Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday night that a series of fire raging across the country in recent days, a number of which are believed to be arson, could only have been set by “someone who this land this does not belong to,” making a seemingly oblique reference to Arabs.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated Wednesday that there were signs that some of the wildfires were deliberately set and reached out for foreign assistance to help douse the flames.
Bennett on Wednesday night took to Twitter to write that “only someone who this land does not belong to would be capable of setting fire to it,” a sentiment which seems aimed at Palestinians and/or members of Israel’s Arab community.
Bennett is head of the nationalist-religious Jewish Home party, a champion of the settlement enterprise and a strong opponent to the idea of a Palestinian state, on religious as well as security grounds. Bennett has repeatedly called for annexing parts of the West Bank and granting the Palestinians in other parts expanded autonomy, with new roads, office parks and economic opportunities, with Israel retaining overall security control.
Maj.-Gen. Amos Yaakov, commander of the Coastal District police, said Wednesday morning that police were looking into suspicions the series of fires could have been caused by nationalistically motivated arson attacks.
“When you’re battling six fronts at once, your suspicions run high, but I cannot say for sure,” he said.
Israel has faced a number of brush fires believed to have been deliberately set, including one this past May a when police released footage showing a male figure disappearing into some bushes near the Ofrit military base and Hadassah Hospital in Mount Scopus, before fleeing in the direction of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya. The suspected attack was the third in two days in the same area and the seventh nationwide that week.
On Wednesday, firefighters brought under control wildfires in the northern communities of Zichron Yaakov and Gilon, allowing some evacuated residents to return to their homes. Police also planned to bolster security forces’s presence in the area, as suspicions grew that arson was the cause of some of the fires.
A fire in Neve Ilan near Jerusalem was still going strong as of early Thursday morning. A number of firefighting teams was dispatched to battle the blaze.
Fires also broke out on Tuesday and Wedesday near Hadera, Lachish, the Haifa suburb of Nesher, the Etzion Bloc, and outside the northern town of Kfar Vradim.