December 7, 2010
By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
Lawmakers discuss how best to coordinate aid.
Although MKs were still busy on Monday assigning – and deflecting – blame for the Carmel fire, the first Knesset hearing held on the blaze focused not on the cause of the fire, but on the solutions to the problems that emerged as a result.
The Immigration, Absorption and Public Diplomacy Committee met to discuss how to coordinate donations and fund-raising for the people, communities and parks damaged in the four-day conflagration.
Committee chairman MK Danny Danon (Likud) said that on Sunday, a number of Diaspora organizations had requested that the Knesset committee aid in organizing and centralizing the mobilization of Jewish communities to help restore the Carmel.
“We cannot wait weeks or months to restore this unique natural gem,” Danon said.
“There has been great damage done to many families, to infrastructures and to the forests themselves, and we must act quickly and with the cooperation of world Jewish communities to provide aid.”
A number of the world’s largest Jewish organizations participated in the hearing, during which they discussed both the damage incurred by the fires as well as their fundraising efforts to help restore the Carmel region.
Jewish National Fund chairman Efi Stenzler described the current situation as “a moment of truth for the Jewish world, the non-Jewish world and residents of Israel. The JNF’s forests took a very serious blow – nearly 50,000 dunams of forests were burned and their rehabilitation will continue for years to come.”
Stenzler called upon people both in Israel and abroad to donate funds to restore the firedamaged areas, emphasizing that “together we can bring the green back to the Carmel.”
The JNF’s American branch, Stenzler reported, donated $1 million on Sunday to aid immediate restoration efforts.
The American Jewish Committee reported that it has raised $100,000 in recent days to aid in the restoration.
Mudi Zandberg, chairman of the United Israel Appeal, said his organization is “currently holding hearings and meetings in preparation for the restoration effort. We have started a collection of donations from Jews from all over the world and there is great interest and readiness to donate.”
Zandberg said that on Sunday, a delegation from former Soviet states arrived in Israel, and traveled directly to the Carmel forest to see the situation for themselves. On Thursday, they will head to Russia for a fund-raising event.
The World Zionist Organization reported that it has directed resources toward providing rest and relaxation for the thousands of residents who were evacuated from their homes. On Monday, the Jewish Agency for Israel took 1,300 children from the Carmel region to a “fun day” in Tel Aviv's Luna park for Hanukka activities and to allow their parents to focus on getting their households back together.
The Foreign Ministry reported that it is developing a longterm plan centered around having international Jewish communities adopt Carmel communities damaged in the fire. The partner communities would aid their adoptees in acquiring firefighting equipment and fire stations, as well as partnering with specific families who suffered losses.
In a letter submitted to the committee, the Nature and Parks Authority presented its initial assessment of the costs of the fire that damaged approximately 45,000 dunams of the Carmel National Park.
The over NIS 1.6 million budget includes restoring the bird compound and fire equipment at the Hai-Bar animal preserve, restoring fire roads and firefighting equipment, and restoring campgrounds and picnic areas.
An estimated 100 homes were completely destroyed in the blaze, while an additional 200 suffered damage. The total estimated financial damage due to the fire is estimated at NIS 1 billion, some of which will be supplied in the form of aid from the government, while the rest will come from private sources. That cost does not, however, take into consideration the improvement of Israel’s fire services, which has been estimated to bear a hefty NIS 2b. price tag.