There is nothing ‘Divine’ about Haifa’s fire

It is always disappointing when politicians refuse to see further than the tips of their noses. Unfortunately, this is the case far too often here in Palestine. The effects of this tunnel vision are ridiculous in the best case scenario, extremely damaging in the worst. One such case of short-sightedness came from Hamas’ deposed leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh on December 5. While he led a Muslim prayer for rain in a local mosque, Haniyeh decided to offer his take on the enormous brushfires, which have been raging through the Carmel forest in Haifa since December 2, quipping that they were "divine strikes from God for what Israel has done" [presumably to the Palestinians].

What prompted Haniyeh to make such a ridiculous and frankly, damaging statement is incomprehensible. For one, it is not diplomatic in the least, especially for a man who claims to be a high ranking official and who has shown a level of political pragmatism on more than one occasion. Second, it is not logical, because according to this rationale, every calamity that befalls the Palestinians is presumably a similar "divine strike" for what we have done.

Most of all, however, it is short-sighted in that Haniyeh seems to forget that the luscious green forests of Al Carmel were once Palestine and continue to remain so in the hearts of pretty much every Palestinian. A fire that scorches the earth, no matter where, is detrimental to all humankind, regardless of who inhabits the land at that particular moment. Over 40 lives were lost, tens of thousands of people (including Palestinians living inside Israel) were evacuated from their homes and 12,500 acres (50,000 dunams) of greenery were reduced to ashes. Even Turkey, which has been at loggerheads with Israel ever since the Mavi Marmara fiasco in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens, offered its help in putting out the fire. Palestinian firefighters also joined the battle against the blaze, crossing the Green Line into Israel.

"We were received respectfully. After all, we’re dealing with a humanitarian crisis which knows no borders," said Bethlehem’s Civil Defense Chief Ibrahim Ayish, who said he and his team wanted to join forces with Israeli and international teams in order to "protect the environment and nature."

As a Palestinian, the fire in the Carmel mountain region of Haifa was devastating to watch, especially since it took place in such a cherished city. While it’s true that Haifa was captured in the 1948 War and has been known to the world as an Israeli city ever since, this does not negate the fact that Haifa was once home to a Palestinian population, the overwhelming majority of who became refugees following their exile.

That was not so long ago. What is 62-plus years in the collective memory of a nation? Haifa and its green forests of Al Carmel are still vivid in the minds of those who once lived there and called the seaside city their home. The sight of its beautiful trees going up in flames and the earth beneath it scorched to black ashes is something that transcends all political realities. And this is why it is so difficult to understand why anyone would rejoice at such a large scale brushfire, regardless of the bitter political enmity between both sides. It is unsettling to hear any Palestinian, much less a prominent Hamas figure making such cutting statements. We have not learned to rise above, not by a long shot.

If this were an isolated incident in Palestinian politics, we could possibly brush it off as bad judgment. But we have all heard the instances of name calling between our leaders, Hamas and Fateh in particular. They have all failed to see the big picture –” in the case of Hamas and Fateh, the picture being the overall goal of the Palestinians to liberate themselves from Israeli occupation. In the case of Haniyeh’s so-called "divine intervention" he failed to see that any damage to our Mother Earth is a loss for all, especially when the patch in question is part of what was once our beloved Palestine.

Perhaps the biggest lesson for us Palestinians looking at the tragedy from afar is to see it for exactly that: a tragedy of colossal proportions. The Palestinian Authority seems to have embraced that concept despite the bad blood between it and Israel’s government, not hesitating to send out reinforcements to extinguish the blaze. This is how we should all think. Anyone who thinks or says anything less is in no position to be a leader.