There is a disturbing phenomenon of homegrown terrorism that has contaminated a small but violent minority.
One of the few positive developments to emerge in the wake of Israel’s worst-ever inferno has been the tremendous outpouring of international aid, including from the Muslim world.
Both Egypt and Jordan have reached out, sending firefighters and equipment. Turkey’s willingness to send two firefighter airplanes has fueled speculation that relations between Jerusalem and Ankara might improve. Another development was a Palestinian initiative to provide Israel with three units of civil defense forces to assist in extinguishing the fires on the Carmel.
However, other reactions across the Muslim world were far from encouraging, as The Jerusalem Post’s Palestinian Affairs Correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh noted, based on talkbacks and comments on the blaze from readers in several leading Arab media outlets and websites. A majority seemed to believe that the alleged negligence of two youths from the Druse village Usfiya was not the real cause of the fire, rather that God is “punishing” Israel for occupying Arab lands and killing Palestinians, especially during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.
One reader noted that “this is the right time for Iran. If one fire has caused panic in the Zionist entity, where are Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Nasrallah? And where is Syria? One rocket could set thousands of fires.”
There was also caustic criticism from such quarters of Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority for agreeing to send aid to Israel.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, meanwhile, said the fires were a divine expression of anger. “These are plagues from God,” Haniyeh said in a Reuters video interview recorded during Sunday prayers in Gaza. “Allah is punishing them [the Israelis] from a place they did not expect it.”
BUT PERHAPS the most disturbing development has been a mind-boggling rash of locally concocted arson attempts.
Perpetrated by Arab Israelis, these attacks are a cynical exploitation of Israel’s sorrowfully inadequate firefighting capabilities. These local terrorists are willing to cause further ecological damage and endanger the lives of both Jews and Arabs in the name of hateful and narrow political goals.
On Friday, Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen directed district commanders to be on the lookout for such arsonists and has reportedly consulted with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) on thwarting them. Yoel Zilberman, head of a grassroots network of about 1,000 unarmed volunteer guards that operates in the Galilee and who call themselves “Hashomer,” a throwback to the pre-state organization, estimates that in the last three days there have been between 30 and 40 arson attempts in northern Israel. The organization was created two years ago to fight acts of arson and vandalism perpetrated by Arabs against Jewish farmers in the Galilee.
One of the largest arson attacks that took place since the fire erupted on Mount Carmel was at Tzur Shalom, where police found a bike and a wig, apparently abandoned by an arsonist who had disguised himself and planned to ignite the local gas pump and start a fire that could have spread to the factories of heavily-industrialized Haifa Bay.
Other suspected arson attacks occurred in Tarshiha, Kiryat Tivon, Shfaram, Naveh Yosef, a neighborhood outside Haifa, Mashad, an Arab village in the North, and in the Nazareth Forest. Police Cmdr. Shimon Koren, commander of the Northern District, said that there were cases in which Molotov cocktails were thrown along Route 70.
These arson attempts – which occur all year long and at a staggering average of two per day in the past 12 months, but which have increased in recent days – are part of a concerted effort by lawless Arab Israelis to take control of Jewish farmland in the Galilee. Crops or orchards that are repeatedly burned down are eventually left fallow, in some cases allowing Arab farmers to move in. Additional tactics include the killing of livestock and violence against Jewish farmers, according to those affected.
Most Arab Israelis are law abiding citizens. And the vast majority are united with their Jewish fellow citizens in working and praying for a quick end to the inferno that has engulfed the North and threatened the lives, property and natural resources of all citizens equally.
However, there is a disturbing phenomenon of homegrown terrorism that has contaminated a small but violent minority – a minority that receives psychological backing from a larger Muslim world with decidedly antagonistic attitudes toward Israel.
One of the lessons to be learned from the fire raging on Mount Carmel, along with the the dire imperative to revamp our firefighting infrastructure and manpower, is the importance of restoring law and order to the Galilee.
Zilberman’s “Hashomer” initiative is no substitute for a more robust police effort to thwart those who set light the very land we live upon.