An arsonist evidently caught in the act on Saturday

{Originally posted to the authors’ website, This Ongoing War}

The New York Times’ assessment of the massive fires that had erupted all over Israel in the previous 48 hours was summed up in these striking opening sentences of Isabel Kershner’s report this past Friday:

Parts of the port city of Haifa in northern Israel were ablaze on Thursday as wildfires raged through the country for a third day, devouring forests, damaging homes and prompting the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.
Asked how long Haifa was likely to be battling the blazes, Mayor Yona Yahav told reporters, “This is a question that has to be referred to God.”
Israeli officials said the fires had been fanned by unusually strong winds and made worse by a dry atmosphere, but they also said they suspected that many of them had been caused by arson and negligence. Dozens of people have been slightly affected by smoke inhalation, but no serious injuries or fatalities have been reported.
[“As Wildfires Rage, Israel Suggests Arson and Asks for Foreign Help“, New York Times, November 24, 2016]


For us, the tone of that piece was set by “Israel Suggests Arson” in the headline and the words we have bolded above: “slightly affected by smoke inhalation, but no serious injuries…” Knowing the scale of the massive blazes and which places were – and which were not – affected makes the wording appear especially shabby. It goes on to make mention of Israeli concerns, articulated by the government minister in charge of public security, Gilad Erdan, that

“the professional assessment was that almost half the fires were the result of arson.”

For many, the details of that professional assessment might have been something worth knowing. But even though Erdan is quoted further down, none of his views as to how or why the government’s people formed the view that arson has played a serious role are stated.

What is stated, in a style that we have come to expect from news channels that share the New York Times approach to the Arab/Israeli conflict, is a restatement of the familiar Palestinian-Arabs-as-victims refrain:

Arab leaders in Israel protested the widespread allegations that Palestinian nationalists were behind many of the fires, saying their land was burning, too, and they condemned what they viewed as unfair accusations against Israel’s Arab citizens, who make up about a fifth of the population. Ahmad Tibi, a veteran Arab lawmaker in the Israeli Parliament, wrote on Twitter: “I called Yona Yahav. Our homes are open to the evacuees. Sad and painful. Let’s join hands to overcome the fire and let’s also douse the flames of incitement. [NYT]

(Israeli allegations about “Palestinian nationalists“?!)

It’s now early Sunday morning, and those fires and the price paid by Israeli society are very much in the news here. Much less reported are the very widespread sounds of celebration from right across the Arab world, particularly via the social media.

On Friday we Tweeted [here] a link to a Twitter search of the Arabic words for “Israel burns”, calling the many ugly posts a “glimpse into the hatred at the core of the generations-long confrontation of the Arab world with Israel“. We also noted [here] that although the search results were all in a language most of our readers probably don’t understand, “No Arabic language skill needed to absorb what’s in the air“.

Here’s a situation update [Sunday November 27, 2016 at 2:30 am], with direct quotes from various sources. Note that the New York Times’ choice of descriptor – the word “slightly” – somehow doesn’t appear even once in any of these reports:

