Israel Must Stop Abandonment of Carmel Fire Victims

Treasury officials argue that giving compensation to victims of the Carmel fire who had not insured or had under-insured their property could harm Israel’s insurance industry.

In a few days, it will be five months since the Mount Carmel forest fire, which killed 44 people. It consumed more than 50 houses and devastated tens of thousands of dunams.

Three days after the conflagration broke out, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gathered his cabinet for a special meeting in Tirat Hacarmel. In so doing, he wanted to show his commitment to rehabilitating the victims of both the disaster and the long neglect of the fire services.

Netanyahu announced − before the cameras and microphones − that he would defeat bureaucracy, cut through the red tape and provide speedy solutions. He promised that “within a few days all the people [displaced] will be able to return to their homes.”

Revital Hoval’s expose in Haaretz on Friday revealed a considerable gap between the grandiose promises and great expectations, on the one hand, and what has actually been done since the fire, on the other.

The article showed that dozens of families in Beit Oren, Ein Hod and Givat Wolfson are crowded into prefab homes, hastily set up as a temporary living solution until their houses are renovated. The remnants of their homes still stand, while the fire’s victims are immersed in wearisome negotiations with Finance Ministry officials over the compensation they are entitled to. People who were left without a roof over their heads and lost everything they owned are still in a state of uncertainty over how much compensation they will receive and how it will be paid. Some of them have lost hope that the prime minister will keep his word and are preparing to sue the state. Their representatives estimate that the overall compensation does not exceed NIS 30 million.

The Finance Ministry responded that the state is committed to provide a “social solution” to the fire victims whose property had not been insured or whose insurance did not cover all the damage. Treasury officials argue that giving compensation to people who had not insured or had under-insured their property could harm Israel’s insurance industry.

This principle is not applicable to the Carmel fire disaster, as it combined both a forest fire of rare intensity and fire services unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with such a challenge.

The prime minister should be expected to keep his promise and instruct his finance minister to immediately halt the government’s exhausting bargaining with a handful of people who have been traumatized by a terrible experience and only want a proper roof over their heads.