Sometimes, there’s no one to blame

Whoever stayed at the Carmel fire scene and directed the bus at that fateful moment wanted to do good, even if a dreadful mistake was made.

311_Vilnai with burnt out Carmel bus (photo credit: Courtesy)
311_Vilnai with burnt out Carmel bus
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Three high-ranking police officers, who perished in last December’s raging Mount Carmel forest fire, were on Wednesday awarded posthumous medals of distinction. The families of 37 Prisons Service employees and cadets, who lost their lives while en route to rescue penitentiary inmates from the blaze, hotly opposed holding the awards ceremony before the state comptroller completes his probe into the disaster.
Their take on events is that the police, and principally its top-brass casualties – Asst.Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer, Asst.-Cmdr. Lior Boker and Ch. Supt. Yitzhak Malina – contributed to the horrific outcome by interfering with the maneuvers of the driver of the ill-fated Prisons Service bus. They appealed to the High Court of Justice to back their demand for a postponement until a fuller picture emerges.
Court President Dorit Beinisch described this as “one of the most difficult quandaries ever to come before us.” Indeed, it’s tough enough facing bereaved families, but to be caught in a tug-of-war between two opposing camps of grieving relatives is entirely unenviable.
The one encouraging aspect of the court’s dilemma was the fact that it impelled the justices to admit that there are cases which are plainly not judiciable – although it may be argued that, by deciding not to decide, the court did actually hand down a decision and in fact rejected the petitioners’ appeal.
Nonetheless, this time we can unreservedly and wholeheartedly support a pronouncement made by our High Court. This hasn’t always been the case, because the court, over the past two decades, has earned the reputation of being arguably the world’s single most judicially activist and interventionist such body, ready to tread hard on the toes of other branches of government and, it has sometimes seemed, legislate from the bench.
It is consistently – and controversially – guided by the philosophy that most everything is judiciable and that few issues or predicaments lie outside its jurisdiction.
Yet here, Justice Edna Arbel confessed: “This is a decision we do not want to write.” She went on to advise the litigators: “Use your energies positively, for embracing, for weeping together.”
With these sentimental words, Arbel went on record as stating that there are, in fact, matters into which she and her colleagues would rather not delve – in this instance, the politics of death.
THERE’S NO easy way of putting this, but, in our country’s informal culture, grief is too often utilized as a ploy in power-struggles of various sorts. The notion that the families of the dead speak with heightened moral authority contributed crucially, for example, to the arguments that swirled around the unilateral withdrawals from both Lebanon and Gaza, and the anguished debate about past asymmetrical prisoner “exchanges.”
In this case the police officers’ families were the first to ignite controversy. Tomer’s life-partner Danny Rozen disrupted a solemn state memorial for all the casualties, and pointed accusing fingers at the prime minister and minister of the interior.
Now the tables have been turned and the wardens’ next-of-kin allege that the police were remiss and magnified the misfortune.
What is certain is that no higher-up – not Interior Minister Eli Yishai and not the valiant Ahuva Tomer, who gave her life fighting to save the victims – lit the match nor wished for any of this to happen. There is a distinct possibility that officers did make a tragically wrong call that also appallingly cost them their own lives. But there was no malice here.
The comptroller will naturally focus more on the preparedness of the fire-fighting services. In all likelihood the particular chain of errors that led directly to the calamity was, in great part, just bad luck. Tragic bad luck does not feature in the law books, but it occurs.
Only Monday-morning quarterbacks never err and hindsight is invariably 20/20. Whoever stayed at the fire scene and directed the bus at that fateful moment wanted to do good, even if a dreadful mistake was made.
THE LESSON for us as a society is to internalize the reality that sometimes no one bears moral culpability when things go awfully awry. We can’t always seek to pin guilt on specific individuals and demand castigation in unjustified vendettas.
All too often, there is a clear guilty party. But not always. And in those cases, as a collective, we need to grow up, do what must be done to minimize the chances of a recurrence, and move on.