(JTA) – A leader of Israeli settlers said that the fires raging in Israel, which officials partly attribute to Palestinian arsonists, are really divine punishment for the government’s plans to uproot settlements.
The chief rabbi for Samaria and the community of Elon Moreh, Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, made the controversial assertion about the 250 fires recorded in recent days in Israel in a pamphlet he published Thursday, the news site Srugim reported.
Israeli police have arrested 12 people on suspicion of arson over a series of wildfires that have burned around the country for four days. Firefighters have brought a blaze under control around the northern city of Haifa, where about 80,000 people were ordered to evacuate.
The blazes have been fanned by hot, dry weather and high winds but some, including in Zichron Ya’akov near Haifa, were started by arsonists, the head of local firefighting force said following an investigation.
Several people have been treated for smoke inhalation but no serious injuries have been reported.
Yona Yahav, the mayor of Haifa, which was one of the cities most heavily hit by the fires, said he was shocked to see the damage during a tour of the affected areas Friday.
“I have a difficult emotional experience,” he told Army Radio. “We take pride in how green our city is, but now everything is painted black.” He added he had no information on the people who have been arrested on suspicion of arson, but wished to remind listeners that “there wasn’t a single Arab town in the country that didn’t contact me to offer its help.”
In his pamphlet, Levanon wrote: “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 law for regulation,” he added in reference to a bill designed to legalize Amona and other West Bank outposts deemed illegal. “Until the disgrace of the threat of eviction is lifted from Amona, Ofra and elsewhere, no rain will fall.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Thursday vowed to punish arsonists, has accepted offers of assistance from the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan, who on Friday joined Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Russia and the United States in offering to help with firefighting equipment and personnel.
Egypt will send two helicopters, Jordan will send several trucks and the Palestinian Authority will dispatch four firefighting trucks as well.