Winter is beginning to make its presence felt in Israel.
But only just and about seven days too late.
If only the blistering winds had calmed to damp, sunless air this time last week, most of the initially estimated 1,700 fires – many set by arsonists – would not have destroyed homes and wrecked lives in a series of terrifying blazes that were swiftly nicknamed ‘the fire intifada’.
As the final flames were extinguished, Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan thanked the international force of firefighters who had flown in to support local personnel. Their efforts, he said during a ceremony on Tuesday at the Hatzor Air Force base, had helped to ensure that no-one was killed.
Today he confirmed during a speech at the Knesset that about 40 - 50 per cent of the fires had been caused by arson but he cautioned that earlier estimates had been exaggerated, in part because many incidents were reported by dozens of people and also because unrelated events like car crash blazes had been included in the original figures.
But whatever figures are correct, they cannot even start to illustrate the damage wreaked on so many thousands of lives countrywide.
I fear that worse suffering is yet to come and that families will be left languishing long in financial limbo while government financiers and insurance company loss assessors haggle over who will pay reparations. Indeed, victims have already been warned that they will never recoup the entire value of their ruined – obliterated - possessions.
Times like this produce both the best and worst in human nature: While some of Israel’s foes cheered the blazes on, her citizens across all cultural and religious divides offered one another practical help and emotional support. While one rabbi issued an absurd domestic ruling, another insisted that Heaven would withhold rain until the ‘threat of eviction’ was lifted from disputed West Bank outposts like that at Amona.
We’ll see about that!
But here I conclude with a first–hand account of living with the effects of the fires from well-known Israel advocate and Haifa resident, Sturt Palmer who wrote thus in the 500th issue of his Haifa Diary:
“Over 1800 homes were damaged by the fire and of those 527 are uninhabitable.
“Travelling around the city at the beginning of the week we were able to see the severity of the fire in a number of neighbourhoods. Thankfully personal injuries were minimal, the majority of people requiring treatment suffered from smoke inhalation.
“At the end of our street, the fire swept up a wadi exiting on to the street between a Golden Age Home and a private home. The first was saved with no damage whilst the private home was devastated.
“The building next to this private home was also affected but with minimal damage. Here lives friends of ours, a 93 year old professor of the Technion with his wife. He told me …. he didn’t even have time to get his wheel chair (he has great difficulty walking) before he was helped out of his home and dumped on a bench on the other side of the road.
“With the kindness of motorists they were able to get to a point where they could contact their daughter to come and pick them up. Thankfully they have returned home already and all their prized family possessions were intact.
This cannot be said for other friends who lost all their possessions. They are now looking around to rent accommodation in order to bring a bit of stability to their lives. Our community is looking to help in whatever way they can. In this case treasured possessions have been lost. Can they ever be recreated? Unlikely”.
© Natalie Wood (30 November 2016)