My word: Black magic, scorched earth and staying power

We are a people and a country used to rising from the ashes. Our burning desire is to live in peace.

December 1, 2016 20:45

A firefighter surveys the damage from a fire in Haifa. (photo credit: REUTERS)

It’s not a conspiracy; it’s magic.

Sometimes when the same messages from different sources arrive in my email and Facebook feed, it feels like somebody is deliberately releasing the material. This week, after several suitably heated exchanges about the fires that swept the country, I figured out the secret behind the chorus of similar comments.

Magicians who reveal the tricks of their trade stress the power of suggestion and subliminal messages.

From the subliminal to the sublime to the ridiculous.

While fires ravaged neighborhoods and communities, I shared dramatic online photographs compiled by The Guardian, but noted there was no mention that arson was suspected in many of the cases.

My comment was a hot potato: “political,” as someone put it.

At that stage, the Israel Fire and Rescue Authority and police estimated that some 50% of the fires were deliberately set (the figure fluctuated, like the flames themselves).

Many of the earlier fires could be attributed to negligence and parched forests easily ignited. (As one of the more sensible commentators pointed out, desalination helps prevent a water shortage but there is no substitute for rain.) Several of the fires seem to have been set by arsonists, each success sparking other attempts as it were.

The arsonists are also susceptible to covert messages, it seems. Black magic.

Many friends who identify with the Left suggested I wait to see how many suspects are actually caught and found guilty before jumping to conclusions. The problem is – and this now challenges the unfortunate victims as they cross the minefield of bureaucracy and insurance claims – in a lot of cases in which arson is suspected, there is no easy way to trace perpetrators.

While urban streets are covered with CCTV cameras, forests are still largely unmonitored. Setting up cameras in these areas might now be recommended as part of the lessons learned.

In a few instances, people were caught in the act of setting fires, but it is not clear how the courts will judge their motives.

I likened the situation to the ramming attacks, which like so many other acts of terrorism hit Israel before they hit the rest of the world. Not every time a driver is involved in a car accident is a terror attack of course, but if a driver rams into a crowd, gets out of the vehicle and tries to stab or ax more people in the crowd – and especially if he shouts “Allahu akbar” or leaves testimony of his affiliation with a terrorist organization – it is reasonable to describe it as a case of terrorism.

Ignoring the motive is politically correct, but dangerously wrong.

Before I had time to write down my thoughts, 18-year-old Abdul Razak Ali Artan wounded 11 people at Ohio State University on Monday, in an apparent ramming attack that is believed by the authorities to have been inspired by ISIS.

Some people went as far as to accuse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of deliberately encouraging arsonists to divert attention from the German submarine purchase affair – a unique case of fighting water with fire. Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On told The Jerusalem Post’s Gil Hoffman: “There was a deliberate maneuver by the prime minister to distract the public from the submarine affair. The way he called the attacks arson and terror at such an early stage only led to more incidents of arson, which served him.”

The theme, like magic, also appeared in my Facebook feed.

I have my own criticisms of Netanyahu, but promoting arson for his own benefit is not one of them. It’s more likely that he spent so much time discussing the fires because: (a) they were extremely serious, and (b) he wanted to boast that he had learned the lessons of the 2010 Carmel fire disaster in which 44 people died. He wanted to emphasize the creation of the small fleet of firefighting planes, the increased manpower and professionalism of the firefighters, and the strong international response in our time of need.

Among my questions, however, is why no one has been appointed to replace Fire and Rescue Authority Commissioner Shahar Ayalon since he retired several months ago.

“WHO BY fire?” asked Leonard Cohen in lyrics based on the liturgy of the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement.

In how many homes last week did people make a mental list of what they would take if they needed to leave their house in a hurry? For more than 70,000 people who were evacuated the question was not theoretical. For some it was too late to save anything.

According to the Jewish National Fund, since last week, more than 7,500 acres (3,000 hectares) of forests and 2,700 acres (1,100 hectares) of urban areas have been destroyed by fires, and 140 people suffered fire-related injuries. At least 570 homes throughout Israel burned down. The fires also took a huge toll on wildlife.

Although no human lives were lost, many people were traumatized by the narrowness of their escape. I followed heartbreaking stories of people struggling to find and save their pets. Not all the cases had a happy ending. For some, a charred body provided the nearest thing to closure.

Children and adults lost their sense of security; people’s livelihoods literally went up in smoke.

No financial compensation, when it eventually comes, will cover the lost mementos and belongings.

As always, trying to find the bright spot, I looked to the helpers. Along with the local heroes, foreign firefighters arrived from Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Croatia, France, Spain, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, the US and Egypt. The Palestinian Authority sent eight fire trucks and some 40 firefighters.

As with previous emergencies, people of different races and religions pulled together to help each other, all human beings facing a primeval fear. Hospitality was offered to the homeless; donations were collected. Jewish organizations in Israel and abroad quickly rallied to offer support.

Air Supply, the Australian band, provided stressed Israelis with some breathing space when they rescheduled their world tour to enable them to stay an extra day in the country after the sudden cancellation of their Haifa concert, and as an extra gesture of goodwill reportedly gave free tickets to the wives of 200 firefighters.

On November 29, Israel marked the UN’s 1947 vote accepting the plan to partition British Mandate Palestine into two states: one for Jews, the other for Arabs. The day has been hijacked and the UN now marks it as International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had the Arabs accepted the Partition Plan and settled down to building a Palestinian state instead of fanning the flames of hatred and trying to destroy Israel.

On November 30, Israel paid tribute to the “forgotten refugees,” the 850,000 Jews who fled Arab lands.

The same day this year also saw the Jewish families of Ethiopian origin celebrate the Sigd holiday, marking the yearning for (and today the return to) Zion.

We are a people and a country used to rising from the ashes. Our burning desire is to live in peace.

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