Authorities Believe Irate Villagers Felled Carmel Pines

Nearly two dozen felled trees left whole blocking a main road; Authorities see act as a case of revenge for moves taken against illegal logging.

Nearly two dozen pine and cypress trees in the Carmel Forest were felled during the night between Sunday and Monday last week and left blocking a main road. The police have been asked to investigate what the authorities perceive as a case of revenge after equipment was confiscated from Daliat al-Carmel and Isfiya villagers for illegally felling trees in recent weeks.

Each year, as winter approaches, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) comes across illegal logging: People cut down trees for firewood.

"Two weeks ago we ran into people on a tractor cutting down trees. They had a wagon full of logs. They fled and we confiscated the tractor and wagon," says INPA inspecter Alon Levy. Two days later he received phone threats, "which is routine," he says. The next day five downed trees were discovered, apparently the first stage of revenge for the loss of the vehicle.

Then Levy confiscated a truck full of logs with its passengers fleeing as park inspectors arrived. Some 23 trees were cut down in the Carmel area and left whole.

"They cut down the trees as a provocation," says Levy, as if they were saying "Look, we cut down your trees and blocked your road, disrupting traffic."

Levy is the only inspector in the entire greater Haifa area. From October 1, he says, the INPA gives out permits to fell trees for firewood, in a controlled manner. But con men cut down and sell wood on the side. A wagon load of 4 cubic meters of firewood can sell for NIS 1,900.

"The contractors take advantage of the fact that the authorities don't enforce the law," Levy says. He filed a complaint with the police last week but the police are not likely to utilize informants and make arrests. Nor have any suspects been arrested for the dozens of arson cases on the Carmel during the summer.

Fahmi Halabi, chairman of the Protection of Carmel Lands association, which is leading the battle against the INPA, denied weeks ago in conversation with Haaretz that people from Carmel [Carmel City is the official designation of the two merged villages] are the firebugs. However, he added, "The INPA people, who mean to take the last pound of flesh that the people have, are the enemy. We recommend that they not enter the city."