Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fire on the Carmel - Followup

Ever heard of California? Australia? Greece? Russia? I ask because they all spring to mind when talking about gigantic fires which rage uncontrolled for weeks, causing loss of life and enormous economic damage. Nature is often greater than Man's ability to control it.

The public recriminations in Israel are already starting, and can be expected to get worse. Harshly lambasting the government is a national pastime. There's probably a lot of truth to the allegations that the fire-fighters are underfunded, under-equipped, lack a national command structure, and generally were near the back of the line of issues crying out for government funding. Moreover, if the political fallout includes some harm to Eli Yishai, the head of Shass and perhaps the Neandethal-in-Chief of the present coalition, who's going to complain.
Yet having said all that, I doubt there's much connection between the complaints and what just happened. Look at the four snapshots taken by Dan Oren, a coincidental observer to the worst part of the story, the incident in which 41 people died, pole-vaulting the fire to an international story and calamity.
Flames that size can't be stopped, not by any force humans can wield; if you follow the entire sequence, taken within seconds, you'll see the speed with which the fire raced forward.

Nor is the growing chatter about how predictable the whole thing was, serious. The final bout of rain last winter was early, at the end of February. Then we had the hottest summer on record, and so far, the driest and hottest autumn ever; 2010 is apparently the first year since records began in the late 19th century in which there has been no effective rain by early December. In 2006 Hezbullah shot thousands of rockets at Israel, and there were no major fires; this one seems to have been started by one campfire light by two young idiots, then fanned by unusually strong, hot and dry easterly winds, in an area which normally has westerly winds which would have blown the fire away from the forest.

In the meantime, the rescue efforts included a reasonably efficient and orderly evacuation of some 20,000 people from their homes; there have been no reports of looting; and officialdom seems confident the damage payments will be paid out fairly and soon.

I'm all in favor of learning lessons from failures so there will be fewer of them next time, or they'll happen in unexpected places. I don't see how this event could have been prevented, no matter how much preparation there had been.

I'm also not going to join the chorus of fundraisers. I appreciate people's willingness to donate money in the aftermaths of calamities, but the situation in Haiti remains vastly worse than anything we've got here; Pakistan, too, though it's not clear your well-intentioned donations will reach their targets in Pakistan. Israel is a sovereign country with a functioning state, and we'll deal with whatever needs to be dealt with. Lost lives are lost forever, but all the other parts of the story will fixed; even the charred forest will eventually recover, though it may take a generation. (Goldblog is saying the same; he's often right).


Silke said...


I disagree on Goldblog -

the post you link to is the FIRST thing he had to say on the fire, I find it as a first reaction to such an event terribly callous and whether he is right on the fact becomes almost irrelevant after this lack of tact.

i.e. Israelis are rich enough, if something like that happens to them, it is their own fault, so let them feel the pain. (not the kind of attitude one would want for victims of negligence normally, or is it?)

I am misrepresenting but only very very very slightly so.

As to organisation of firefighters: I have had occasion to listen to 3 groups of firefighters in Germany off and on over the years (volunteers, company owned ones, official ones like city, county etc.)

They all fight tooth and nail with very good reasons for why they are the most important and need to be the best equipped.
Equipment, however, has gotten so efficient and so expensive that not every unit can have one (like in the old times) so coordination is necessary with the "incompetents" from the other village, the other company or the officials. Since at least in Germany thankfully a lot of it is on-call-duty it is extremely hard to wield it into a making-sense-whole, while keeping the indispensable volunteers who will be closest to the event motivated.

But without an overall concept how will you be able to make educated decisions, where to station the sophisticated expensive stuff.

peterthehungarian said...

I agree with every word of Silke.
Goldberg is an insensitive person without the minimal ability to feel any compassion of the victim of a tragedy only because it is rich and was unprepared even negligent. The timing of his opus was terrible and unforgivable. Would you criticise this way the victim of a fatal road accident because missing a road sign or a traffic light?

annie said...

