Wave of nationalistically motivated arson cases in recent days deserves attention

Yoaz Hendel
Published: 12.09.10, 00:42 / Israel Opinion

The incisive debate over the failures revealed through the blaze disaster left the question of potential matches outside the discussion. This time around, the Carmel blaze resulted from criminal negligence, yet the flames gave rise to many pyromaniacs motivated by hate.

Police face arson wave / Eli Senyor
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In recent days, dozens of arson cases had been recorded nationwide, ranging from the Galilee through the Jerusalem Mountains and all the way south. Most of these fires were apparently started by nationalistically motivated Arabs bearing Israeli ID cards and playing the role of dangerous hitchhikers on the heels of a disaster prompted by negligence and nature.

Meanwhile, the police were having trouble contending with the burden and with the lawbreakers; officials even had trouble providing figures about the arson cases.

In the absence of solutions, the response was provided by volunteers – that is, local residents and security officers. For example, in recent days we saw activity by a group of guards established in an effort to prevent nationalistically motivated agricultural crime and vandalism.

For three years now they’ve been volunteering to fill the gap left by law enforcement authorities in the State of Israel. With their very presence, they contend with the growing phenomenon of Arab crime against anything that symbolizes our state. I met group members a year ago during routine operations, as they faced a ritual of cutting fences, stealing cattle, and harassing Jews. This is happening in the modern State of Israel

Over the last weekend, group members again headed out to guard the fields. Just like everyone else they listened to the news and realized that some people may seek to take advantage of the situation. Without in-depth intelligence information, without police intelligence officers, and without a budget they set up ambushes at potential trouble spots.

The logical gamble paid off. The group prevented seven cases of arson in the north. All would-be arsonists did it as result of religious and nationalistic motives.

In other areas, the police acted in retrospect, as always. In a small part of the cases suspects were questioned. The police have 24 hours to provide evidence in order to keep suspects in custody. In the current case, most detained individuals will ultimately be released. Maybe two of them will eventually end up in court, where they will receive the legal protection of human rights groups and the Islamic Movement. How many will end up in jail? Probably none.

‘Rightist’ bill rejected

Intelligence information about the suspects and their motives for the arson is readily available on the Internet. A horrific clip on YouTube lauded the Carmel disaster and wishes all Jews a similar fate. We also saw religious edicts that allow the torching of forests and the joy expressed by Arabic-speaking citizens in the face of the raging fire.

In January 2010, Knesset Member Yaakov Katz tabled a bill that would set a minimum sentence for a person who torches public assets. The sentence set out by law at this time is 20 years, yet the courts always find mitigating circumstances.

Katz, whose bills are perceived by many as a rightist triviality, based his proposal on past experience. That is, dozens of nationalistically motivated arson cases followed by arrests and the quick release of suspects. The bill proposed by Katz and five other MKs (a few of them changed their mind during the vote) would have set a five-year minimum sentence, in a bid to deter arsonists. This is a reasonable sentence compared to the custom in other states.

However, the proposal was rejected by a large majority. The coalition enlisted to fight the “rightist” proposal, even though the bill said nothing about politics. Katz and his ideas were left in the desert.

It’s much nicer to ignore the problem, the burning hate, and the weapon of arson. However, when next time you raise a hue and cry over government failures, remember that they are mostly premised on something we preferred not to see.