Palestinians' Response to Israel’s Fires: If It's Intentional, It's Madness

Fires in Israel have been cheered by online comments from Gaza and Arab countries, but many other Palestinians say: These are our trees and lands, so why destroy them?

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Israel fire: People flee as fires rages in Haifa, November 24, 2016.
Israel fire: People flee as fires rages in Haifa, November 24, 2016.Credit: Gil Eliyahu
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

“How do you think the fire broke out next to you, near the military base Neveh Yair?” I asked by phone, speaking to friends at the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh after making sure the fire was far enough away and they were safe.

“Oh, it’s the army,” said a friend even before it was reported that a careless soldier might have tossed away a burning cigarette.

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People in the village have stopped counting how many times their fields have caught fire from the stun grenades and tear gas thrown by soldiers to quash demonstrations against settlers stealing their springwater.

“Are you sure it wasn’t intentional?” I asked; it was clear I was referring to the possibility that a Palestinian had set the fire.

A friend said: “That’s impossible. And if someone did it on purpose, it’s madness, irrational and wrong. It’s nature and the environment that get hurt; trees and animals.”

There were reports about a fire breaking out near the settlement of Mevo Horon, and about the evacuation of hikers from Canada Park in the Latrun enclave. I called an acquaintance who lives in the village of Beit Liqya, beyond the separation barrier.

“How do you think it happened?” I asked after making sure he was safe. “Someone threw a cigarette from a passing car,” he concluded.

The acquaintance is originally from Beit Nuba. The army expelled the residents of his village and the neighboring villages Yalo and Imwas immediately after they were conquered in the 1967 war. Mevo Horon was built on Beit Nuba’s lands. The Jewish National Fund built Canada Park on the ruins of Yalo and Imwas. The name honors the Canadian Jews who donated money for it.

“And the fire isn’t intentional, in your opinion?” I asked. My acquaintance realized I was referring to the suspicions that Palestinians had set the fire.

“First, no Palestinian is allowed to get to that area, apart from the laborers in the settlements who need their wages,” he said. “Second, it’s our trees there, our dead who are buried in the graveyards there, the water cisterns dug by our grandfathers. We’ll return there, so why destroy it?”

Reports on Arab news sites about the fire led to rants. There were comments that the (Zionist) entity would burn – punishment for the bill to ban mosques from broadcasting the call to prayer over loudspeakers, the hand of God. There were quotes from the Koran corroborating this, as well as criticism of the Palestinian Authority, which would once again offer its firefighting equipment.

A nonscientific examination shows that many of the people gloating are residents of neighboring countries (Egypt, Jordan). The Gazans rooting for the fire only reveal how much Israel’s closure of the Strip has disconnected them from the rest of their people. Don’t they know that Palestinians live in Haifa and around it? Don’t they know there are Palestinian prisoners at Damon Prison? (On the village Damon destroyed in 1948.)

Indeed there are numerous other posts, written by Palestinians, mocking the gloaters and raging against them for forgetting that “the trees are our trees, the land our land, the country our country.”

Someone wrote: “Stop your nonsense. Fire has broken out in Jordan as well. What is God punishing it for?”

The collective suspicions against the Palestinians voiced by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spread through the Israeli brush of arrogance and prejudice.

“The automatic suspicion hides a deep, surprising insight, not only ignorance and racism,” a Palestinian friend from the Galilee said. “The Jewish Israelis apparently realize that Israel’s oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people and our loss of hope are taking on apocalyptic proportions. The Israelis expect our answer to oppression to be apocalyptic too. And it’s not.”

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