to assist in extinguishing the fires.

Netanyahu announced last Thursday that he had given the order to bring the plane to Israel, and it arrived the next day.

By then though, it wasn’t really needed.

The same happened in 2010 – the government ordered the Supertanker, but by the time it arrived it was no longer needed.

But to all those who criticized the government for supposedly “wasting” a couple of million dollars by bringing the Supertanker to Israel, what would they have said had it not been ordered and the fires had continued? What would the stories have looked like if there was a plane sitting on a tarmac in the US that could effectively end a national crisis, but was not brought to Israel because of a couple of million dollars, pocket change when considering the overall extent of damage to the country? How many people would have called then for Netanyahu to step down for failing to bring the plane to Israel? Israel faces real challenges and threats from rockets, fires and places like Syria and Iran. The self-flagellation has to stop.

It undermines the country’s ability to effectively confront what looms on the horizon. The country needs to be prepared, and while criticism is important, we should not beat ourselves up. Wasted money by playing it safe with the Supertanker is the least of our problems.

***

When considering the multiple challenges Israel faces, it seems slightly ridiculous that a small illegal outpost is holding the country hostage. I know some people will jump by my use of the term hostage, but that, unfortunately, is exactly what is happening.

The residents of Amona deserve our sympathy and compassion. They have lived on the hilltop for years albeit with the knowledge that they were living on private Palestinian land. In 2006, the outpost was evacuated for the first time.

Nothing has changed in its legal status since then, and since the High Court of Justice ruled two years ago that it needs to be demolished.

The government had years to find a solution, but like many other issues in Israel, it preferred to wait until the last moment – and after Netanyahu felt Bayit Yehudi breathing down his neck, and that his coalition was in jeopardy. Keep in mind that in its current form, the outpost-laundering law that passed in the Knesset two weeks ago does not even help Amona. The Kulanu Party pushed the Likud to remove a section of the law before the vote that would have allowed it to be used retroactively, and effectively overrule the earlier High Court ruling on Amona.

If that is the case, then why did Netanyahu and the rest of his coalition vote to approve it in a first Knesset reading two weeks ago? Politics – if they had voted against, they would have appeared to be left-wing. The law didn’t matter. What did was how they would be perceived by voters ahead of the next election.

But now Netanyahu is trying to kill the law. According to various reports, he told the security cabinet this week that if the law passes, Israeli politicians could find themselves facing war crimes in The Hague for appropriating private Palestinian land. If that is so, then why did the prime minister vote for the law two weeks ago? The answer is the same as above – politics.

I don’t know what the end solution will be to the ongoing standoff over Amona, but there is something unsettling about a country where the High Court rules, and that ruling is not upheld. To all those who are fond of slamming the High Court for purportedly being left-wing and overly liberal, they should keep one thing in mind – without it, Israelis would have probably faced international war crimes charges a long time ago.

Israel’s High Court of Justice has provided legal cover for the State, the IDF, and the settlement enterprise for decades.

Take the IDF as an example. While many on the Right often criticize the IDF for investigating war crimes allegations after military operations in the Gaza Strip, these investigations are exactly the reason why the international community doesn’t get the International Criminal Court to investigate.

In those cases, the ICC would investigate if it felt there was no due process in Israel. Since there was, it does not have jurisdiction. The High Court of Justice now under attack for Amona is the same court that gave Israel the green light to continue targeted killings against Palestinian terrorists, and to build controversial sections of the West Bank security barrier. It is also the same High Court that has given legal cover to the settlement enterprise since its inception in the late 1960s.

There are today approximately 400,000 Israelis living over the Green Line. Do they really want to endanger everything they have built because of one illegal outpost?
MK Hotovely on legality of settlement resolution and regarding Amona

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