Planting Trees in Memory of the Carmel Disaster Victims

Monday, February 08, 2016

“Here, of all places, at the site of a terrible disaster, we found strength and hope.” said KKL-JNF World Chairman Danny Atar.

Five years since the great Carmel fire, the Carmel forests are green and flourishing once again. On February 4th, 2016, a special planting ceremony was held in memory of those who died in the Carmel fire disaster.

In the days that followed the great fire on Mount Carmel in December 2010, the burned woodland presented such a dismal spectacle that it was hard to imagine the area would ever turn green again. Five years on, life has returned to the Carmel Forests and they are flourishing once more. On February 4th, 2016, a special planting ceremony was held in memory of those who died in the Carmel fire disaster. Among those present were the bereaved families, the Knesset Speaker, government ministers and members of the Knesset, KKL-JNF’s World Chairman and the CEO of the Nature and Parks Authority.

Forty-four people, including firefighters, police officers and members of the Prison Service, died in the great fire on Mount Carmel in 2010. Near Kibbutz Beit Oren, the bereaved families recently held a planting ceremony at the monument to those who had perished in the blaze, and planted trees in their memory.

Twenty members of Knesset representing all shades of political opinion joined the families at the compound. These public figures were headed by Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein, who told those present: “This terrible fire was one of the greatest disasters that the State has ever known. Forty-four people died, and thousands of dunam of land where millions of trees grew were destroyed. The fire turned the green hill black.”

Today Mount Carmel is green once more, and at this time of year it is adorned with anemones and a whole host of other beautiful flowers. Yuli Edelstein: “Nature has worked hard, new trees have grown, flowers have appeared, there’s green on every side and it’s impossible not to feel optimism and great hope for growth and renewal.”

“Planting trees is the most significant and symbolic way to prove that life is stronger than anything else,” declared KKL-JNF World Chairman Danny Atar. “Here, of all places, at the site of a terrible disaster, we found strength and hope.”

The tree-planting event was initiated by MK Nava Boker, whose husband, the late northern district operations officer Deputy Police Commander Lior Boker, fell in the course of duty during the Carmel fire. “We’ve created a living, breathing and growing memorial to our loved ones,” she said. “Like the trees, we too can grow and recover. The bereaved families share a burden of terrible pain, but today have shown us all a horizon of hope, love and unity. The memorial reminds everyone of the heroism of our loved ones and the legacy of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty that they have left behind them.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent his best wishes for the event, and these were read out by Rose Ohion, wife of the late Hanan Ohayon of the Israel Prison Service, who died in the fire. “Mount Carmel is gradually recovering and becoming green once more, but no one can fill the heart’s emptiness,” wrote the prime minister. “We shall never forget these, the finest of our people: men and women, Jews, Muslims and Druze, veteran Israelis and new immigrants. Everyone, from generation to generation, must hear their story.”

The daughter of the late firefighter Danny Hayat, who also perished in the fire, was born just ten days after her father’s death. Before her birth, her parents had chosen the name Elah (which means “terebinth” or “mastic tree”) for her. She is now five years old, and Danny’s mother, Batsheva Hayat, planted a terebinth tree in memory of her son. “This is a very emotional day on which we commemorate our sons with life and renewal,” said Batsheva Hayat. “Danny loved the countryside and its scenery, and he fell as a volunteer saving human lives and protecting nature.”

The Druze community was represented at the ceremony by MK Ayoub Kara, a resident of Daliyat al-Carmel, the area where the blaze broke out. “I grew up here amid the footpaths and the gullies, I know every corner of Mount Carmel and I’ve walked by almost every one of its trees. This is the spot where the covenant of blood and the Covenant of Life between the Druze and the Israeli nations was born,” he said.

Among those present at the ceremony was a group of Druze teenagers from the pre-army program underway in Daliyat al-Carmel, who had volunteered to spend the day helping KKL-JNF foresters to prune and rehabilitate the trees. “It’s important to us to conserve nature and the forest,” explained Alim Khalil.

Apart from KKL-JNF’s professional foresters, many volunteers from all over the world and all walks of life have come to help rehabilitate the Carmel forests: schoolchildren, IDF soldiers, new immigrants and delegations from abroad have all lent a hand. In the five years since the fire, over 25,000 people have done volunteer work on Mount Carmel.

Micha Silko, a forester in KKL-JNF’s Carmel-Alonim region, explained that the work to renew and sustain the forest includes the creation of firebreaks to prevent fires from spreading in the future, especially close to residential areas. “The foresters also carefully thin out the trees to prevent flames from spreading. We’ve created access routes for fire trucks, too, so that they can reach fires more quickly,” he said.

In addition, KKL-JNF encourages herders to graze their flocks in the woodland, in order to reduce the mass of flammable undergrowth. A fire early-warning system has also been developed, in conjunction with the Israel Meteorological Service, and KKL-JNF’s firefighting division has been expanded, with the help of KKL-JNF Friends worldwide.

One of the unique projects that KKL-JNF has undertaken since the fire is the restoration of the ancient agricultural terraces at the Carmel site. After the blaze had destroyed the dense vegetation, these impressive terraces were laid bare. Since then KKL-JNF has restored and developed the site, transforming it into a tourist attraction. New recreation areas have been added to those damaged by the fire, providing facilities for visitors who flock back to the area to observe how nature is renewing itself.

“We shall continue to ensure that Mount Carmel remains full of life, and the growth of the trees will be accompanied by the activities of children, adults and all the people of Israel,” KKL-JNF World Chairman Danny Atar assured his listeners.