  • As of Saturday night, security forces had arrested more than 35 people suspected of either arson or encouraging others to commit arson since Tuesday… Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) said Saturday that most of those arrested in connection with the fires are Palestinian residents of the West Bank. A “small minority” of the suspects are Arab Israelis, he added… He called the cases of arson “a new kind of terror,” and said that whereas in the past there was incitement on social media that “encouraged people to go out and stab and car-ram” Israelis, this new version “now encourages them to go out and burn people alive, burn communities alive.” [Times of Israel]
  • The IDF and police captured a suspect that was sighted by a Nature and Parks Authority worker starting a fire in the north-western Etzion region. The suspect was handed over to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) for investigation. The IDF spokesperson’s unit stated that during the night an IDF force near Dir Kaddis in the Ephraim region captured three suspects in a vehicle that had two full bottles of fuel, one empty bottle of fuel, a sack with fabric, gloves and lighters… [Jerusalem Post]
  • The wildfires that have raged across Israel over five days have left at least 133 people injured, rendered hundreds of homes unlivable and consumed tens of thousands of dunams of protected parks and nature reserves. The Magen David Adom rescue service reported Saturday that among the 133 people treated by the organization for fire-related injuries, one was seriously hurt and three others were moderately injured. The overall tally is likely higher, officials said, as some people – one estimate suggested as many as 50 – may have gone to hospitals on their own for injuries such as smoke inhalation. [Times of Israel]
  • Some 2,000 firefighters battled the fires since Tuesday, many of them working in grueling 24-hour shifts alongside 450 soldiers from the Home Front Command and 69 Cypriot firefighters… The battle to push back the flames marked among the most difficult operations ever undertaken by Israel’s firefighters. [Times of Israel]
  • Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Croatia, Russia, and the Palestinian Authority have sent planes, helicopters, trucks, and ground crews to assist the some 250 Israeli firefighters and soldiers who have been working for days to extinguish fires in areas surrounding Beit Shemesh, Modi’in, and Jerusalem, as well as in Haifa, Hadera, Zichron Yaakov, Umm al-Fachm, Lachish, Nesher, the Etzion settlement bloc, and outside the northern town of Kfar Vradim… [i24news]
  • Haifa was the worst-hit city from the blazes, with 527 homes completely destroyed, according to a Ynet News tally. Other reports have indicated a lower number, more than 400 homes, that were rendered unlivable in the northern city. Some 1,700 Haifa residents are not able to return home by late Saturday, Channel 2 said, because their homes are unlivable… Haifa city officials said Saturday that the fires ravaged some 28,000 dunams (6,900 acres) of land in the city since Thursday. The evacuation of some 60,000 Haifa residents from about a dozen fire-threatened neighborhoods on Thursday was said by Mayor Yona Yahav to have been the biggest such operation in Israeli history… [Times of Israel]
  • In all, as much as 130,000 dunams (32,000 acres) of natural forests and bushes were destroyed, about 30 percent more than the territory affected by the Carmel Forest fire of 2010. A great deal of the Judean Hills National Park and the Kfir Nature Reserve were burned… [Times of Israel]
  • On Friday night, all the residents – 350 families – of the town of Neve Tzuf (Halamish) in Samaria were forced to leave their homes after arsonists set fire to 3 different locations throughout the town. Fifteen houses were completely destroyed and collapsed, while 25 other houses were seriously damaged from the flames. Four civilians were lightly injured, including two firefighters… [Israel National News]
  • The fires that devastated Halamish were “apparently the result of arson by a gang of Palestinians,” Channel 10 reported on Saturday night. Security officials were quoted as saying that petrol bombs had been found at the scene… [Times of Israel] [NOTE: Halamish, known also as Neve Tzuf, is the Israeli community located immediately adjacent to the notorious Arab village of Nabi Saleh, about which we refer readers to “17-Mar-13: A little village in the hills, and the monsters it spawns“]
And entirely as expected
  • Israeli-Arab politicians said that the government was taking advantage of situation to incite against Arabs and the Palestinians… [National Post quoting the Washington Post]

Those “Israeli-Arab politicians” don’t refer to a past history of arson as a tool of Palestinian Arab terror. But Elder of Ziyon does: see his excellent commentary along with newspaper clippings in a Friday post [here].


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Frimet and Arnold Roth began writing and speaking publicly soon after the murder of their fifteen year-old daughter Malki Z"L in the Jerusalem Sbarro massacre, August 9, 2001 (Chaf Av, 5761). They have both been, and are, frequently interviewed for radio, television and the print media, including CNN, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Al-Jazeera, and others. Their blog This Ongoing War deals with the under-appreciated price of living in a society afflicted by terrorism which, they contend, means the entire world. Frimet is a native of Queens, NY while her husband was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. They brought their family to settle in Jerusalem in 1988. They co-founded the Malki Foundation in 2001 and are deeply involved in its work as volunteers. They can be reached at [email protected] .