Arson Strikes a Galilee Town - Again, and Again, and Again

A week and a half ago, a wedding hall in the small town of Hatzor Haglilit was torched. Three months ago, a lawyer's office burned, and between the two events, a pharmacy was also set on fire. Three years ago, the car of local council head Shaul Kamisa was torched, and a printing house also burned down. A garage was set alight three times, and a curtain factory and other places suffered a similar fate.

Other kinds of fire aren't held in the Galilee town, either: Last week, men on a motorbike shot two people in the town's industrial zone. A 40-year-old resident was badly wounded, and his friend, 37, was moderately wounded.

How can it be that after more than 12 arson attacks in the past three years, the police have not arrested even one suspect? The police cannot answer that question. Superintendent Avi Maor, the commander of the Jordan police station, has promised that "the problem will be solved shortly," but the residents are not satisfied. They feel helpless in face of the regular arsons.

Albert and Aliza Gabbai are among the most recent victims. About a year and a half ago, the small wedding hall they own was torched. The family renovated and reopened, but a week and a half ago, it was once again set on fire.

"I said to myself, okay, they burned it down once, but a second time? It can't be," Aliza Gabbai says. The couple has been living in Hatzor Haglilit for 43 years; two years ago, they expanded the hall to host 200 guests. People in Hatzor are convinced that someone decided to let them know they went too far. When they refused to get it, the hall was torched a second time.

Rafi Gigi, who owns the local newspaper Mabat Le'hatzor and the town printing press, points an accusatory finger at the police.

"If they don't solve the first case, and the second, and the third and the fourth, it snowballs and the criminals see that it pays," he says. "In the industrial area of Tzahar, next to Hatzor, they tried to blackmail the owner of a very large firm. The issue was solved. They brought in special police forces, who sat there until the criminals disappeared. Can't the same thing be done in Hatzor? Are we less important?"

Gigi's printing press is 200 meters from the Gabbai family's wedding hall. Three years ago it was torched and destroyed. He believes that his paper printed too many articles that angered local readers. "It would have been better had I kept quiet," he says with regret. "After an arson, you get scared. It doesn't leave you, and you become paranoid. You have the feeling that the next blow is waiting just around the corner."

Natan Partuk owns an insurance company in the town, and has been very busy dealing with fire damage. "This has become very problematic territory. If the Gabbai family has been affected, it's not a good sign. They are a quiet and respectable family that has not harmed a soul. They simply want to earn an honest living. The person who torched the place did so in the middle of the day. It's someone who isn't afraid of a soul," he says.

"Once upon a time, life here was peaceful," says Ezra Ne'eman, 52, the owner of a carpentry shop. Ne'eman has lived in the town his entire life. "There was a feeling of family here, and an atmosphere of solidarity. Now everything has changed. My children no longer live here: One moved to the Golan Heights and the other to Beit She'an. It's sad, but they didn't see their future in this place."

The Gabbais' daughter, Vered, also moved, to the neighboring moshav of Sdeh Eliezer. Her sister built a home on Kibbutz Sdeh Nehemia.

"I don't plan to set foot in Hatzor; it has turned into the Wild West," she says sadly. "How can you raise children there?"

Superintendent Maor, whose station is in charge of Hatzor, says that he understands the residents' frustration. "The police are taking action to solve the cases," he says. "The problem is not the quantity of policemen or the emphasis on their presence there."

He says that the police have "succeeded in preventing a large number of crimes in the Hatzor industrial zone."