Bereaved families struck out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday during a stormy meeting convened to discuss the state comptroller’s finding on the 2010 Carmel blaze disaster.
“Forty-four people were killed, not 44 cockroaches, in one of the worst disasters the state of Israel has known since its establishment,” Ze’ev Even-Chen yelled out during the meeting.
Even-Chen is a former police official who lost his daughter in the blaze.
“In recent days we were exposed to some of the facts and we were shocked,” he said.
Netanyahu blamed the disastrous effects of the blaze, which scorched the north of the country and left 44 people dead, on a lack of firefighting aircraft.
Amid the shouting at the meeting, with stewards trying to quieten the relatives, Netanyahu said empathetically at one point that, “I want to hug you.”
Netanyahu was speaking to a meeting of the State Control Committee, which convened to review the State Comptroller report into the fire.The worst in the country’s history, it led to much anguish and wide-ranging reforms in the country’s firefighting services.
Netanyahu said that the firefighters were not able to tackle the blaze because they did not have firefighting aircraft at their disposal.
“That was the fundamental problem,” Netanyahu said. “What makes the difference is the ability to act from the air.”
“There is no way to deal with giant fires except with planes,” he continued. “I am saying that because that fundamental distinction was what was missing in the fire-fighting service. I was also unaware of it.”
Netanyahu responded to the families by saying the blaze was relatively minor.
“There are huge fires in California, Siberia, Canada, Greece. These fires span expanses of the territory larger than the entire State of Israel. Incidentally, there are no state inquiries,” he said.
During the blaze, Netanyahu appealed for international help, with several countries donating aircraft, including the US’s Evergreen Supertanker, the world’s largest firefighting plane.
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav told the meeting the blame lay squarely on inadequate procedures in the police and fire services, including nepotism.
“In recent years I’ve noticed that within the uniformed units, promotion works on a principle of ‘friends help each other’,” he said, and added that anyone who was disciplined over the disaster should leave the service.
Fire Service Commissioner Shahar Ayalon said that those who were criticized in the comptroller report will not be promoted within the next two years.
“I contacted them and told them that I don’t see any promotions in the near future,” he said.
The Knesset State Control Committee session to review the Carmel forest fire disaster report was rescheduled at the eleventh hour on Tuesday, following threats by victims’ families to boycott the meeting because the press was to be barred.
The special session of the committee was scheduled to take place at the Prime Minister’s Bureau and without media participation. But following pressure from the victims’ families, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, and State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, it was moved to the Knesset building where it is usually held.