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Before the fires are out, Israeli politicians blame the Arabs

Security officials and counter-terrorism experts warn against calling wildfires terrorism, but Israeli politicians and some media have no such qualms. How do you reach a conclusion before the investigation is even started?

By Yael Marom

Israeli firefighters extinguish a fire in Beit Meir, outside of Jerusalem, November 25, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israeli firefighters extinguish a fire in Beit Meir, outside of Jerusalem, November 25, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

As tens of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes, and as the flames were still burning across Israel and Palestine, Israeli leaders already found someone to blame, several Israeli news outlets declared the start of the “Arson Intifada,” and government ministers were lining up to describe the wave of fires as an act of Palestinian nationalistic violence.

The sight of flames devouring homes, neighborhoods and forests is devastating. It’s impossible not to feel for the tens of thousands of of people who have been forced to flee from their homes, and the thousands who have lost their worldly belongings. But it’s also impossible to not wonder how, as all of this is happening, Israel’s leaders seem so preoccupied with inciting against the Arab population.

To be clear, it’s entirely possible that not all of the dozens of fires in Israel and Palestine over the past few days broke out accidentally or naturally. It’s fire season — the combination of unusual dryness for this time of year and strong winds make wildfires a naturally occurring threat. And on top of that, Palestinian and Arab towns, cities and villages, have also been evacuated and hit by the fires — they’re not “targeting” Jews.

As Haggai Matar pointed out in Hebrew on Local Call, wildfires have been breaking out throughout the region over the past few days. A map from Global Forest Watch, a site that monitors wildfires via satellite imagery, seems to demonstrate that the fires are not limited to Israel. (See it here.)

“Though law enforcement has been loath to comment definitively [on the cause of the fires] before additionally evidence could be collected and processed,” the Times of Israel noted, ”politicians have had no such qualms.”

The wave of fires came just at the right moment for Israel’s prime minister. Somehow it always works out for him that way. There’s nothing like a fire to distract the public from a corruption scandal involving the purchase of unnecessary military submarines and the prime minister’s personal lawyer. Netanyahu knows that there’s nothing like an opportunity to blame it all on the Arabs, and that the media will eagerly play along.

And it didn’t take long for Netanyahu to get in front of the cameras and do just that. At a press conference with security forces and emergency responders, Netanyahu made sure to frame the alleged arson as terrorism and the accused arsonists as terrorists. “Every fire caused by arson, or by incitement to arson, is terrorism,” Netanyahu said. “Anyone who tries to burn parts of the State of Israel will be punished severely.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brings along press photographers as he takes a helicopter ride to see the forest fires near Zichron Yaakov, northern Israel, November 23, 2016. (Emil Salman/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brings along press photographers as he takes a helicopter ride to see the forest fires near Zichron Yaakov, northern Israel, November 23, 2016. (Emil Salman/POOL)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett piled on with more anti-Palestinian statements: “Only he who the country doesn’t belong to him is capable of burning it.” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked promised the strictest treatment for anyone caught setting fires. Culture Minister Miri Regev said: “We must catch the terrorists who who are burning our forests and endangering lives!”

Surely those politicians are not referring to the Israeli soldier who may have started one of the fires by tossing a lit cigarette.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, counter-terrorism expert Boaz Ganor warned that even if some of the fires are arson and politically motivated, it is not organized terrorism. “When we define this phenomenon as ‘fire intifada’ – words used by the media, politicians and laypeople – we are overestimating the phenomenon” and fueling actual would-be politically motivated arsonists.

Another expert, Michael Horowitz, told the Jerusalem Post: “It is too early to conclude that this is a ‘new form of terrorism,’ but it definitely can turn into that because of the virality of the trend… The mere perception of success can be enough to encourage copycat attacks.”

The eagerness to attribute the fires to Palestinian arson, combined with a regrettable celebration of the destruction in some corners of Arabic-language social media, appears to be behind one of the more particularly absurd episodes of recent days (although not the most bizarre). As Local Call blogger John Brown reported, police arrested a young Bedouin journalist from the southern Israeli city of Rahat on suspicion of incitement to commit arson on Thursday.

