It's Time Israel Takes Responsibility for Its Forest Fires

Haaretz Editorial
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Jerusalem hills on Monday
Haaretz Editorial

The firefighters and Jewish National Fund personnel who strove to extinguish the huge fire in the Jerusalem hills said the blaze acted unusually. Unlike other huge fires in recent years, it wasn’t fanned by extremely dry weather and strong winds. The reasons why the fire grew so big, experts agree, should be sought not in extreme weather conditions, but in the abnormal state of the forests. Prolonged heat waves dried out the vegetation and made it extremely flammable.

Heat waves are the most salient characteristic of the climate crisis in our region. As the crisis worsens in the coming years, which it will in every foreseeable scenario, these heat waves will become even more extreme and frequent. The ramifications of this situation aren’t only visible in Israel. Dozens of countries in the Northern Hemisphere have been coping with huge fires this summer, including almost all the countries in the Mediterranean basin. In other words, the forest fires in Israel are a reflection of the climate crisis, and they will only become more common, severe and dangerous.

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Given all this, the ongoing failure by all our governmental agencies to address the problem of fires in open areas is striking. Following the disastrous Carmel Fire in 2010, the Knesset passed the Fire and Rescue Services Act. This law mandated the enactment of regulations to protect communities from fires. Such regulations, which included mandates to create buffer zones around communities, put in water lines and preposition firefighting equipment, were indeed prepared by the Public Security Ministry back in 2014. But they were never approved by the Knesset or budgeted by the Finance Ministry.

The issue of coping with forest fires is further proof that the necessity of addressing the changing climate hasn’t yet sunk in for decision makers in either the state government or local governments.

This may also be why some politicians, in cooperation with certain Israeli media outlets, are still busy looking for people to blame for supposedly setting these fires out of “nationalistic” motives. Experience shows that it’s rare for fires to be set out of nationalist motives, because there’s no need for malice to start a blaze. A single tossed cigarette butt or a grill that wasn’t properly extinguished is enough to burn down an entire forest.

We are entering a new era in which giant fires will become a part of life, and it won’t be possible to avoid them. To reduce the damage they cause and the risk of harm to people and the landscape, authorities must internalize the gravity of the situation and take immediate action. This means approving the regulations and increasing the budget for managing open areas and fighting fires, investing in educating the public to be careful about fires, and strictly enforcing the ban on lighting fires in open areas during times when the risk of a wildfire is high.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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