Israel Political Brief June 20, 2012: State Comptroller’s Report Blames PM Benjamin Netanyahu & Government Officials for Deadly Carmel Forest Fire



Report blames Israel’s Netanyahu for deadly fire

Source: AP, 6-20-12

A new report by Israel’s government watchdog blames Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials for mismanaging the worst fire in the country’s history, a devastating blaze that took 44 lives in 2010.

Report on Carmel Forest fire blames government officials

Source: JTA, 6-20-12

A special report by Israel’s state comptroller on the 2010 Carmel Forest fire blamed several government officials for the four-day blaze.

The report presented Wednesday by outgoing State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz bear “special responsibility” for the response, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch bear “complete responsibility.”

It did not suggest any consequences for the public officials. “That is a clear political question best left to the Knesset and the public,” Lindenstrauss wrote.

The December 2010 fire killed 44 people, destroyed 18 houses and damaged 173. Some 17,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes, more than 12,000 acres were burned and an estimated 5 million trees were lost. Some 38 planes and helicopters from 12 countries helped extinguish the blaze.

Documents cited by the report show that Yishai was aware that the Fire and Rescue Services suffered from a severe shortage of equipment, personnel, and command and control methods, but did not act on that knowledge. Yishai has denied the accusations and blamed others for the failures.

The report blamed Steinitz for making the requested budget allocations conditional on sweeping reforms.

Netanyahu was assigned complete responsibility based on his position, and for not attempting to mediate between Yishai and Steinitz.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office pointed out that some of the deficiencies enumerated in the report were corrected immediately after the Carmel disaster.

Full Text Israel Political Brief June 20, 2012: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Office Response to the State Comptroller’s Report on the Carmel Fire



Prime Minister’s Office Response to the State Comptroller’s Report on the Carmel Fire

Source: PMO, 6-20-12

Prime Minister Netanyahu is studying the State Comptroller’s findings.
Some of the deficiencies indicated by the Comptroller were corrected immediately after the Carmel disaster:

An aerial firefighting squadron was established. In the past year, it has extinguished over 100 fires, including the major fire in the Jerusalem area.

The Fire and Rescue Service was transferred from the Interior Ministry to the Public Security Ministry and was allocated hundreds of millions of shekels for the opening of eight fire stations, the recruitment of an additional 300 firefighters and the purchase of an additional 89 firefighting vehicles.

In his report, the State Comptroller also notes that, “The Prime Minister’s personal involvement in the urgent securing of firefighting means from abroad by utilizing his network of connections with the leaders of the countries that expressed a willingness to assist in extinguishing the fire, was a positive and important contribution.” This is in reference to the fact shortly after the outbreak of the fire, the Prime Minister worked to bring in 38 planes and helicopters from 12 different countries. Without the firefighting planes from abroad, it would have been impossible to deal with the fire successfully.

Prime Minister Netanyahu thanks the State Comptroller for is work and will continue to work to correct the deficiencies.

Netanyahu announces Carmel fire memorial, infrastructure repair


Source: JTA, 1-2-11

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to erect a memorial to those killed in the Carmel forest fire. Netanyahu made the pledge at Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, where the government approved $4.2 million to fix and improve the infrastructure destroyed in the fire. According to the plan, the rehabilitation will include structures that were burnt; damage to sewage, water, electricity and communications infrastructures; paving access roads; repairing gardening infrastructure; building playgrounds; cutting trees and general clean-up; and dealing with highways and traffic arrangements.

“This week we will mark 30 days since the major disaster in the Carmel area,” Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting. “We will hold a state memorial ceremony at Beit Oren, very close to the site of the disaster.  There, within one year, we will erect a memorial to those who perished, a monument to their heroism and their sacrifice.”

Netanyahu on Sunday also submitted a memorandum for a decision next week on the establishment of a national fire authority, an aerial firefighting force and an authority for dealing with earthquakes, and budgets for all three.

American Jews plan relief efforts in wake of Israeli blaze

Source:  JTA, 12-7-10

With Israel in desperate need of aid to fight the fire ravaging its north last week, countries from four continents sent help, including those with whom Israel has been at odds lately, such as Turkey.

Now that the fire is out, the question is what will Israel’s close friends, the American Jewish community, do to aid in the recovery process?

Damage estimates are ranging as high as $75 million, and the American Jewish community has opened fundraising mailboxes, started as emergency campaigns while the blaze was still burning.

