Saleh Abu Rish - Abdallah Shama - 02122011
Saleh Abu Rish visiting the Yarka site for memorials to Carmel blaze victims and Yarka’s war dead. Photo by Abdallah Shama
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Saleh Abu Rish lost his son Wasim in the Carmel fire a year ago, when a bus full of Prison Service cadets was trapped by the flames. Now, Abu Rish is preparing a memorial in a field near his home in the Galilee town of Yarka - not only to his son and the other 43 victims of the fire, but to all the residents of Yarka who have fallen in the line of duty since the founding of the state.

Abu Rish said the image of his cadet son - who left a wife and three children, the youngest of whom was born two months after his death - never leaves him for a moment. "I go to sleep and get up again, and he's before my eyes," he said.

The plot he chose for the memorial, on which he has been working for the past week, has special significance for him and his family, Abu Rish said. "It was expropriated by the Israel Lands Administration years ago, but Wasim and I would always come here, and he really loved this spot and urged me to restore it to the family's ownership. After the disaster, I was thinking about how to memorialize him and thought of this place."

For months, he negotiated with the ILA, with help from the Druze chapter of Yad Labanim, the organization for memorializing fallen soldiers. And finally, he got permission to set up the memorial.

"At the entrance will be two monuments - one in memory of the 44 people who died in the Carmel disaster and the second in memory of the 48 who have fallen from the village of Yarka," he said. He also intends to plant olive trees on the site - one for each of the 92 dead.

In addition to the general memorial, the site will contain a person memorial to Wasim, made of one of the stones Abu Rish cleared from the field. It will bear his picture and a brief history of his life.

"This project is my personal initiative, and I'm also covering all the costs," Abu Rish said. "This is the simplest thing I can do in memory of Wasim, and I think and hope that within four months, toward spring, the work will be complete. I plan to hold a big ceremony at the site, to which the families and many others will be invited."

Like most of the victims' families, Abu Rish is also waiting tensely for the state comptroller's report on the fire. "There's no doubt there were failures and a complete lack of coordination, and also a huge delay in the initial response," he said. "I hope the state comptroller will provide answers to what happened there, and also reach conclusions about those responsible for this failure."