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Israel's deadliest fire: Eli Yishai must go

If Israel’s PM doesn’t show his racist and incompetent Interior Minister the way out immediately – he should face consequences, too.

The flames of the Carmel fire seen on the background of the town of Nesher (photo: grebulon/flickr)

Israelis and international forces are still fighting the fire that started yesterday morning on the Carmel Mountain near Haifa. 41 people, most of them from Israel’s prison service, died when their bus was trapped on a forest road. Haifa’s chief of police is in hospital, fighting for her life. This is the biggest and most lethal fire in the country’s history.

The direct responsibility lies with the Ministry of Interior, which is in charge of Israel’s fire services. The fire department has suffered from lack of funding and budget cuts for years. The results were evident yesterday, when the firefighters failed to stop the flames in the first critical hours.

In recent years, there were numerous reports in the press on Israel’s deteriorating fire services. Just a week ago notable environmental journalist Aviv Lavie (Maariv) told the story of fire department officials that are trying to sound the alarm, claiming that they lack the means to battle major bush or city fires. “One day our luck will end, and they [fire department officials] will end up testifying before a national inquiry committee,” Lavie concluded.

By yesterday evening the supply of chemicals used in fighting flames ran out, and the firefighters had to settle for water. Israel issued an urgent request for help to other European countries, but for the casualties and their families it was too late. It seems the inquiry committee will come much sooner than even Lavie expected.

Eli Yishai is the Interior Minister. Yesterday, when PM Netanyahu did the right thing and showed up at the emergency command center in Haifa, Yishai was nowhere to be found. Earlier, he tried to spin the story, blaming the finance ministry for the budget cuts.

I don’t remember Yishai mentioning this issue before. The Ministry of Interior’s main political project last year was a failed effort to have 1,200 foreign workers’ children deported out of Israel, as part of a larger demographic battle against all non-Jews in Israel. He was also very vocal in his insistence on continuing construction in East Jerusalem. Apart from his attempts to sabotage the peace process and his xenophobic initiatives, Yishay didn’t do much.

But Yishay is the easy case. This huge government – the biggest in Israel’s history – has failed miserably on every front. Aside from picking up fights with the international community, introducing embarrassing pieces of legislation and deepening Israel’s hold in the West Bank, this coalition of hawks and racists doesn’t have anything to show for. All they offered the Israeli public was empty Zionist rhetoric – the oldest trick in the incompetent politician’s handbook.

Yesterday they met their Katrina. Yet it’s hard to believe even this disaster will make this government – let alone the man leading it – change its ways.

Read more about the Carmel Forest Fire on +972 Magazine:

The Carmel Disaster: My forest is on fire, by Ami Kaufman

Carmel fire: the price of the treasury’s policy, by Yossi Gurvitz

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    1. […] they’re asking the same questions in Israel. Israeli blogger Noam Sheizaf has placed direct blame at the feet of the Ministry of Interior, who may turn out to be the the Israeli equivalent of our […]

      Reply to Comment
    2. Y.

      We already had our Katrina and worse.

      It was called here the Second Lebanon War, where the Leftist government refused to implement any sensible policy and ignored the civilian population for a month. This didn’t prevent Haaretz and other media from asking the public not to replace the then PM.

      So I don’t think the current government looks too bad – firefighter funding can’t be laid only at their door, and nearly all of the dead were from the bus disaster (which funding wouldn’t have stopped). Otherwise, they took command quickly, and weren’t shy about asking for help.

      Now, this doesn’t mean they don’t have any responsibility here, including by Yishai. As said, Lack of firefighter funding is one. But maybe a just as important fault is the lack of law enforcement in some certain sectors of Israel – we already know that the entire thing started somehow at an illegal dump, and that (copycat?) arsonists later started fires which made the firefighters’ job harder. But looking there is not so ideologically convenient, is it?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Hard to believe that there are fortunes available when it comes to a new Iron Dome system, but not for 1 single fire-fighting plane.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Y.

      Oh, and come to think of it, Yishai’s long standing role in the Interior Ministry (including some previous governments) makes him especially responsible here. No wonder he called for a committee – ever since “Esek Habish” through Agrant and upto Winograd, it’s the favourite method by Israeli politicians to make a cover up.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Y – could you elaborate on what you meant by “not so ideologically convenient”? Because I have a feeling you’re talking about Druze. Just wanted to make sure. Then that would mean that you believe only Druze start fires. Or only Druze have illegal dumps. I certainly hope you’re a bit more informed than that.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Y.

      As a matter of fact, I was aware that it was a Druze village. Israel is losing control of its minority and Haredi populations. The writ of the law runs less and less there. To give a Druze example, do you remember the riots in Marar (I could be spelling this wrong)? The police initially refused to enter! (IIRC, they entered after it quieted down). The character of the problem is a little different amongest each population (Haredi and Druze don’t have irredentist aspirations), but it exists in all of them.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Y.

      I was fairly pissed off earlier (due to the fire and since I thought certain people were more interested in political hay. In retrospect I threw some back myself), but maybe now it’s possible to summarize the questions:

      1. How did the fire start in the first place?
      2. What conditions made it spread so easily?
      3. Why did it take two hours for the fire brigade to start handling this?
      4. The circumstances of the bus disaster.
      5. General state of fire brigade. Why was the fire retardant chemical supply so low (note [1] though)? Why are there so few firemen?
      6. Why is the organizational form of the fire brigades so twisted? What happened to the centralization reform?

      I have some ideas for answers.
      Most interesting here is a document dump[2] very likely inspired by Yishai. Nevertheless, I think it places him in a poor light.


      Reply to Comment
    8. Y.

      Being an impostor is a sign of being loser – get lost (and while at it, look up what “Fox’s tail” meant in the early eighties).

      Reply to Comment
    9. […] more about the Carmel Forest Fire: The Carmel Disaster: My forest is on fire , by Ami Kaufman Israel’s deadliest fire: Eli Yishai must go , by Noam Sheizaf Carmel fire: the price of the treasury’s policy , by Yossi Gurvitz What are […]

      Reply to Comment