The Facebook post in question, however, published by Anas Abudaabes, was ironic, mocking Palestinians and other Arabs who ared celebrating the fires devastating their homeland. Abudaabes even gave his post “sarcasm” and “comedy” hashtags.

“It’s clear that the police didn’t bother to read the text all the way through, or they relied on Google Translate, and arrested him in order to hand [Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan] more fuel for his incitement,” wrote John Brown, a pseudonymn of an Israeli academic and blogger.

Abudaabes was scheduled to be brought before a judge for a remand hearing Friday afternoon.

It’s entirely unclear how most of the fires broke out, especially considering the high-risk fire weather at the moment. What is clear is that the Israeli Right and much of the Israeli media was all too eager to jump to quick and loose conclusions, many of which will probably turn out to be baseless. Instead of providing the public, Jews and Arabs alike, with ways to fight and cope with the fires, they are adding more fuel to them. The cause of the fires must be investigated, of course. But how can you say what the result is before the investigation is even started?

The 2010 Carmel Fire, which took 44 lives, displaced 17,000 people, and destroyed 12,000 acres, turned out to have been accidentally sparked by a 14-year-old smoking a hookah water pipe with friends.

Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man contributed to this article. A version of this post first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. been there

      By demolishing Palestinian villages , Palestinian olive groves and other trees suitable for the climate, and replacing them with highly inflammable pine trees, to make Israel look ‘European’, Zionists created the perfect conditions for today’s fires.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        Yep here we go again. Zionizing everything. Is there no limit to these people’s hatred for the Jewish nation?

        What next? Zionists are responsible for world wide climate change? Do we eat Arab children for breakfast? And we poison wells too, right? What about the plague? Nah, I forgot, that was a different time a different place when Jews were accused of creating the black plague. But nothing really changed for some people since the Middle Ages, has it? For them, the Joooos are still it. The Jews are still their chosen people. They just try to disguise it mildly nowdays by saying: we don’t hate Jews. We just hate Zionists (Jews who believe in the right of Jews to live in an independent Jewish nation state). Ok. We get it. Nothing much has changed for some people who call themselves progressives. Oh the irony of it all!

        Reply to Comment
        • Bruce Gould

          @AJew (from AnotherJew) – If someone robs you for the money he’s a thief, if someone robs you because you’re Jewish then the robber is an anti-semite – intention is everything. I know plenty of Jews in JVP and other organizations who are disturbed by Israel because of human rights concerns, not because they’re anti-semitic. Not being allowed to hold Jews to the same standards of human rights as other people – now THAT’S anti-semitic.

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “I know plenty of Jews in JVP and other organizations who are disturbed by Israel because of human rights concerns, not because they’re anti-semitic.”

            Then maybe those Jews should try to walk in our shoes and see how they would like to be subjected to the hatred and terrorism which “the poor Palestinian Arabs” have been subjecting us over the last 100 years and still going.

            If they wouldn’t react to it as we do, they’d be long dead by now or at best, they would be dhimis once again. It is easy to be a gibitzer, Bruce, when you are not the one affected by your own advice to others.

            “Not being allowed to hold Jews to the same standards of human rights as other people – now THAT’S anti-semitic.”

            But you are not holding us up to the same standards as you hold other people, Bruce. You are trying to hold us to higher standards. And that is unfair to us and racist against others because you seem to be trying to imply that Jews should be better than other people.

