Netanyahu to families of Carmel blaze victims: All of Israel hurts with you
Netanyahu, Interior Minister Yishai attend unveiling memorial for December 2010 fire despite tensions with victims' families; Knesset Speaker: Israel neglected its watch against natural disasters.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai both attended Monday a ceremony to unveil a new memorial for the victims of the Carmel blaze, which ravaged Israel's north in December of 2010.
At first, both Netanyahu and Yishai were not expected to arrive at the ceremony, following year-long tensions between the victims' families and the state over what relatives saw as the latter's ineptitude in face of the disaster.
In January of this year, relatives and friends of those killed in the devastating Carmel fire refused to let Netanyahu speak during the official state memorial ceremony to deliver a eulogy to the victims.
In a further display of the family members' rage over the government's handling of the massive blaze, Interior Minister Yishai left the memorial after Danny Rosen, the partner of fallen Haifa Police Chief Ahuva Tomer, told Netanyahu that he would not remain at the ceremony unless Yishai stepped out.
It is possible that the premier decided to arrive at Monday's ceremony after Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni announced she would participate. "The many requests for me to arrive moved me, and I will arrive at the ceremony to honor their loved ones," Netanyahu said prior to the event.
After being introduced by the ceremony's host as the "first who understood the gravity of the situation and who continuously cares for the families", the prime minister recognized Monday the families' "year of grief and loss," adding that all of Israel witnessed "the massive flames and the entire people hurt with you."
"And yet, I allow myself to say that only those who have known grief can know the depth of your agony, Netanyahu said, referring to his brother Yonatan Netanyahu who was killed during that Israel rescue raid in Entebbe in 1976, adding that he hoped "in time you will find solace in life itself."
"Life is a powerful river which sweeps us forward, and we find ways to deal with loss," the premier said, adding that since the "great calamity we have done everything in our power to allow us to better fight massive flames in the future."
Referring to the extensive foreign aid Israel received during the 3-day fire, which included firefighting planes from Turkey and Greece, the premier said that "today an Israeli squadron is flying the skies, which has already extinguished a large fire near Jerusalem, preventing a grave disaster, as well as 150 other fires in the last year."
Also speaking at the ceremony, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said: "We cannot criticize the forces of nature. The Carmel is not at fault, the fire did not fail in its duties."
"It's true that we have prepared against all enemy for the last 63 years, with a strong army, with missiles, defensive systems, planes and satellites, but we have deserted a front just as dangerous for the last 63 years," Rivlin said, adding: "We failed in our preparation, even if in our estimation of the natural threat."
"The State of Israel operates with a incomparably complex defensive reality, with bravery and know-how," Rivlin said, adding, however, that the "confident Israel" was "caught unprepared a year ago, caught with a lacking firefighting force."
Two families insisted in their refusal to not participate in the event, saying that no governmental body has yet to claim full responsibility for the lost lives and extensive damage.
The State Comptroller's draft report on the matter said Netanyahu, Yishai, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz all bear ministerial responsibility for the devastating Carmel fire.
Rotem Israel, who lost her husband Rami Israel in the blaze, spoke for the bereaved families, saying that there were "43 families, like ours, collapsed in that horrible day. We have all been touched by the grave disaster."
"The lives of our loved ones were severed in that horrible day. In that horrible day our lives were overturned and we were left hurting in impossible reality. I got to know a new family, the family of the Carmel calamity," Israel added.