Lawmakers begin probe of government response to snowstorm

Home Front Preparedness chairman Eli Yishai says "system did not work properly"; committees to investigate failures, including of Electric Company.

Eli Yishai at the President's residence 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Eli Yishai at the President's residence 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Lawmakers announced plans to conduct a thorough investigation of the government response to last week’s snowstorm and present their report to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a joint panel of Knesset Interior Committee and Knesset Subcommittee for Home Front Preparedness members announced Tuesday.
The two committees met in the first of a series of hearings they plan to hold on the issue.
“MKs still see the storm’s damages and it doesn’t make sense that residents of Jerusalem and other places remain under siege in their homes without electricity or heat,” Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu) said. “It seems like there was no body coordinating all aid activities and repairs to infrastructure.”
Knesset Subcommittee for Home Front Preparedness chairman Eli Yishai (Shas), who faced criticism for his handling of the 2010 Carmel Fire when he was interior minister, said the system did not work properly and citizens of Israel deserve the best service.
Head of Operations for police, Brig.-Gen. Yossi Bechor, said Thursday night and Friday was a “nightmare.”
At midnight Thursday, people began calling for help because their cars were stuck in the snow, and the police sent all the jeeps it could – some of which were rented in advance in anticipation of the storm – to the road to Jerusalem to help.
“We didn’t expect such a powerful storm. It was the worst night the police had in recent years. Police officers ran with babies in their hands,” Bechor said.
Regev pointed out: “You already knew there was going to be a storm on Wednesday. Why didn’t you bring heavy equipment to the roads leading to Jerusalem and Safed in advance? What is the police missing now?” Bechor responded that the first lesson the police learned is that they should make the appropriate equipment available ahead of storms.
“Israel has one body with an expertise on helping the home front, the Home Front Defense Command. Why didn’t they act?” MK Nachman Shai (Labor) asked.
Home Front Defense Ministry director-general Dan Ronen said his office is in charge of all national emergency authorities, but the police are in charge of operative actions during an emergency.
Ronen added that he called all of the ministry’s workers in and opened a national emergency center at 2 a.m. Friday.
“The minute the ministry acted, everyone who needed food or blankets got it,” Ronen claimed.
MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) said that “the authorities did their best, but after four days, some people still can’t leave their homes. People froze in their cars, a bus stood in the Harel Interchange [outside Mevasseret] for 11 hours until help came.”
MKs were assigned different areas of research for the planned report on what lessons the government can learn from the storm. MK Yisrael Hasson (Kadima) will investigate the police response, while MK David Tsur (Hatnua) will look at Home Front Defense. MKs Hanna Swaid (Hadash), Ya’acov Asher (UTJ) and Hamed Amer (Likud Beytenu) will probe local government responses, focusing on Arab and haredi towns. MKs Yisrael Eichler (UTJ) and Rina Frenkel (Yesh Atid) will investigate rescue services, while MKs Nachman Shai (Labor), David Azoulay (Shas), Jamal Zahalka (Balad) and Uri Maklev (UTJ) will look into compensation for victims and information given to them.
In addition, opposition parties plan to table a vote on forming a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on the government response to the storm.
Also Tuesday, the Knesset Economics Committee examined how the Electric Company dealt with the many power outages caused by the snowstorm.
“Last weekend’s storm had an unusual result: Tens of thousands of families disconnected from electricity for many hours, some even for days,” Economics Committee chairman Avishay Braverman (Labor) pointed out. “I want to make sure the response was necessary and that the Electric Company prepared properly for the difficult weather conditions, but could not prevent the many blackouts.”
Electric Company chairman Yiftach Ron Tal apologized to those who still don’t have power and said the company is doing all it can to make sure everyone has electricity.
“At the height of the storm, 60,000 families lost power and now everyone has electricity except for a few hundred families. Everyone should get power today,” Tal stated.
The Electric Company is still in emergency mode, Tal added, and staff is traveling through Jerusalem and nearby towns to check where there are problems.
Braverman asked why only 50 out of 200 of the Electric Company’s generators were used, to which Tal said that, in most cases, they couldn’t be installed because the roads were blocked by snow or because of security concerns.
Tal added that the company cannot say what it learned from the experience, since it is still taking care of damage caused by the storm.
As for a proposal to install underground electric lines, Tal said it would cost billions and that the company would have to do a cost-benefit analysis. About half of the electric lines are underground, and it would cost NIS 25-30b. to move the rest of them, an Energy and Water Ministry representative explained.