Tikun Olam, December 4, 2010
The worst forest fires ever to have struck Israel are sweeping through the Carmel Mountains surrounding Haifa. 42 prison guard trainees died when their bus was blocked on a highway and burned, thus cutting off their escape. It is the worst loss of life in a natural disaster in Israel’s history. 17,000 have been evacuated. The University is threatened.
While it is natural for human beings facing such tragedy to look for villains and scapegoats, it’s unfortunate the direction that attention has turned. Israeli Jews have gravitated to a nasty spate of rumors blaming Palestinian Israelis for deliberately setting the fires as an act of terror and protest. This commenter in a comment thread here writes, linking to the Drudge-like Rotter internet news portal (and rumor-mill):
In fact, this Arab news source says that on Saturday, the residents of the town actually gathered in the soccer stadium to pray for rain. Either the earlier rumor is wrong or Fureidis is massively schizoid.
Only a day earlier, the same individual wrote this:
And a different commenter writes about the fires:
Rotter itself fuels the flames with this:
Funny thing that this alleged report hasn’t been confirmed anywhere else in the Israeli media. But now that it’s circulating in the Israel right-wing underworld of rumor and hate, the notion will have a long shelf life. All this reinforces a right-wing nationalist narrative that proclaims that the Palestinian minority is the enemy within, a force that can never be trusted. One that will side with “the enemy” during war or security crisis.
There’s only one problem with this line of thinking: it’s wrong. Dead wrong. Except for a few minor exceptions and despite massive levels of hate, mistrust and discrimination, Israeli Palestinians have shown remarkable dedication to the State, which is, after all, their country.
Let’s examine the reputable Israeli media reporting on the fires. True, one strain of reporting emanating from the National Police (who tend to follow the Shabak’s lead and be harshly anti-Arab in their views and prejudices) arouses suspicion of arson. But if you read the following carefully you’ll see that the police chief is not claiming the original fires were Arab-inspired arson, but rather that future copy cat fires might be. Also, note how bereft of evidence or proof the police “suspicion” is in the first paragraph and that the police don’t even seem to be basing these suspicions on field investigations:
Further fueling the rumors were reports that two residents of a Druze village were arrested on suspicion of setting the fires. But the suspects were quickly released:
The second strain of reporting seems to derive from fire department sources who are on the scene or in contact with those who are. This strain rejects claims of arson completely:
While it’s too early to know definitively what the final determination will be, I feel safe saying that it’s likely that Israeli racism fueled by great pain and suffering has induced Jews to level yet another form of blood libel against their fellow Palestinian citizens.
The wild exaggeration hasn’t been limited to blaming Israeli Palestinians either. Ynetnews blares this headline:
The body of the report says no such thing. It quotes the following Hezbollah statement:
Even most Israelis would agree with these sentiments. So where’s the joy?
I might add that among the 42 Israelis who died during the fires were three Druze and one Ethiopian. Instead of falling prey to ethnic division and scapegoating, why can’t Israelis focus on the fact they all (Jewish and Palestinian) have lost something deep and painful with this natural disaster? Why not acknowledge that the PA sent its firefighters to battle the blaze and Turkey too offered help? Instead of finger-pointing at the weakest link in society and blaming them, why don’t Israelis turn their wrath where it belongs–toward an inept government more attuned to building expensive high-tech walls, Iron Dome anti-missile defenses, and buying F-35 jets as toys for the IAF; when it could’ve bought or leased a single air tanker that could’ve attacked this fire when it was at its origins, instead of having to wait for nations like Cyprus and Greece to send their equipment after the conflagration went out of control.
I write this post in the context of a disturbing survey by the Israel Democracy Institute baring the deep racism inherent in Israel society toward the Palestinian minority. In the ways in which Israeli Jews have contemplated this disaster, the bad news of this poll have been borne out.
UPDATE: An up to the minute report from an Israeli reader confirms that the police are now agreeing that the fire was caused by negligence. What are the odds that any Israeli politician or police officer will ever apologize to Palestinian citizens for promoting these rumors?
:: Article nr. 72509 sent on 04-dec-2010 22:19 ECT