Police Commissioner David Cohen yesterday awarded medals of distinction posthumously to Deputy Commander Lior Boker, Deputy Commander Ahuva Tomer and Chief Superintendent Itzik Malina, who were killed in the Carmel fire. The ceremony was preceded by a storm: Some of the families of the Prison Service cadets who perished in the December blaze petitioned the High Court of Justice, arguing that no medals should be awarded until the state comptroller concludes his investigation into the disaster.
The justices rejected the petition, but said it was one of the most difficult decisions they had ever made. In their ruling, they wrote that there were no findings that refuted the heroic actions of the three police officers.
Nava Boker, the widow of Lior Boker, received the award in his name yesterday.
Were you glad the medals were still awarded to the police officers, despite the petition to the High Court?
"I felt great relief at the court's decision, as much as it is possible to be happy in this situation, because it isn't a situation that makes us happy. The whole situation arose out of sorrow and anguish. We take great satisfaction in the court ruling depicting them as heroes. Yesterday we went to Jerusalem and received the medals in the names of our loved ones."
Were you insulted by the petition the cadets' families presented to the High Court?
"I was insulted by their request; it hurt us deeply. We should not have had to get to this sad and painful place at all. We are talking about people who died heroically, and unfortunately there are people who do not appreciate this heroism as they should, and who asked for a delay in awarding the medals. The arguments they voiced hurt us deeply, which is also completely improper. According to all the investigations that were done, there is no doubt that the three officers could have fled the scene, but chose to stay behind and save lives.
"As far as my husband is concerned, I can state unequivocally that there is evidence, communicated to me by the last person to speak to Lior when he was alive, which shows that Lior told him, 'I'm staying here' in order to help. I have no doubt that Lior would not have behaved any other way; I wouldn't have expected anything else from him. It is simply sad and painful that people can think any other way, despite the fact that things are clear."
Were the petitioners wrong in their argument, that the medals should be delayed until the state comptroller finishes his investigation?
"It is important to me to clarify this: The medal is awarded for an act of courage which may serve as an example, and there is no doubt that the three officers acted courageously and with determination, risking and sacrificing their lives in order to save other lives. They could have escaped in a car, but they chose to remain behind with the cadets. If that isn't courage, what is?
"We are talking about a desire to commemorate as well as to educate the future generation to help others - so a situation won't occur in which people say: 'People gave their lives for a sacred goal, and in the end they not only weren't appreciated, but mud was thrown in their face.'"
Have you spoken with the petitioners?
"No. It was very hard for me to do that, because I felt the very hurt. My husband after all tried to save the lives of their children and paid with his own life, and if they don't think that this deserves their appreciation, then I haven't got anything to say.
"It is simply pure hate. When the firefighters received their medals a few months ago, why didn't anyone say anything? After all, there was no comptroller's report then either. Why now, when the police officers were to get medals? Why didn't they complain back then?"
Some of them see the fact that the road wasn't blocked as the cause of the tragic deaths.
"Lior and Ahuva arrived there by accident. They were on their way to Givat Wolfson, to save peoples' lives, to save the lives of residents who were reported to be trapped there and who were in danger. When they were forced to use the part of the road wrapped in flames, they spotted the cadets' bus, which was on its way to the Damon Prison, and they simply stopped and started to help them because the bus was trapped in the fire."
Why has nearly everything connected to the Carmel blaze and the families of the victims created so many grievances?
"I think the same way as [Supreme Court president] Justice Dorit Beinisch, who said explicitly that they are not aiming their anger at the right place. They must investigate the truth, but they are not moving in the right direction at all. The fact that the police officers received medals is not something that will help them.
"Instead of searching for guilty parties, I think they should start considering how the next Carmel disaster, Carmel number 2, can be prevented. I, for example, am busy with the memorial and the positive ways I can commemorate my husband, and not bothering others or pointing an accusing finger at anyone. I am busy with activities that are aimed at developing an airborne firefighting unit."
Were you surprised by the protest staged yesterday by the cadets' families?
"I didn't know about their plans. It pained me very much that they held their event right opposite ours. It shows that these people haven't got one drop of compassion in their hearts; it is sad and pains me very much."
Is the divide between the cadets' families and the families of the police officers impossible to bridge?
"I am sorry that there is a rift, even among the cadets themselves; not every family holds the same opinion as the petitioners. The police officers' families are not necessarily united either, each one has its own opinion and path, but in a situation like this there is cooperation - we are definitely together on this."
Some of the families of those who were killed say they have not received any answers from the government. Do you feel you are getting sufficient answers?
"Yes, definitely. The investigation was presented to us, as it was to all the victims' families, though there was one family that did not want to see it. It was a joint inquiry involving the police, the Prison Service and the firefighters, and they all said the same thing: the police officers acted heroically.
"The short film shown last week reflects the same thing. Under the circumstances, they had no alternative the moment the bus turned around... The fire approached at a rate of 500 to 700 meters a second - understand what that means - and unfortunately they were caught in the fire.
"In any case, the medal is not what's important. What's important is the appreciation of the police officers and that is what the judges said as well: Lior, Ahuva and Malina were all heroes. For me, my husband Lior will always be a real hero, with or without a medal."