Firefighters won't be mentioned on Remembrance Day

Gov't to honor prison service cadets and police, but recognition of firefighters as "battle casualties" shelved after MK's opposition.

311_Netanyahu with firefighters (photo credit: GPO)
311_Netanyahu with firefighters
(photo credit: GPO)
The Government Secretariat informed the office of Interior Minister Eli Yishai that the government will not discuss on Sunday whether to recognize the three firefighters who perished in the Carmel fires as "battle casualties."
The announcement said that a discussion on the matter cannot be held if the issue is under the responsibility of a minister that opposes it, referring to Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
RELATED:Court rejects lawsuit against Yishai on Carmel fire death
The interior minister's office said that Yishai was furious at the decision.
In a statement on Thursday from the Interior Ministry (which is responsible for official state ceremonies and national memorials), Yishai said the exclusion of the three firefighters is simply a bureaucratic issue that he intends to change in law during the Knesset’s summer session.
“The three firefighters who died in the Carmel disaster...gave their lives for the State of Israel,” Yishai said.
Prisons Service cadets, police to be honored on Remembrance Day
As the nation prepares to pay homage to its fallen heroes for Remembrance Day on Monday, and gears up for the Independence Day celebrations thereafter, Gan Yavne resident Sivan Ganon, whose husband, Maor, died last December in the Carmel Forest fire disaster, is dreading the national days that come one after the other.
“It’s not going to be easy, but I have no choice,” said the 28- year-old widow, whose husband was burned alive when a bus of Israel Prison Service cadets became trapped by the fire on the Carmel mountainside on December 2. “The last few months, from Pessah up until now... have been very, very hard. It’s so sad to be without him on these days, but we have to deal with it,” said Ganon, also speaking for her four-year-old daughter Hila.
“She’s taken [his absence] very hard, but she’s a tough little girl and she gets a lot of love from me. We both get a lot of help,” she said.
While she has her family and close friends in Gan Yavne nearby to ease some of her pain, Ganon is also one of 27 widows, and one widower, of Prisons Service personnel who now receive support and assistance from the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization.
Although their spouses were not part of the military, the organization – in accordance with directives from the Defense Ministry – recognizes anyone who died in service to the country. While there is no official ceremony to commemorate this specific group that lost their lives, the Prisons Service cadets and the police officers will be remembered at official events on Monday, although the three firefighters who died will not.
The Yad Labanim (Memorial for the Sons) organization, which honors the nation’s fallen soldiers, is against honoring the three firefighters as soldiers who fell in battle at a Remembrance Day ceremony, the organization’s head wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Saturday.
Eli Ben-Shem wrote in the letter that honoring the firefighters as soldiers fallen in battle would be “wrong, not only from a legal and moral standpoint, but would also lead to requests from many other groups in service of the state, including disabled veterans who died because of their handicaps and terror victims.”
Ben-Shem said this would create a situation where those who died defending the country would not receive the unique respect they deserve.
“We are like everyone else,” said Ganon, who also works within the Prisons Service. “In my opinion it does not matter what uniform he was wearing – he lost his life for this country.”
Maor and his colleagues were called in to help in the evacuation of the Damon Prison on December 2. While on their way to carry out the mission, the cadets’ bus became trapped by the swiftly moving flames.
The bus driver and three police officers were also killed.
“I draw my strength from the belief that Maor was doing what had been asked of him and what he wanted to do for the country,” Ganon said. “That makes it easier for me to honor his memory and be proud of him and what he did that day.
“Even if he had been on vacation, he would have gone there to help. This is a country founded on the principle of people risking their lives to save others – and I truly believe that my husband, and the others who came to help the people in the North, was a hero.”
Ganon said she does not hold political views on the disaster, but believes such an event could be prevented in the future.
“I try to look forward for my child and for the tradition of Maor and his friends. Of course, I do think that the state must make sure that we have the tools to make sure that another disaster such as this does not happen again,” she said.
Ganon recalled the moment she found out that something had gone wrong.
About to pick up her daughter from kindergarten, Ganon received a call from a friend who told her that one of the buses taking prison guards to help evacuate the prison had caught fire.
Knowing that her husband had been on his way to the North, she called him, but he did not answer.
She then returned to her job at the Prisons Service Human Resources Department, where she knew she would be able to get some answers.
“When I arrived there I saw lots of people running around and I realized that something really bad had happened. I realized then that it was not prisoners [as had first been reported] who had died, but prison officers who had gone there to evacuate the prison,” she said.
At 4 a.m., Ganon received official notification that her husband’s body had been identified.
It was at that point that the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization entered her life.
“They were at my house from the beginning,” she said. “They were there when the army representative came to notify us that Maor had died, and they have been there ever since.”
Nava Shoham, chairwoman of the organization, said the Prisons Service had never dealt with a tragedy on this scale before, and did not have the resources in place to help the families of victims.
The organization worked with the army to notify and begin assisting bereaved families.
Shoham said there was no question they would step in.
“We have had a few widows from the Prisons Service in the past, but the minute we heard, we decided to give them a special service and support,” she said. “The State of Israel decided a long time ago to recognize the Prisons Service cadets, the police, the military and anyone who serves this country.”