Carmel fire 311.
(photo credit: Israel Police)
Last week began with the big story about more than 250,000 secret US documents
published by WikiLeaks, continued with the 12-hour collapse of the Cellcom
network and ended with the tragic Carmel fires.
In the case of WikiLeaks,
while one cannot help reading with glee what statesmen and diplomats are
reported to have said off the record, and while “open diplomacy” has been viewed
as an ideal to which the democratic world ought to strive since the Congress of
Vienna in 1815, one can’t help wondering whether a situation in which there are
no secrets is really desirable, and whether any fearless anarchist ought to be
able to call the shots.
In the case of the Cellcom collapse, the absolute
panic of many customers and the disruption caused to their daily lives proves
that in a relatively short 15 years people have become totally dependent on
modern communications technologies which simply didn’t exist before. Yet the
world turned and life flowed before mobile phones and their derivatives were
invented; the excessive dependence on them today cannot be a healthy
IT IS, however, the third story which is most unsettling –
not just because of the tragic loss of life, the wasteful loss of property and
the devastating damage caused to nature, but because, once again, we were
reminded that there is something terribly wrong with our long-term planning for
man-made and natural disasters.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai has already
called for a committee of inquiry.
But what for? There is really no need
for a committee of inquiry, just as there was no need for the recent State
Commission of Inquiry on the Water Economy, and there is no need for additional
inquiries into preparedness for earthquakes. It’s clear that sooner or later, we
will experience a major earthquake, just as it has been clear for several
decades that we (like our neighbors) have a severe water shortage, and that the
climate makes large parts of the country prone to major fires.
latter case, public negligence on the one hand, and arsonists – whether
politically motivated or mentally ill – make the prospect all the more
Whether we are talking about earthquakes, water or fire, all the
facts and potential scenarios are known, as are the measures that must be
Unlike many Third World countries, we can afford to do what needs
to be done. We can afford to introduce and implement standards for the
construction of new buildings and the fortification of old ones that will
minimize the effect of an earthquake; we can afford plants for desalination and
the treatment of sewage water to ensure that our water requirements will always
be fulfilled; and we can afford to have properly trained and equipped
fire-prevention and fire-fighting services.
The greatest problem is
decision making: Until a catastrophe actually occurs, clear-cut decisions are
rarely taken at government level, and even if decisions are taken, the Finance
Ministry is constantly blocking or slowing their implementation – as happened in
the case of our fire-fighting services.
Though the opinion of the Finance
Ministry should be taken into account whenever a major expenditure is involved,
it is finally the experts who must determine what measures should be taken, and
we are not short of experts.
The second problem is the inclination to
privatize public services. Though there is room for private initiative, and the
private sector is a pillar of any healthy economy, it is the government that
must take responsibility for social and education services, and for preparedness
to contend with any potential war or natural hazard.
While one cannot but
admire the dedication of the various forces involved in fighting the fire, and
preventing additional loss of life after the initial tragedy (which was
apparently caused by a mistaken evaluation of risks), and one must commend Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for not shying away from asking for international
assistance, it is inexcusable that we were not prepared. At this point there is
no need to waste time on finding someone to blame – the governments in recent
decades are all to blame. What is needed is a change in approach. Are Netanyahu
and his government capable of making such a switch? The writer, a former
Jerusalem Post columnist, was a Knesset employee for the past 16 years.