            But get this Bruce, we people here are happy to be AS GOOD or AS BAD as other people. And better than some. Hint: look around what is happening in terms of human rights abuses in the rest of the Middle East. Yet we don’t see you people yelling the place down about that, do we Bruce? What would you call that? Selective outrage maybe? Why no BDS movement against Arab states which abuse human rights and who deny democratic rights to their own people and discriminate against their minorities? Hey, and what about how the Roma are treated in Europe? Why no outcry against that? Why no demos? Why no fleets of holier than thou do gooders marching on behalf of the Roma of Europe? Why pick only on the Jews of Israel which has been under attack for over 100 years by millions of Arabs and who are backed up by the rest of the Muslim world? Do we need a monority of spoilt American lefty Jews on our backs too? You haven’t got enough other worthy causes to march about? Or are you just out to prove yourselves that you are not biased and are Willing to criticise Israel even unfairly to prove your loyalty to your lefty mates so they will accept you?

            Sorry Bruce, just sayin’. Hopefully you can accept some criticism too coz you sure are very ready to dish it out.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            ​Roma? Did somebody say the Roma? “The Roma = Palestinians = the Japanese = the Germans = … blah blah blah.” Uh, no.

            “And ya wanna know what really pisses me off? What oy wanna know is why you’ze Israelis ain’t protestin’ against those awful, awful sanctions by those damn western progressive liberals and that black kenyan secret mooslim president, on da poor, poor Russians fer their legit settlement enterprise in Ukraine. Huh?! You’ze hypocrites! All you care about is yerselves and yer own occupation so you’ze all can feel good about yerselves an’ get grant funding! Yer either STUPID Israelis or PAID Israelis! And we know some Israelis like money don’t we! Occupiers of da woild unite! You have nuthin’ to lose but your PC progressive chains!”

            (Now Gustav, this is satire. Of you and a few others. I better explain this or he’ll be following me around for three weeks quoting five words from it: “STUPID Israelis or PAID Israelis! Aha!…!”)
            But wait for the usual slander anyway.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            You call that satire? I call it: you are losin’ it Bennny. You have nothing to say and you have blown your stack.

            I’ll leave you to it. Rage on, Benny 🙄

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            But it’s what you sound like. So if I, parodying you, sound like I’m losing it, well, there ya go.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            That’s what I sound like? I’d get a hearing aid, Benny, if I were you.

            There ya go 😛

            Reply to Comment
        • been there

          Have you no knowledge of environmental science, of ecology? Your wallowing in victimhood is absurd!

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “Wallowing in victimhood…”

            You mean victimhood such as the one you alleged?

            “By demolishing Palestinian villages , Palestinian olive groves and other trees”

            Funny how progressives are pots who like to call the kettle black 🙃

            Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        The trees are indeed highly inflammable – especially when the PLO-supporting Arabs soak them in diesel and light them.

        Furthermore, it is highly symbolic that the so-called “falestinians” are burning their land.
        Why?
        Because they hate the land – ‘cos it’s not theirs!

        Reply to Comment
    2. Carmen

      Of course they blame ‘the Arabs’. That’s the only game in (zio)town. Education Minister Naftali Bennett piled on with more anti-Palestinian statements: “Only he who the country doesn’t belong to him is capable of burning it.” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked promised the strictest treatment for anyone caught setting fires. Culture Minister Miri Regev said: “We must catch the terrorists who who are burning our forests and endangering lives!”

      Bennett’s comment was one of rare honesty. Only ‘he’ who the country doesn’t belong to is capable of burning it (so no one else can have it, as only a self-indulgent zionist narcissist would think of). Ayelet Shaked makes her promises for the ‘strictest treatment’ for anyone caught setting fires – even one of her own? And will she visit the parents of the arsonists to ensure them they won’t be tortured? Lastly Regev with her usual measured response. Seriously Miri, ‘cut ze boolshit’. This has a literal burning of the reichstag vibe to it.

      Tal Schneider ‏@talschneider · Nov 24
      .@netanyahu at press brief in Haifa confirms: “Palestinian Authority offered help. Fire Trucks. we weren’t sure its required at this point”

      Tal Schneider ‏@talschneider · Nov 24
      The following fires/arsons at: Tulkarem, Malia (Gallile), Abu-Snain, Um-El-Phahem, Nazareth and more

      Tal Schneider ‏@talschneider · Nov 24
      according to my colleague reporters (arab lang) many arsons in arab villages are underreported/ignored by the general media>
      #IsraelOnFire

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        This is the situation in Lebanon. A fine example of democracy huh? Not a mention of this by so called progressives or Arab nationalists who never hold back criticising Israel non stop.

