The Parliament Blog

Archive for the ‘fire’ tag

The Israel Forest Fire: Taking Responsibility

by Seth Wax
from State of Formation

Over the past week, the recovery and clean-up of the forest fire in the Carmel region of Northern Israel that charred acres, burned property, and killed 42 people has gotten underway. It’s been particularly interesting for me, having just visited Tel Aviv for the weekend, to witness the ways in which Israelis are organizing en masse to volunteer with helping out. In particular, I visited two synagogues, each of which talked about ways to support the Yemin Orde Youth Village, a center that’s home to more than 500 children, that suffered a loss of over 40% of their buildings during the fire.

Yet alongside the public response to rebuild the affected areas, there has also been a strong drive to find answers for the fire, and in particular, to understand who is responsible for allowing this tragedy to unfold in the way it did.  While police believe they may have identified the person who started the fire, much of the vitriol is being leveled against the government, in particular the ministries of interior and finance, for underfunding and mismanaging the fire and rescue services and not equipping them with the supplies – like the tanker planes that governments across Europe and the US provided – that would have ended the forest fire before it became too big.

But while it may be appropriate to blame the government for negligence, I think that this narrow focus may be a bit short-sighted.

About a week ago, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, attributed the forest fire to Jews’ failure to observe Shabbat properly. While his remarks have an eerie resonance with what Rev. John Hagee said about New Orleans’ permissive attitude toward gay pride causing Hurricane Katrina, reading Rabbi Yosef’s comments got me thinking about what it means to cast a broad net of responsibility when government readiness cannot meet the scale of a natural disaster (even if I think his specific argument is insane). For Ovadia Yosef, the reason why the fire burned in the North was because of Jews’ failure to follow religious commandments, meaning (in the most charitable way I can see it), that the scope of responsibility for the loss of property and life does not lie with just the individuals who set the fire, the government, or the politicians. Many more people share responsibility for this.

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At the Mosque in Beit Fajjar after the Fire

Janaan in mosque at Beit Fajjar

Janaan in mosque at Beit Fajjar

by Janaan Hashim

While wrapping up our one-week visit to Israel and Palestine, human nature’s ugly face left its mark in a house of worship.  Not associated with the Nobel Women’s Initiative, a sister delegate and I embarked on our own to offer our support in the small village of Beit Fajjar in Palestine.

The mosque was, indeed, torched and Qurans were visibly set aflame.  The carpet was some sort of man-made material and so the flames only went as far at the accelerant that caught fire.  Make no mistake, the heat was so intense that the tiles on the pillars weakened their adhesive and they fell off, landing in a mess on the charred floor.  The soot was thick and provided a clear layer on the walls and ceiling; kids wrote in it Islamic phrases in Arabic, such as “Allah” and “Muhammad.”  I didn’t read anything derogatory against the assailants, though clearly the opportunity was there.

Who would do this?  What was their aim?  Why damage a house of worship?

Janaan holding burnt Quran

Janaan holding burnt Quran

The offenders were nearby Israeli settlers.  They left their mark above the front entrance, spray painting “Price Tag” above the door.  This is the price that the Muslims, living in the Occupied Territories, are paying.

The people there were, much to my relief, not angry or spiteful.  Hollywood would have the streets filled with demonstrators all sweaty and angry, fists pumping into the air.  They would want the impression that Muslims and Arabs are emotionally reactionary people; hot-headed if not barbaric.  An Israeli and American flag would likely be burning, perhaps the image of a settler dangling from a noose.  But just as Hollywood creates fiction, so would be such an image.

To the contrary, the imam and others that we talked to were calm and patient.  They showed us the damage; in the corner a TV crew and other media were documenting the hate crime.  At one point, they interviewed the mosque leaders who did not raise their voices or vow for revenge.  They simply allowed the damage to speak for itself.

At one point, I asked to sit and reflect in the mosque.  They left Ann and me there; Ann sitting by the front door as I found a place in the middle of the destruction, devastation and black remains.  I sat and reflected, supplicated.  I prayed for the Creator of all to keep these people strong and I prayed for the settlers who did this—for God to guide them and to realize their wrongs, to become better human beings.

Boys at Beit Fajjar

Boys at Beit Fajjar

Before I left, I found myself surrounded by about 15 curious boys.  I chuckle because I knew what was going on in their minds: we have to see for ourselves the American Muslim woman who wears hijab, can it be?  I realized an all too familiar role when I travel to the Middle East not just as a sister of faith, but as an American Muslim.

I told them to remember their faith.  I told them not to let their anger make them like the people who did this, but instead, to rise to the occasion and to be the Muslims that their faith and their prophet calls upon.  The adults understood, but I wonder about this younger generation.  God willing, I hope and pray they follow the footsteps of their village leadership.

The boys followed Ann and me as we went outside and waited for the bus to return us to Bethlehem.  We noticed some activity on the street with an extremely large tarp and then, minutes later, realized what was happening.   The tarp was hoisted to the roof of the mosque and then dropped down to protect it from nature’s elements.  No loud screaming or protests from the street, just doing the next logical thing—prepare the mosque against further damage.

A few days later, Rabbi Eilberg from our delegation sent me an email with an article attached.  Much to my happiness, a group of Rabbis from a nearby settlement approached the mosque with new Qurans in hand.  They condemned the acts stating that there is no place in the Torah or Judiasm for such acts.

Imagine the effect this bold stand will have on the village leadership and villagers themselves.  Imagine that not only did they receive media attention, not only did an Irish woman and American Muslim visit, but the common hand of faith reached across the aisle to recognize a wrong.  Imagine the effect this will have on creating a better tomorrow.

Janaan Hashim is a member of the Council’s Board of Trustees and the host for Radio Islam.