Carmel fire bereaved families disrupt PM’s speech

Yishai forced out of memorial ceremony; widower of former Haifa police chief Tomer: This man has no shame, either he leaves or I leave.

Netanyahu Speech Interrupted 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Netanyahu Speech Interrupted 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
A verbal fracas erupted Wednesday night at a state ceremony to honor the 44 victims of the Carmel wildfire, with bereaved families shouting down Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and demanding that Interior Minister Eli Yishai leave the auditorium.
The tumult at the auditorium at Kibbutz Beit Oren began after Netanyahu took to the podium and prepared to give his speech. Off-camera, Danny Rozen, the bereaved life partner of former Haifa Police chief Ahuva Tomer, got to his feet and threatened to walk out unless Yishai left the room.
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Rozen, whose life partner died in the northern city’s Rambam Medical Center days after she suffered burns over her entire body while attempting to rescue victims trapped in a burning Prisons Service bus, pointed at Yishai and said, “This man has no shame; either he leaves or I leave.”
After the ceremony ended, Rozen told reporters: “I only directed this toward Yishai; I wasn’t demanding a commission of inquiry. It can’t be that someone like this [Yishai], who served as a minister during this incident, will come and sit in the front row with the families.”
Rozen said that Yishai’s presence was “a slap in the face to the intelligence of the bereaved families,” adding that “what happens in this state doesn’t matter to Yishai, all that matters is what the top rabbis tell him, what’s in the Halacha.”
While he was speaking to reporters, a man interrupted Rozen, saying, “They aren’t to blame, not Netanyahu and not Yishai; the only ones who are responsible [for the bus fire] are the police who didn’t put up a roadblock.”
In response to the incident, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger said, “We saw that outside there was a confrontation with the families, and exited to calm things down.”
He added, “The insult to Yishai hurt me very much – in such an event, we come to embrace the families and identify with their pain.”
Yishai later issued a statement saying, “The loss of the bereaved families is too much to bear. Out of their pain, they are saying what is in their hearts. My heart is with them, and I hope they receive comfort from heaven.”
The burning bus, in which 42 Prisons Service officers died, was on its way to Damon prison when a tree fell ahead of it, trapping the vehicle in the fire. All of the fire’s victims died as a result of that particular incident, including Tomer and firefighter Danny Hayat, who were trying to rescue the victims of the bus fire.
Wednesday’s ceremony was held to mark 30 days since the Carmel wildfire broke out, and brought together ministers from across the political spectrum, as well as both chief rabbis, representatives of the IDF, fire and rescue services, police and Prisons Service, and the families of the victims who perished in the flames.
The event at Kibbutz Beit Oren was only meters from a section of the kibbutz where dozens of houses were scorched completely by the flames.
Once the situation calmed down somewhat, Netanyahu again took the podium. He didn’t acknowledge the fracas, and instead told the families, “There is no comfort for you. I know this, I understand your pain, the huge void left in your lives, the long days and longer nights, the house that becomes hollow after all of the friends and relatives leave and you are left alone during the long night with the pain and the memory, the longing, the suffering that goes on from night to morning, morning to night, and you are left with no remedy.”
Netanyahu said the victims “left from here on the Carmel, soaring to the heavens on a chariot of fire,” adding, “Your loved ones faced a wall of fire with heroism and the drive to save lives.”
The prime minister also thanked representatives of the more than a dozen countries who sent assistance to Israel to fight the blaze.
Netanyahu vowed that the government would work to fix the shortcomings exposed by the disaster and ensure that Israel would be able to respond to future natural disasters and wildfires.
At one point, after the prime minister said that Jews and Druse, young and old, veteran citizens and new olim had worked together to fight the fire, a man in the audience loudly interrupted, saying that Muslims had also helped, to which Netanyahu replied, “You’re right, I apologize to you. Muslims also helped extinguish the fire.”
The crowd remained unruly after Netanyahu’s speech ended, with relatives screaming at the state leaders. One yelled at Netanyahu, “You killed my husband!” and added, “You have no shame.”
A bereaved mother said, “Everyone is a liar!” After the ceremony, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying it was important for Netanyahu to address the bereaved families, and that his awareness of their pain and loss was why he had wanted to hold the official government ceremony.
“I know the pain and am aware of the huge loss and the emptiness that is left for the bereaved families,” said Netanyahu, who lost his brother Yonatan in the Entebbe raid in 1976.
Before the prime minister’s speech, President Shimon Peres addressed the still-somber and relaxed crowd, saying, “This fire created dozens of bereaved families, families that are aching in mourning, and no memorial ceremony can bring back their loved ones.”
Peres added that “the truth, even if it’s painful and stings, is that we were not ready for this giant fire, and did not surmise that it could happen.”
Nonetheless, Peres said, “the fire revealed the faces of anonymous heroes we did not know existed, whose bravery we could not imagine. The fire burned the tree tops and left exposed the heights of humanity.”
Earlier in the day, Peres visited the families of three of the Prisons Service officers who died on the bus.