Making virtue of necessity in the aftermath of the fires

Picture: Guy Shachar

Picture: Guy Shachar

November has passed and winter is “in the air” throughout most of the northern hemisphere – cold, rainy and, in some places, even snowy. But, in Israel this November, with unseasonably high temperatures and no rain on the horizon, most people were still wearing short sleeves. Dry weather, together with strong winds is ideal for the spread of fires – and Israel has been hit by an unprecedented wave of wildfires. Haifa, Zichron Ya’akov, Hadera, Atlit, Modi’in, Rishon Letzion, the Jerusalem hills and the Western Galilee all had to deal with major conflagrations, with new blazes constantly appearing. Streets were closed, numerous houses went up in flames, thousands of people were evacuated, many were injured and left homeless and numerous natural areas were ravaged. Whether accidental or the result of arson, extremely dry air, along with high temperatures and strong winds, affect a fire’s scope and spread – and the chance that it will lead to widespread damage that can take years to reverse. 


Former commander of the Israeli police, Shalom Tzarom, who used to head the division of arson and fire related crimes, in an interview to IBA news during the current fires says that: "Many of the fires are an outcome of neglect and lack of education of both the Jewish and Arab population in Israel. There is no doubt that the carelessness of many travelers has its toll on fires in open areas. This is a phenomenon that must be rooted out and it order to do so there needs to be a vast educational effort which should start today. This is the only way to restore public awareness to the subject as it is currently very problematic". 


While the reasons for the current wave of fires are still under investigation, an analysis of previous data shows that most blazes were caused by humans – the result of carelessness, lack of awareness or neglect. At the Council for a Beautiful Israel we believe that prevention is the best way to deal with fires and other man-made disasters and that the impact of the human factor can be reduced through value-oriented education emphasizing personal responsibility. Although these tragedies are sometimes quick to leave our minds, these efforts, though rising from disastrous momentum, make virtue of necessity and give birth to programs that may diminish human-caused calamities in the long-run.


Following the tragic huge Mt. Carmel fire in 2010, which took the life of 44 people and caused horrific ecological damage, Beautiful Israel's Center for Environmental Studies launched a unique educational program, teaching children and youth about the importance of active citizenship and personal responsibility. This initiative and the values it instills possess enormous added value, extending to numerous aspects of civic life and the environment and encouraging suitable behavior norms in a nation already faced with many other challenges.


Adapted for both elementary and middle schools, the “Active Citizenship – Personal Responsibility” program deals with the impact of human behavior in the public sphere, exposing participants to environmental and social norms, principles of good, responsible citizenship, awareness, caution and reporting; they acquire leadership tools and learn how to bring about change among their neighbors and acquaintances.