Flames.

I was thinking that I should try to write a Hanukkah-specific post while I’m still in Israel, but I wasn’t really coming up with anything, nothing worth the paper it wouldn’t be printed on anyway, so I had more or less decided to let myself off the hook.

And then the fire.

This fire, still raging as I type in my mother in law’s Jerusalem living room, this fire that has, so far, ravaged anywhere from eight to eleven square miles of forest, rolling hills, people’s homes, and, surely, thousands of wild animals, their charred corpses now waiting to be found in the remains of their own homes. At this moment, I’m watching a woman reporter, the fire her backdrop, describing the evacuation of a Haifa neighborhood the small community of Tirat HaCarmel, residents and fire-fighters moving behind her, finding their way out, as the flames continue to advance toward their streets.

41 people dead so far, at least two critically injured, one of them the female police chief of Haifa, Ahuva Tomer. The dead — those whose bodies have been identified, those few whose names have been released to the public — represent a heartbreaking cross-section of Israeli society: men and women, folks from the north and the south, city and country, Ashkenazi, Sepharadi, Ethiopian and Israeli-Palestinian Druze, most of them prison guards in training to become officers, on their way to help evacuate a prison as the fire raced toward it, most of them caught in the flames, the bus that they were on, the car that Tomer was in, now metal shells, scorched, a startlingly delicate hint at the horror the people within suffered as their lives came to an end.

Last night on the radio, a firefighter was asked to describe what he had seen. “I’m no good with describing things,” he started, “how do you describe flames that are 130, 150 feet high, and the firefighters are standing before them, in horror, their efforts failing, and they go back, and try again?”

I don’t know what to write about this, about the 15,000 people who have been removed from their homes, about the countries all around us who have donated, whether Israel actually asked them for help (Greece, Cyprus, Russia, France, Bulgaria, etc) or not (Turkey), their equipment, people, and planes to the effort — or about the fact that in the Middle East’s most advanced nation, and despite recent warnings, there were no such planes — not one — when the fire started.  When I heard that we were asking for help, I was sure that we were looking for more planes, in addition to the ones we had — but no. No. Not a one. The planes that first tried to face down this terror were agricultural planes, planes used for fertilizing crops.

It is my sense that this is Israel’s Katrina — a natural disaster that is not at all natural, a natural disaster that would have been merely bad, merely frightening, not a disaster, not a catastrophe for human, flora and fauna alike, if the humans involved, the decision makers and budget writers and politicians, had listened to common sense and taken the simplest of steps. It is my sense that when the flames are finally conquered, and the investigations start, the anger will also start, and then the rage, because my people — the Jews and the Arabs, all Israelis are my people — will discover that more than 40 people have died and miles upon miles of land have been ruined, because of sheer hubris. Because of stupidity.

Hanukkah is a holiday in which we celebrate the power of a single light in the darkness, the ability of small acts to face down evil and injustice. My heart doesn’t know what to do with the fact that the fire of which we speak today is not the fragile, slender flame of our candles, but rather roaring walls of flame, consuming all they meet.

Edit: I wrote this quickly, immediately upon getting up this morning and turning the TV on, and I’ve since discovered it was riddled with mistakes. I’ve corrected them.

8 Comments

  1. Dear Emily,

    I appreciated hearing your thoughts and have picked up your entry as recommended reading at my blog, The New Jew’s entry Israel Needs Your Help: Forest Fire Devastates Haifa

    Shabbat Shalom,

    ~ Maya Norton

    * You can also connect with me on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/TheNewJew

  2. this makes me so sad especially since it didn’t have to be the way it was…

  3. fatjew

     /  December 4, 2010

    israel needs our help! the fire is an ecological disaster too.

  4. nonjew-amisraelchai

     /  December 5, 2010

    Israel needs more than firefighting help. It needs the hearts and minds of the governments that sent the firefighting aid. We all know that Israel is constantly under threat, is the object of other countries’ bloody rhetoric. The luxury of managing peace-time budgets, as if she were a secure nation is what Israel needs from the world. I see the worldwide effort to deliver aid for the Mount Carmel wildfire as a defacto admission of this. No one calls for the elimination of Turkey, Bulgaria, Russia, Greece, or the United States like they do for Israel. Let’s take a moment before the blame-game starts and think about what the cost of being the object of this hostility really costs Israel. The blacked forests of Carmel are not just the result of negligence, they are the end product of a beleagured mindset. It’s up to the rest of the world to ease off and let Israel have the grace to develop itself in the same ordinary way that other nations of the world have.

  5. Heartbreaking, ee. Just heartbreaking.

  6. debbie

     /  December 8, 2010

    Has anyone in the Israeli government spoken to the lack of fire-fighting planes and why money for a plane couldn’t be spared from the billions they’re getting in foreign aid?

  1. Israel Needs Your Help: Forest Fire Devastates Haifa « The New Jew
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