The Caprices of a Pesky Lawmaker

I called for an examination of Israel's firefighting services in the Knesset -- in June 1968.

"Just as it would never occur to anyone that the army or police should belong to the local authorities, how can we tolerate local fire services? How can we endure a situation in which the fire services belong to Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Bnei Brak ... and the only national authority is an atrophied entity in the Interior Ministry, which issues regulations that are either obeyed or disobeyed at will? Why should a small country like ours not have a national fire service, under a national command, with a national headquarters? We are lagging 50 to 80 years behind, maintaining a system that existed back in the days of community governance. Why not set up a simple, modern system? The entire issue of firefighting should be taken away from the local governments. We need a national corps, a national commander!"

These words were not spoken this week, or even five or 10 years ago, when ministers "warned" us, covered their rears and then went to sleep. I spoke them in the Knesset on June 10, 1968.

fire - David Bachar - December 9 2010
David Bachar

I was then the youngest member of Knesset, and upon entering parliament, I decided to reexamine all the country's existing arrangements, all its accepted practices, and propose practical reforms in every field, from transporting soldiers to establishing a national administration for the beaches.

A few large fires which exposed serious problems led me to propose a national firefighting corps. It seemed so logical to me that I wondered why it had never been proposed before. How was it possible to leave the fire services in the hands of individual towns, almost all of which were chronically bankrupt, many of which were corrupt and all of which were subordinated to partisan bickering?

The political system treated my proposal as just another one of that pesky young MK's caprices. The media, which couldn't contain their anger over the failure this week, ignored my proposal entirely back then. And, as is the norm in our neck of the woods, nothing was done.

The events of last week exposed not only the weakness and corruption of the political system, but also the dangers that are lying in wait around the corner. What happened over the past week was in effect a dress rehearsal for the next war, which will undoubtedly dwarf the Carmel fire disaster. Thousands of missiles will land throughout the country and ignite numerous conflagrations simultaneously.

This week, we saw just how unprepared we are for this. Once again, we witnessed the typical Israeli traits in all their glory: zero ability to plan ahead, abundant ability to improvise. Thus we had the simple, ordinary heroes: the firefighters, the policemen, the paramedics, the ordinary citizens. And thus we had a gang of good-for-nothings in the pathetic show called "the cabinet meeting" in Tirat Carmel.

There are a great many reasons to avoid war. This week, we discovered another one: The home front is not prepared - and it's hard to believe it ever will be prepared. The next war won't be another picnic somewhere over there on a distant front. As a Syrian leader said this week: The next war will have no winners, only victims.

Forty-two years after I originally made my proposal, I am urging it again with all my might: Set up not only a national firefighting corps, headed by a national commander and a national headquarters, but also a Ministry of Home Front Defense, headed by a minister, that will combine the police, the firefighting corps, the Magen David Adom ambulance service and all the other services that will have to work together during any emergency.

That won't happen without a state commission of inquiry headed by someone of the stature of former Supreme Court presidents Aharon Barak or Meir Shamgar. Not another committee like the Turkel Committee, but a real state commission of inquiry, with full powers, whose members will be chosen by the current Supreme Court president. And public opinion will have to ensure that its recommendations are implemented.

If that doesn't happen, then Ahuva Tomer, that wonderful Haifa police chief, died in vain, and with her all the rest of those killed in this disaster - victims of governmental stupidity.