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_religion_in_Lebanon

        “Unrecognized groups, such as Bahá’ís, Buddhists, Hindus, and some evangelical denominations, may own property and assemble for worship without government interference; however, they are disadvantaged under the law because legally they may not marry, divorce, or inherit property in the country.
        .
        .
        .
        intermarriage is difficult to arrange in practice between members of some groups. Shari’a, which applies to personal status matters of Muslims, forbids the marriage of a non-Muslim male to a Muslim woman. Druze religious leaders will perform marriages only of Druze couples. There are no procedures for civil marriage
        .
        .
        .
        religious affiliation is encoded on national identity cards”

        Ben? Are you there, Ben? Why aren’t you outraged about this? Why are you only outraged about Israel? Selective outrage anyone?

        Would Jews be treated even worse than the above if we would allow ourselves to be a minority ruled by an Arab majority again?

        Reply to Comment
    3. Lauren

      Our country is burning and the devastation is horrendous. It’s heart-breaking to see tens of thousands fleeing their homes, not knowing if they will be able to return. It’s heart-wrenching to see the flames engulf our forests and wildlife. But while investigations are underway to determine the cause of all the fires, I reach out to you all not to spread hatred and blame. Many of the fires were the result of drought and harsh weather conditions. Those who set fires must be punished severely. Let’s all pray for rain.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ron Temis

      I’m hopjng that these events will make Israelis realize we have to deal with the KAPO lefty poison once and for all . Brtselem,Breaking the Silence, the scum from this magazine,

      Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        Be careful what you wish for Ron. Temperance is your friend.

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          For once I agree with Carmen. I never want to see violence between left winger and right winger Jews. Verbal, even strong verbal disagreements is ok. Violence? No! Never! That would only serve our real enemies who would be gleeful. In fact, I think they are working very hard to realise such a scenario.

          We must learn from our history. Both our temples fell because of war between brothers. We must never let it happen again!!!!

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            ​But isn’t Temis here just carrying to its logical conclusion the usual day in day out rightist slander about “traitors”?

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            No.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Yes.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Poor Ben. Are you desperate to argue? Whatever you say then.

            Now go and argue with yourself about what our intentions are.

            But I will reiterate again. I reserve the right to criticise left wing Jews most of whom mean well but are badly misguided. And a small minority of whom are just greedy and the only intentions they have is to line their own pockets. In fact, those people are not real lefties. They are just greedy individuals. Hey, they say that about 1 out of 20 people are psychopaths who are willing to step over anybody in order to gratify themselves. Hey Ben, we have them too. That’s life.

            Now say yes again Ben 😛

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “I will reiterate again.”

            Yes you will. The “again” was superfluous.

            Who are these mythical legions of greedy Jews, this mythical minority willing to sell out their own people and justice itself for filthy lucre? Care to name names? Lets get down to facts. How offensive.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            You are going out of your way to try to bore me, aren’t you Ben?

            Well, guess what. You have succeeded 💤

            Bye for now.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            FFS Ben and to reiterate ‘again’ – you’ve gone and ‘bored’ “AJew” straight back into his hidey hole. I bet he was ready to tear you up but then he got ‘bored’ and he had to take his leave…. alas

            poor Gustav/AJew! We knew him, a fellow of infinite jest,
            of most excellent fancy: he hath
            borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
            abhorred in my imagination it is!

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Whatever Carmen. But let me bring you back to reality. Ben wanted to obfuscate so he started inundating this thread with empty arguments against what I said which was this:

            “For once I agree with Carmen. I never want to see violence between left winger and right winger Jews. Verbal, even strong verbal disagreements is ok. Violence? No! Never! That would only serve our real enemies who would be gleeful. In fact, I think they are working very hard to realise such a scenario.

