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Fire and brimstoneFire and brimstone

Wave of blazes blamed on divine retribution

Shabbat desecration, planned uprooting of West Bank outposts and muezzin-muffling bill all seen as bringing damnation upon Israel

Firefighters work in a home in Haifa, Israel, Thursday, November 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Firefighters work in a home in Haifa, Israel, Thursday, November 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

While Israeli officials have blamed a rash of fires on a mix of negligence, uncooperative weather and terror-minded firebugs, some Jewish and Muslim religious “authorities” have fingered a more powerful arsonist: God.

Leading Sephardic Rabbi Tzion Boaron asserted that the dozens of fires that destroyed hundreds of homes and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes was punishment for widespread Shabbat desecration.

“Fire only exists where the Shabbat is desecrated,” Boaron said, quoting a passage from the Talmud (Shabbat 119b).

The same passage was invoked in December 2010 by former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef, in relation to the devastating Camel forest fire in which 44 people died.

“It is no coincidence, these things happen to evoke Shabbat observance,” Boaron said according to the Walla news website.

He expressed concern that the growing number of businesses open on Shabbat would make Israel “just like Europe.”

Last week, a leading figure in Israel’s settlement movement asserted the fires were divine punishment for the government’s plans to uproot certain West Bank settlements.

An Israeli firefighter inspects the damage at Beit Meir in the Jerusalem hills, on November 25, 2016. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
An Israeli firefighter inspects the damage at Beit Meir in the Jerusalem hills, on November 25, 2016. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, of the settler community of Elon Moreh, made the controversial statement about the 110 fires recorded in recent days in Israel in a pamphlet published Thursday, the news site Srugim reported.

“Strong winds usually carry rain but now all is dry and flammable. It is God’s hand that does it. The Israeli government is delaying the approval of the Regulation Law,” Levanon wrote in reference to a bill designed to legalize Amona and other West Bank outposts that the Supreme Court have determined to be illegal.

“Until the disgrace of the threat of eviction is lifted from Amona, Ofra and elsewhere, no rain will fall,” he wrote.

Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, head of the Elon Moreh yeshiva, is the chief rabbi of the Samaria settlements and the rabbi of the Kippa website (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash 90)
Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, head of the Elon Moreh yeshiva, is the chief rabbi of the Samaria settlements and the rabbi of the Kippa website (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash 90)

Meanwhile, a senior Hamas official said the fires were punishment for the bill being discussed in the Knesset to limit the volume of calls to prayer at mosques in Israel.

“The fires that broke out in various places in occupied Palestine are a sign of the outrage against the Zionists from the heavens,” Mushir al-Masri said at a Gaza rally over the weekend. “God has warned of this harsh punishment against anyone who desires to prevent the call to prayer at Al-Aqsa or attack mosques.”

In response to these opinions, MK Yehudah Glick wrote on Twitter that he was waiting for someone to blame themselves.

“I am waiting for a rabbi to say, ‘The fire is because of me, because I spoke badly of others, I didn’t help someone, I was not careful in maintaining my honesty etc.,” he wrote.

Last week, dozens of fires raged across Israel — most of them small, but some massive, like one in the port city of Haifa — as dry air, no rain and high winds turned the region into a tinderbox.

Tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate while hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed. Dozens have been hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

On Thursday, 60,000 Haifa residents were evacuated from their homes, in what the city’s mayor called the largest mass civilian mobilization in the country’s history, as a massive blaze encroached on the northern city.

Haifa city officials said the fire — by far the largest conflagration in the past five days — damaged 400-530 homes, leaving over 400 uninhabitable and 37 completely destroyed.

On Sunday morning, authorities said firefighters had gained the upper hand against the blazes, offering a tentative assessment that the series of wildfires had come to an end.

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