The national branches of the three largest U.S. Jewish religious denominations launched fire assistance funds and asked their rabbis to address the topic in their sermons last Shabbat. Dozens of the country’s largest organizations, including the Jewish federation system, the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International, also started funds.

The heaviest lifting in the nonprofit world likely will be done by the Jewish National Fund, which since Israel’s founding has been responsible for the forestation of the country.

With some 12,000 acres scorched and an estimated 5 million trees burned, the JNF has launched a $10 million campaign to be split between reforestation and other causes, such as rebuilding tourism in the area. In less than a week, JNF had raised nearly $2 million in cash and pledges. A number of organizations, such as Hadassah, have pledged to help JNF pay for more trees.

Reforesting the area will be a slow process, according to the JNF’s director of forestry for the northern region, Omri Bonneh. For the first year, JNF says it won’t plant any trees, allowing the land to replenish itself.

It’s not clear how much the American Jewish organizations’ total campaign will be; in some cases it’s not yet clear where the money will go.

The American Jewish Committee pledged $100,000 for reforestation, saying it will plant 10,000 trees to commemorate the 42 people — mostly police cadets from the Israeli Prisons Service — killed in the wildfire.

B’nai B’rith International, which by Tuesday had collected $12,000, will use the money to address unmet needs, according to its vice president of programming, Rhonda Love.

Last week, Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, deployed hundreds of medics, paramedics, emergency vehicles and volunteers to the scene of the fire. It’s American fundraising arm, the American Friends of the Magen David Adom, had raised about $150,000 online since the fire broke out, according to its director of marketing, Robert Kern.

A number of organizations are focusing on helping Yemin Orde, a youth village for immigrants to Israel that was 40 percent destroyed in the fire.

Hadassah is providing space for 500 families dislocated by the fire by opening several youth villages with which it is associated. The Jewish Agency for Israel has made space in its facilities for Yemin Orde to continue operating.

The two overseas arms of the North American federation system have been on the ground since the fire began. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee helped out in the evacuation of residents and supplied emergency needs such as food and blankets. Now the JDC is planning to provide programs for the disabled, psycho-social support and emergency preparedness, according to spokesman Michael Geller.

The Jewish Agency brought hundreds of children from the stricken area to Tel Aviv for respite, and planned to bring 4,000 by the end of Chanukah.

JDC and the Jewish Agency also are working on coordinating youth volunteers. In the long term, the fire could provide the Jewish Agency with an opportunity to test the value of a new strategic plan that places more emphasis on creating volunteer opportunities in Israel.

The agency has proposed a plan to focus volunteer mentors on the Druze town of Tirat HaCarmel, a development town near Haifa that was evacuated during the fire. Agency officials also have talked to the Jewish Federations of North America about creating through the agency’s MASA program a project to bring Diaspora Jews to help in rehabilitating the animal wildlife in Israel’s north, according to Jewish Agency director general Alan Hoffmann.

Agency officials also said they would like to set up a fund for grants to victims of the fire, much like the fund it has for victims of terror that gives out up to $35,000 to individuals and families affected by terrorism.

How much exactly the JDC and Jewish Agency will be able to do in the long run will be determined largely by how much the federations are able to raise for them. That’s not yet clear, though insiders said the federations would probably allocate approximately $2 million.

Their campaign received an early boost when the JUF-Jewish Federation of Greater Chicago immediately pledged $500,000 of its own money for the JDC and Jewish Agency’s fire relief efforts.

The question now is whether money will continue to come in now that the fire has been extinguished.

“It is clear that when the fires stop burning, also the flames of philanthropy tend to die down,” Hoffman said. “But there are clear needs that have been created here. The question is how can world Jewry play a part in restoring this place to where it was before, and that will require resources.”

Use any of the links below to donate to a variety of emergency campaigns established in the wake of Israel’s devastating forest fire.

American Friends of the Magen David Adom, Israeli Red Cross

America Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

American Friends of Yemin Orde

B’nai B’rith Israel Emergency Fund

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews

Jewish Agency for Israel

Jewish Federations of North America

Jewish National Fund, Forest Fire Emergency Fund

JStreet and the New Israel Fund

Organizations of the Conservative/Masorti movement in North America

ORT America

Orthodox Union emergency fund

Union for Reform Judaism and ARZA

Young Israel charity fund

ZAKA, a recovery and identification organization

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