            We must learn from our history. Both our temples fell because of war between brothers. We must never let it happen again!!!!”

            See lady? Occasionally I even agree with the likes of you. Go figure.

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            “Whatever Carmen. But let me bring you back to reality.”

            When I want to be brought anywhere by you, I’ve got your number and I’ll give yoiu a call, but only after I’ve gotten to know you better. I don’t go anywhere with strangers.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Please yourself lady. I happy to leave you in flat earth land. Enjoy.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Lewis from Afula

      So who lit the fires?
      The Norweigans?
      The Greeks?
      The Chinese?
      No, it was the ex-Jordanians who now renamed themselves the “p people” who did it. Real peace will only occur when we repatriate them.

      Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        Maybe some of the fires were started by a carelessly thrown cigarette? With no rain and high winds = the perfect storm. I sense that it’s much more fun for you to blame the fires on the nonexistent people you’re always railing against though Lewis. The zionist leadership does it all the time. I hope that it was carelessness and not intentional. And jews weren’t the only ones losing their homes or putting out fires. Suck on that lewis.

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          “Two Israeli Arabs arrested on suspicion of deliberately starting brush fires have confessed to the crimes, police reportedly told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

          The suspects were said to from the Israeli Arab towns of Umm al-Fahm and Deir Hanna in northern Israel, the Hebrew-language Ynet news website reported.”

          http://www.timesofisrael.com/2-israeli-arabs-confess-to-starting-wildfires-report/

          Which bit of confess don’t you understand Carmen?

          Reply to Comment
    6. Carmen

      “We must learn from our history. Both our temples fell because of war between brothers. We must never let it happen again!!!!””

      First at most importantly, if you think ‘we must learn from our history’, you’d better finish rewriting it! And get a revision for the Guidebook for the Apoplectic for all the yeshivot; last time I read it, the man upstairs allowed the Romans to destroy the temple, but there is a rumor going around that what led to the 2nd temple’s destruction was all about a labor dispute. Apparently, the foreign laborers weren’t given their wages daily and when they were, they were paid half as much as ‘the regulars’. They in turn decided to do a half-assed job. And the walls came crumbling down….

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        “First at most importantly, if you think ‘we must learn from our history’, you’d better finish rewriting it!”

        You mean like the Arab countries and their faithful little allies who vote in UNESCO?

        Nah, lady we are not into that. You people do enough of that already. That’s one habit we don’t want to learn from you guys. We’ll leave such practices to you people. We’ll let YOU demean yourselves and be a laughing stock for the rest of the world.

        Reply to Comment
        • Carmen

          I meant what I wrote – you better start rewriting it. Maybe Naftali MK of Mis-Education would like your help. Your detour into strawman land vis-a-vis UNESCO is as funny as the rest of your post. And I might add a tad dull, mr “AJew”, who constantly forgets he’s AJew and not The Jews. 🙂
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_Kh7nLplWo

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            And because you meant it, it is so? Only to you lady. But you are not exactly in tune with reality, are you lady?

            Reply to Comment
    7. carmen

      “Maybe some of the fires were started by a carelessly thrown cigarette? With no rain and high winds = the perfect storm. I sense that it’s much more fun for you to blame the fires on the nonexistent people you’re always railing against though Lewis. The zionist leadership does it all the time. I hope that it was carelessness and not intentional. And jews weren’t the only ones losing their homes or putting out fires. Suck on that lewis.”

      Note this began with ‘maybe’. Then along comes the man who would be king of the jews, none other than ‘AJew’, speaking for all jews including Lewis, who is, apparently, jewish. You post a link and query “Which bit of confess don’t you understand Carmen?” As if I read all your posts or something 🙂 (I don’t and I reiterate – just not that into you AJew).

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        Not that into me? I am wounded to my core, Carmen (NOT!).

        Actually, I think you are not that into reality. And that is a much bigger problem. For you of course.

        Reply to Comment
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