It’s amazing how many things can be wrong with one little sentence.
Nov 24th was the day fires started appearing in different places in Haifa. 60,000 people were evacuated from 12 neighborhoods in the city. The day before the fires were in Zichron Ya’acov. Throughout the week fires appeared in towns in the north and center of the country.
I don’t remember when I started getting Facebook notifications requesting I mark myself “safe from the brush fires.” At the time, I was more focused on the flames in my neighborhood than my social media notifications. When things started to calm down I could focus on the beeping of my phone. That’s when I began to get angry.
Before I go further, I want to make it very clear that Facebook is an example, a symptom indicative of an attitude. They are not the problem itself.
Activating the “Safety Check In” feature
I suppose I should be pleased Facebook decided to turn on the Safety Check In feature for us. Although the feature was invented and developed in Israel for Facebook I only remember it being used once before – when a parking garage in Tel Aviv collapsed, trapping a number of people. It seems that none of the terror attacks we’ve experienced have been deemed significant enough or of wide enough impact to merit turning on this feature.
In an article on Israel21c, they reported: In the wake of the Paris tragedy, some 4.1 million people checked in with friends and relatives using the Safety Check feature, and around 360 million people received automatic messages through it from friends in Paris who had marked themselves as “safe.”
The feature was initially intended for use in natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. It was the enthusiastic response of users following the terror attacks in Paris that led Facebook to decide to apply the feature for “man-made disasters” as well.
The “brush fires in Haifa” were deemed significant enough to turn on the feature.
So why did I get angry?
There were two major issues in the one little question: “bush fires” and “safe”.
Bush fires are what happens in places like Australia when the weather is too dry. They are natural disasters, terrible and with some of the same outcomes as what we experienced. Bush fires spread over vast amounts of territory. They don’t spontaneously combust in multiple, disconnected neighborhoods. They also don’t begin with Molotov cocktails.
What we experienced was man-made, deliberate arson. It wasn’t a bush fire or a forest fire. It was people targeting everything we hold dear: our homes, our wildlife and our land.
In 2010 there was a terrible fire in the Carmel Forest (which is right next to Haifa). It was caused by human negligence, exacerbated by weather conditions and because of some poor decisions, caused the death of 44 people. That was a forest fire. It consumed trees. What we just experienced was a wave of fires deliberately ignited in green areas in the middle of neighborhoods.
One could say, “But Facebook didn’t know what caused the fires so they just said bush fires.” Yes. Maybe. On the other hand, on the day of the fires in Haifa the experts already knew that the fires that occurred the day before in Zichron were not natural. The bizarre suddenness of fires popping up within the neighborhoods of Haifa were, even then, very suspicious.
Within Israel there are still arguments regarding what extent of the fires were caused by arson. What media and political commentators from elsewhere are ignoring is the reason for these arguments, as if the existence of the arguments signifies lack of validity in the definition of arson terrorism.
1. First and foremost, there is an issue of financial compensation.
The Israeli government is obligated to compensate civilians damaged in a terror attack whereas they are not obligated to compensate for damages caused by a natural disaster.
Insurance companies are released from the obligation to compensate the insured when the cause of damage is terrorism. If this was a natural disaster the government would not be responsible for the uninsured.
In this case, the bill for compensating people who lost their homes and livelihoods will be in the billions. The government has no incentive to declare these fires a terror attack. It was only when the evidence piled up to levels impossible to ignore that Israeli politicians declared that we were under attack, that this was an arson intifada.
2. The normalcy bias
The normalcy bias is a recognized sociological condition is defined as “the phenomenon of disbelieving one’s situation when faced with grave and imminent danger and/or catastrophe.” In other words, no one wanted to believe that there are Arab terrorists among us who hate us so much that they are willing to burn the country down around us all. We all know there are terrorists but the wanton destruction of the land they too live in, the land they claim to love so much, takes a level of hate that surpasses the standard gun/bomb/knife/car/stone attacks on Jews. The people who live in Tel Aviv, the Israeli media and society elites find it particularly difficult to comprehend this level of hatred. They prefer to believe that if Israelis could be better, kinder, the Arabs who hate us would stop trying to destroy Israel and would be willing to live together in peace. Israelis, particularly those who shape our news, don’t want to believe that the fires were caused by arson terror.
The question, “Am I safe from the bushes fires?” bothered me because the fires obviously weren’t your standard “bush fires” but it was the “are you safe” part that was the real problem.
When I first received the request to mark myself safe my house wasn’t on fire. Some of my neighbors’ houses were. The authorities had deemed the area so dangerous they requested everyone evacuate (we decided to stay and defend our home). At one point an arsonist started a fire right behind our garden (we know it was an arsonist because someone saw him before the flames began and then he raced away before anyone could catch him). The flames from that fire were as high as the house. To our great luck the neighbors managed to put out the flames before they ignited our too dry garden. Had our garden caught fire, due to the weather conditions, our home would have quickly been consumed as well. We got lucky.
On the news, we heard reports of fires elsewhere in the city and then elsewhere in the country. My home wasn’t burning… did that mean I could declare myself safe?
The most disturbing part of the fires is who caused them. The extent of the fire damage was caused by the weather conditions but they were started by arsonists. Those who were not caught or others who think arson terrorism is a good idea could start new fires at any time.
There are pyromaniacs everywhere but the extent of the fires and the people caught starting them proved that many (if not all) were caused by arson-terrorism.
From the locations of the fires, it seems that they were started by people familiar with the areas in which they were ignited. For example, the fire behind my garden was started on a side path between our street and the main street, a place not obvious from the road, only someone walking the neighborhood would happen on that spot.
My home is right next to a hospital that serves both Jews and Arabs, where Jews and Arabs work together. The construction projects in my neighborhood (including the house right next to mine) are full of Arab construction workers. Jews and Arabs work together, shop together… our lives are not separate. How can anyone tell who is a peaceful Arab-Israeli and who has so much hatred in their heart that they are willing to burn down the land we both live in?
No one blames the entire Arab population for these acts of terrorism. Israeli Jews have a lot of appreciation for Israeli Arabs (and the Arabs in PA controlled areas) who want to live together peacefully.
At the same time, no one is completely sure what percentage of the Arab population supported the arson-terror or would be willing to participate in similar acts in the future. What do the construction workers building next door to me think?
What do you think? How should I answer the question: “Am I safe?”
I don’t need a Facebook Safety Check In to let me know if my friends are safe. I don’t even need Facebook to correctly define the crisis. It would be nice to be treated like other nations in the world. Facebook gimmicks are just an example. When there are flag filters for people to change their profile picture in solidarity with a country who experienced a terror attack (like what was created for France) or hashtags like #IStandWithTurkey or #IAmOrlando but not for Israel it sends a message.
Somehow terror attacks elsewhere are declared to be attacks while attacks in Israel remain undefined (or completely ignored). Somehow it is deemed appropriate to stand in solidarity, if only via social media, with other countries – but not Israel.
Solidarity doesn’t fix the problem but it is an important step. As long as some lives matter more than others, nothing will ever change.