I agree with Silke and Peter above. Goldberg is first of all very callous, and secondly, where do you draw the line? If Israel is such a rich country, why should one need to give to Israel's poor? One can use Goldberg's premise and say that Israel should be able to feed its own hungry, fund its own ambulances and cure its own sick.
If you're going to donate money to one Israeli cause, there's no reason not to donate to the victims of the fire.

Furthermore, that most basic of Zionist enterprises, forestation, with all the attendant emotions involved, would be the prime motivator for people who wish to donate to the JNF in order to reforest the Carmel.

There's plenty of time for the blame game afterwards. Now is the time to dig in our pockets and open our homes and our hearts.

NormanF said...

Israel's Fire Service overcame adversity against impossible odds. When Israelis need to, they rise to the challenge. There is a certain a lot of criticism to be made about Israeli short-comings but they pale in contrast to the greatness of the human spirit in a time of crisis. Israel will never have enough in the way of material resources but the one resource it has that utilized to extraordinary effectiveness is its people.

That must never be forgotten. As for wildfires, these have been around long before man was on the earth and they will be around long after we're gone. Certain plants simply cannot propagate without fire. Good really does come from evil, even if its from Nature. The past week's events above all, constitute for all of us, a reminder that for all of our comfort and sense of security, our true security in the end is not attained through the agency of human effort alone but through the blessings of G-d.

Let us look back on the Carmel Fire with all awe and respect to Him to who we owe lives upon this earth.

Avigdor said...

This need not be thought of as a charity case. No aid organization is going to buy Israel new fire suppressing aircraft. That IS the responsibility of the Israeli government. However, millions (?) of acres of arduously planted forest have been destroyed. The Israeli government is not going to pay for that - private monies will.

I always thought the JNF, as the organization responsible for the largest reforestation program in the history of mankind, should make a pitch to the global warming crowd on the basis of reducing carbon emissions by planting trees in Israel.

So, if you're so inclined, and you want to reduce your carbon footprint, and offset your carbon emissions for this year, or for the next ten years, give to the JNF to help replant the trees that have been destroyed in this fire.

Carrie said...

Add me to the list of people who found Goldberg's post to be in bad taste, and -bad timing.

Also while we're on the subject, although Goldberg is right on the subject of Wikileads and Israel/Iran, and Andrew Sullivan is wrong, Goldberg has not presented his side correctly and has allowed Sullivan to come out looking like he "won" their little debate.

For goodness sake he did not even respond to being called a neocon by Sullivan, nor did he refute Sullivan's insistence that he was a cheerleader for Arab "autocrats." And then he insinuated that Sullivan was an anti-Semite, which is the-one-thing Sullivan is always waiting for.

Silke said...

thumbs up and thanks for your additional argument

Anonymous said...

the transcript of an interesting debate between Christopher Hitchens and former British PM Tony Blair. The motion: "Be it resolved, religion is a force for good in the world".

Of course it didn't take them long to get to the Middle-East Conflict.

Have fun, André

Silke said...

thanks André!!!

and here is the iTunes-link for iPod addicts who want to listen while feeding the ducks in the parc or maybe more fitting for the subject peripateting

Matan said...

I agree with Goldberg. I live in Tel Aviv and, as disastrous as the fires have been, the responsibility of maintaining an effective fire service is ours. We failed to do that.

As awkward as it may sound, I'm tired of the Diaspora treating us as their pet cause which they have special reserves of indignation and generosity for. We're the ones who have to live with the consequences of our decisions and we're the ones who have to decide how to spend our money. We chose poorly this time, and dozens of poor souls perished due to our failures as a society. But having rich American Jews put up the money doesn't help us.

I appreciate the sentiment, but if these people really cared about Israel so much, why don't they join us here? If you don't care enough to live here, don't give money we should raise ourselves as payment for your 'insurance' policy.

Avigdor said...

Israel is not our pet project, and the Diaspora is not your rich uncle. You're missing the point, Matan. You're not our insurance policy. We're each other's insurance policy, and I don't mean in living situations.

Don't worry, whatever monies are collected, you won't see a dime's difference in your pocket. What specific gripe do you have against internationally funded ecological restoration?

