How We Lived on It (30) – Disaster Preparedness

I have been asked to post a link to Act for Israel, where those interested in donating to assist Israel in its response to the human cost of the ongoing Carmel fire, with 41 dead so far, can do so. The direct link for donating is here.

Most immediately, various nations, including Turkey, surprisingly and happily, very quickly, and the U.S. have begun lending specialized aerial firefighting equipment that Israel lacks. This is quite appropriate, as lives and property are still in danger. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that there is no shame in asking for help, and of course he’s right.

Questions have been raised, though, about Israel’s firefighting preparedness and the appropriateness, i.e. the necessity, of donating charitably toward the non-firefighting needs. Here is Jeffrey Goldberg.

Inevitably, the Jewish National Fund, which, among other things, plants forests in Israel, is asking for donations from Americans for its “Forest Fire Emergency Campaign,” in response to the massive fire spreading across the Carmel mountains. But I’m not giving.

Israel’s per capita GDP is nearly $30,000. Israel is a rich country. The fact that it doesn’t possess adequate firefighting equipment is its own fault. The fact that the leadership of its fire service is incompetent is its own fault (you can read more about that here).  At some point, the good-hearted Diaspora Jews who still think of Israel as a charity case are going to have to tell their cousins to learn to fully-fund basic services like firefighting if they want to be thought of as citizens of an advanced country.

There are a great many good causes in Israel that deserve help, and a great many causes here in America that deserve our help. It seems to me, however, that Israel’s national fire service should be funded by Israel’s government, not by the people of Boca Raton, Potomac and the Upper West Side.

My sympathy is with the people who lost their lives, their families, and those still in danger. It is not with a government that appears to be negligent. And I’m not going to contribute funds that might serve to paper-over the government’s inadequacies.

I would say the cat is out of the bag on the subject of Israeli government disaster – not just firefighting – preparedness, and donating to help is not going to paper it over. Goldberg raises a fine question, though, about the need. Israel’s economic health and vibrancy has been one of its big stories in recent years. But there remains, for those who care about Israel, that question of its disaster preparedness, particularly given the threats it faces.

Israel has a population of about 7.5 million people. It has just over 1500 firefighters.

New York City, with a population of 8.2 million, has over 11,000 firefighters.

Los Angeles City, with a population of 3.8 million, half that of Israel, has a firefighting force of 3600, nearly double that of Israel.

Various quarters have already begun to reflect on the unexpected ramifications of what has been revealed by the fire. This if from one of Goldberg’s readers, Dennis Rosen.

Watching how quickly the blaze on the Carmel overwhelmed the Israeli civil defense services, one can’t help but realize just how limited the options of Israel, and the United States, are in regards to Iran.  Yes, the nuclear sites can be bombed, but Israel is simply unprepared to deal with the missile barrage which would follow and lead to enormous devastation that would be compounded by the lack of infrastructure able to contain it. Who would have thought that a forest fire would have such strategic implications?

Something is not right.


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3 thoughts on “How We Lived on It (30) – Disaster Preparedness

  1. Fair point, Jay. I only used a Republican lawmaker in my example to illustrate a broader point. While I was reading Goldberg (who I usually find quite sober, and often illuminating, on Middle East and non-Middle East related topics) it just re-inforced for me the point made by Woody Allen in Annie Hall. Remember the line by Alvy Singer. “Right, I’m a bigot, I know, but for the left.” No, its not a perfect analogy, but Singer’s remarks always remind me of the truism that, often, how a political comment is perceived is often merely result of how the individual uttering the remark is perceived. Gerald Steinberg’s use of the term “Halo Effect” is an apt characterization of this phenomenon.

  2. Hi Jay,

    Let me throw this out – regarding Goldberg’s take on the JNF.

    If a Republican lawmaker had stated, after the devastating tsunamis of 2004, that the U.S. gov’t (and American citizens) shouldn’t donate to tsunami relief funds simply due to the fact that the Indonesian government didn’t devote sufficient resources to nor adequately prepared for the possibility of such a catastrophe, don’t you think he or she would have been condemned for being callous, insensitive, and imperious?

    1. Adam, that’s a fair question. It’s one thing to choose not to give oneself, another to call on others not to. It does sound hardhearted. But I don’t think we need to make it a matter of Republican vs. something else. I don’t think Goldberg was writing as a Democrat, but as someone with a strong relationship to Israel who has a much greater interest in that nation and its governance than he does in Indonesia. More to the point, I think, I tried to clarify a distinction Goldberg did not make – between aiding in the fire fighting, which nations have rushed to do, and giving charitably to support the expense of the aftermath. Goldberg’s point was that Israel can afford that on its own – and that’s a good thing. Indonesia has a per capita income roughly a tenth of Israel’s.

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