Frustration at Israeli government as Carmel forest burns

By Jennifer Lipman, December 3, 2010
The fire is still blazing in the Carmel region

The fire is still blazing in the Carmel region

Questions are being raised over the way in which Israel deals with disasters as a devastating forest fire blazes across the Carmel mountains region for a second day.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted that the country did not have sufficient equipment to tackle the disaster as reports emerged of another person killed in the fire.

This would bring the total casualties to 41 after a bus carrying prison guards caught fire on Thursday afternoon, killing 40 passengers.

With all of Israel’s 1,500 firefighters engaged in tackling the inferno 24 hours after it broke out, medical experts have warned that the death toll could rise.

More than 15,000 people have been evacuated from northern Israel, including from the Haifa University campus, several kibbutzim and the Carmel Forest Spa .

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that at least 4,000 hectares of land had been damaged, while the Jewish National Fund said that 1.5 million trees had been burnt down.

Mr Netanyahu noted the “exemplary manner” of the evacuations and the efforts of the Israeli emergency services and said that the disaster was "on a scale that Israel was not used to.”

He said the thoughts of the Israeli government were with the families of the dead and wounded.

He added: “We will see to all the rebuilding, renovation and compensation as necessary in order to restore them to normal life.

“We will rehabilitate the Carmel with a national reconstruction plan."

But Mr Netanyahu added: “[We must] recognise the fact that our firefighting measures cannot provide an answer to forest fires of this magnitude, especially in the face of such winds.

“We do not have such equipment.”

He praised Britain, Greece, Cyprus, as well as several Arab countries and the Palestinian Authority for offering aid but called on the international community for further support.

“The unprecedented response to our appeal… is important to the state of Israel in every respect, especially that of putting out the fires.”

But Natie Shevel, the UJIA’s regional director for Israel, said there was “a growing sense of frustration” amongst Israelis at the government for underestimating the provision of fire resources.

“Now there is a deep sense of shock and awe at the nature of this tragedy, both in the essence of the unprecedented damage and the costs of human life.

“But in the longer term fire resources will be an issue.

“They are doing things now, and it’s rather late than never, but why does it always take a tragedy for things to move.”

Mr Shevel said none of the UJIA’s programmes in the north of Israel had been affected by the fire.

Following the second Lebanon war in summer 2006, a national emergency administration was set up in Israel to co - ordinate the response in emergency situations.

Mr Shevel said he had been consulting with it on behalf of the UJIA. He said: “It is clear that the real issue will be the long term rehabilitation of communities.”

Last updated: 1:16pm, December 3 2010