Lethal fire and a political smokescreen
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Lethal fire and a political smokescreen

A terror attack leaves an 11-year-old seriously injured, and government officials feel the heat over corruption charges

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

A car destroyed after it was hit by a Molotov cocktail on December 25, 2014 in the West Bank. Ayala Shapira, 11, was seriously injured, while her father, Avner, sustained light injuries. (photo credit: Judea and Samaria Fire Department)
A car destroyed after it was hit by a Molotov cocktail on December 25, 2014 in the West Bank. Ayala Shapira, 11, was seriously injured, while her father, Avner, sustained light injuries. (photo credit: Judea and Samaria Fire Department)

A firebombing in the West Bank, which left an 11-year-old Israeli girl seriously injured Thursday evening, leads the news coverage in all three national dailies on Friday, followed by the continued high-level graft probe embroiling Yisrael Beytenu.

Ayala Shapira was on her way home from her extracurricular classes with her father, and had a bat mitzvah to attend later that evening, the papers report. When the firebomb struck their car at around 6 p.m., the vehicle caught on fire, and Shapira sustained third-degree burns on her head and upper body and is fighting for her life.

Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth highlight the dramatic details of the terror attack — the car going up in flames, the father grabbing his severely wounded daughter and carrying her on foot on the highway — while Haaretz provides a straightforward account of the attack.

“Rut Shapira stands next to her daughter’s bed in the ICU and prays. She doesn’t know if her daughter will live through the night,” Yedioth Ahronoth reports.

“Ayala screamed that her seat belt was stuck,” recalled her father, Avner Shapira. “I yelled at her to get out, and she finally managed. I don’t know if she extracted herself, or if the seat belt burned. With the help of God, we were saved.”

Ayala Shapira (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ayala Shapira (photo credit: Courtesy)

The paper features an op-ed by Abie Moses, who lost his wife and son in a 1987 firebombing, on its front pages.

“The gentle girl’s damaged psyche won’t go back to what it was. In a minute and a half, the fire from the cursed Molotov cocktail on the car will change the Shapiras’ lives beyond recognition. The physical scars can heal, but the psychological scars will never fade,” he writes. “But despite it all, you lift your head and move forward…. You decide that you will fight and not throw your hands up.”

Israel Hayom spotlights comments from the girl’s mother, who praises her daughter’s resourcefulness.

“Ayala is a very special girl. Exceptionally smart. She was on her way home from a math course for gifted students at Bar-Ilan University. The firebomb landed directly on her and ignited. She managed to get free, get out of the car and roll away, and — in effect — saved her life. If she hadn’t been so resourceful, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now,” she said.

The papers on Friday also address the ongoing corruption scandal, with dozens of government officials — several of them affiliated with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party — arrested on allegations of bribery and embezzlement of funds.

The Hebrew papers offer conflicting reports on whether the police have found state witnesses to testify, with Israel Hayom — quoting a Channel 2 report — writing that there is at least one state witness. Yedioth reports that there are two state witnesses, but says the police refuse to comment. And Haaretz reports that the police are trying to sign a deal with a key witness.

Haaretz writes that Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum — one of the central figures in the case — is accused of embezzling funds through Russian media and poll companies via the Israel Anti-Drug Authority. According to the report, Kirshenbaum allegedly transferred large sums of money to the drug authority’s director Yair Geller (also arrested), who, in turn, used the money to purchase ads favorable to Kirshenbaum and the Yisrael Beytenu party, priced far above the cost.

Kirshenbaum’s daughter remains in police custody, on suspicion that she purchased an apartment in Ramat Gan using bribe money, the papers report.

MK Faina Kirshenbaum at the Knesset, July 20, 2011. (photo credit: Omer Miron/Flash90)
Faina Kirshenbaum in the Knesset, July 20, 2011. (photo credit: Omer Miron/Flash90)

Yedioth writes that although Kirshenbaum is thought to have been involved in 15 different cases, she is the only one out of the 30 suspects who isn’t in jail, in part due to her diplomatic immunity as a Knesset member.

Meanwhile, Haaretz’s Yossi Verter argues that the political ramifications of the graft case are far-reaching, and will likely strengthen the right-wing camp.

“It’s still too soon to say how damaging the blow will be. But quite possibly, December 24, 2014, will go down as the most significant day of the election campaign,” he writes.

“Liberman was supposed to be the linchpin of the mechanism to unseat Netanyahu, together with Moshe Kahlon and his new Kulanu party — the two have already signed a surplus-vote agreement — and the leaders of Labor, Yesh Atid and Meretz. If Yisrael Beytenu remains under a heavy cloud of corruption and inner-rot suspicions, some of its seats could be lost to parties like the Likud, Jewish Home, and maybe Kulanu. Overall, the right-wing camp could be the principal beneficiary of Liberman’s public-opinion collapse.”

Yedioth also reports the dismissal of a battalion commander in the Israel Defense Forces, who was accused of sexual harassment and indecent assault of two of his subordinates. IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz opted to dismiss commander Liran Hajbi even though the investigation has not yet concluded. Gantz stressed that, although he has been removed from his position, he has not been formally booted from the IDF.

If a criminal indictment is filed against him, he will be kicked out of the army, the paper reports. Hajbi has been on vacation since the emergence of the accusations against him.

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