Silke said...


what makes you think only Jews feel the urge to donate in an attempt to alleviate the frustration of being unable to help.

Possibly I am a member of a very small and thus totally neglectable group which may come up with very small amounts but why tell us to bugger off? Where is the benefit in that? If you don't want the likes of me around that's OK by me. But if so, please tell me so and do it directly and not in such a roundabout way.

BTW I object to Goldberg's post most of all because he considered it more urgent to discuss the apparently existing inner-jewish controversy over donations more important and more pressing than saying anything remotely sounding like compassion.

that came in a given the first part of the post sounding quite perfunctory last paragraph.

Matan said...

It's not so much saying "bugger off" as much as it is "we can afford this and your generosity would be better used elsewhere".

If it was borne out of purely humanitarian motivations, there are far more worthy recipients of help than the Israeli government - even within Israel itself.

I object to the fact that we have a political class in this country which can point to the generosity of foreigners and the Diaspora as a way of saving the Finance Ministry from punishment. And this is what it does - a shekel spent on firefighting equipment is a shekel which could and should have been spent by the Israeli taxpayer.

When you say "don't worry, whatever monies are collected, you won't see a dime's difference in your pocket" that misses the point - I *want* to see the difference. I want us to start paying for our society on our terms. We don't need donations - we need accountable leadership and, as happens around the world, accountability is progressively diluted by forms of income or support outside of taxes.

Help the Israeli people, yes - that's wonderful and a humanitarian gesture and even an expression of Jewish identity. But the Israeli state? That's for the Israeli taxpayer.

Avigdor said...

I understand what you're saying, I don't disagree, and that's part of my point. The aid money won't be flowing into GOI coffers. From what I read, for example, victims compensation will be made by GOI. Buying firefighting planes (maybe they should contract IAI to build pilot-less firefighting drones and create a new export category) will be a GOI expense.

However, replanting millions of acres with evergreens, counseling victims families, etc., is traditionally an NGO responsibility, and that's where the money will be channeled, I would hope.

Just remember, not everyone is privy or all that interested in internal Israeli recriminations, which peak with regularity, about something or other, every two months or so. Your desire for responsive and responsible government and accountable citizenry are all laudable, but are also quite needless to those of us, Jewish or otherwise, around the world, who want to make a positive contribution in the face of disaster. Instead of discouraging our participation, maybe you should direct your concern at channeling these contributions in an appropriate manner that doesn't encourage government sloth.

Bella said...

JNF is being viciously targeted by the BDS movement for the "ethnic cleansing of Palestine." As such it needs our support rather than the preposterous posturing of Jeffrey Goldberg in whom I am deeply disappointed.

Silke said...

I've just read Goldblog's latest on it.

it makes me scratch my head, it is bugger off to goys all over again

no matter how marginal we may be I still think it is not smart - Goldblog writes about donations as if
a) US-citizens are the only ones that matter and
b) amongst them it is only Jews that matter.
(all that may be true, but does it need reinforcing?)

Last I looked on Elder of Ziyon's Hasby Award thing Pilar Rahola was on top. So I can't be the only "shiksa" who feels like Geert Wilders or Huckabee or lots of American military guys.

If Matan's and the others' intentions is not to tell us to bugger off, then they sure have quite a confusing way of not intending it.

ever since 2006 now I have been wondering why Israeli charities aren't even letting non-Jewish Germans know that they exist.

now is the first time that I have noticed the Israeli embassy telling that there is an organisation that is trustworthy i.e. JNF and the next thing I read is, don't donate to them

I find that a bit confusing ...

Goldblog compares the US to Israel, that's BS. When a country of ten times as many millions as Israel which is not at war to boot suffers a disaster that is totally different from it happening to Israel. (Germany during the Oder-flood)

Also Goldblog publishes a comparison of firefighters per capita in Israel to the US without even a whiff of explaining how compartmentalized the Israeli system is or is not and consequently what kind of firefighters the number refers to i.e. he is just throwing figures around that make Israel look bad without offering any info or context.