The fire is not yet under control. The weather is changing, aid has come from numerous countries, and the prospects are positive. Now the noise of politicians and activists blaming one another is taking over the media that had been devoted to on the scene action and human interest.
The weekend reminded me of wars and lesser military operations. There has been constant radio and television coverage, except for interludes of favorite Hebrew songs that combine nostalgia with national or religious themes. Jews bury their dead quickly. We have heard announcements of the time and place of burials as remains have been located and identified. What was different from war was the lack of an enemy, and reports of the damage wrought by the IDF.
The latest focus of attention has been the artists' village of Ein Hod. We have seen pictures of destroyed homes and reports of irreplaceable works that have been lost. Our friends have not been able to enter the village to see if their home and pictures are among those safe, destroyed, or damaged.
It is not practical to insure sizable quantities of art work still in the studios of the artists or the homes of family members. The losses are as much spiritual as financial. Volunteers and fund raising to help those who have suffered cannot deal with these problems.
International assistance ranges in scale is from an American 747 and Russian Ilyushin giants that can dump a great deal of water, to three firefighters sent by the Palestine National Authority. There are also units from Jordan and Egypt, and a large contingent from Bulgaria along with a Hebrew speaking member of that country's Foreign Ministry.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of SHAS, has proclaimed that the Almighty would not do such a thing unless the Jews of Israel had violated the Sabbath. Earlier, the Rabbi had blamed the rebellious member of his party for the country's drought. So far we have not heard of any connection between the rebellious MK, the drought he caused, and the problems in controlling the fire. The crux of the rebel's dispute with the party establishment is his view that all but the most talented young men should leave the religious academies and go to work.
The rabbi's representative in the Knesset is at the focus of the charges heard on the popular media that tends to be secular and left of center. Interior Minister Eli Yishai is responsible for fire fighting, and it is within reason to expect him to offer a resignation in the face of such a disaster. What he is doing is calling for a Committee of Inquiry, and citing the letters he has written over the years calling for greater efforts in behalf of fire fighting equipment and personnel. He blames colleagues in the Government for not answering his letters, and the Finance Ministry for not providing money.
Absolute truth is not available in a situation when everyone is accusing everyone else. However, the nature of Israeli policymaking requires more than letters to move one's colleagues before a disaster, or to protect one's backside after the disaster.
Israel is well supplied with activists who know what wealthier countries provide, and insist on doing the same here. It is also relatively poor among the wealthy countries of the world, and its resources are limited further by defense outlays more than twice those of its nearest competitor among well-to-do countries.
Yishai is not the only ranking official on the record as recommending action. An aide in the Prime Minister's Office proposed the purchase of updated fire fighting aircraft. There have also been reports about deficiencies in fire fighting, most prominently after the rocket attacks on the north associated with the 2006 war against the Hizbollah of Lebanon. Yishai wrote letters in behalf of fire fighting. He pressed harder to get action for synagogues, ritual baths, housing in religious neighborhoods, payments for students in religious academies, plus barriers and detention centers to deal with African migrants who are threatening the Jewish nature of Israel.
Optimists are hoping that the fire will cease its destruction in a day or two. No one is predicting an end to the politics about the fire.
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at December 04, 2010 10:17 PM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem