The Joint List, the Israeli parliament coalition representing Arab citizens of Israel, said yesterday that they planned to file a lawsuit against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of accusations that a recent wave of mass fires in Israel and the occupied West Bank were caused by Palestinians.
In statement on social media, head of the Joint List Ayman Odeh said the decision to file the lawsuit “for incitement against Arab citizens” came in response to Netanyahu’s “false incitement during the days of the fires, and for saying that the real threat to the state of Israel is not Palestinians in occupied areas, but Arabs inside Israel.”
Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post also quoted Odeh as saying: “Everyone knows that there wasn’t a wave of terrorism, there wasn’t a ‘fire intifada’.”
He reportedly also said that although the “terror” claims were disproved, “thousands of Jews incited against Arabs and called for them to be murdered…not even one of them has been investigated.”
On 26 November, Netanyahu accused “terrorists” of seeking to “engulf our region with hate”, while arguing that Israel sought to “encompass our region with peace. Their flames will never burn down our hope.”
“Some Palestinians lit fires and celebrated in the streets. Others are helping extinguish the flames,” he adding, warning that “the former will find no place to hide” and would be “brought to justice.”
Far-right Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett also blamed Palestinian “fire terrorists”, saying that “only someone who this land does not belong to would be capable of setting fire to it,” implying that Palestinians were responsible for the fires because they do not have any attachment to the land.
Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan had called for the demolition of homes of any Palestinian found guilty of arson, and Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said during a visit to the illegal Israeli settlement of Hallamish in the West Bank following a fire there, that the best answer to the destruction caused by the flames was to “expand settlements”.
Critics have claimed that Israeli politicians were quick to blame Palestinians for the fires as a political manoeuvre to further convince the international community of Palestinian hostility towards the Israeli state.
Meanwhile, the Joint List and the Fatah movement of the occupied West Bank condemned Palestinians who celebrated the fires as revenge for a proposed Israeli bill to ban the Muslim call to prayer, while Palestinian civil defence crews have provided reinforcement in order to assist Israel in controlling the fires in Haifa and Jerusalem.
Scores of Palestinians were detained over suspicions of arson or inciting others to commit arson, at least 16 of whom were Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, including six minors, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.
Last week, Haaretz reported that an Israeli police source rejected claims that the fires were set for “nationalist” or “terrorist” motives, while Ran Shelef, the Israeli Fire and Rescue Authority’s chief fire investigator told the Jerusalem Post on Sunday: “In most areas you won’t find many things that say whether it was arson.”
Shelef did say evidence of arson was found in four areas: the Galilee region in northern Israel, the area from Umm El-Fahm to Betar Illit, the occupied West Bank, and Israel’s central region. Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the fires in the northern coastal city of Haifa.
Last week, Israeli officials reportedly said that out of the total 1,773 reported fires, centred largely in and around Jerusalem and Haifa, only 25 were suspected arson. The Israeli army is also investigating evidence that one large fire started after an Israeli soldier threw a lit cigarette into an area close to a checkpoint.
Israeli security sources have also stated that a combination of extreme winds and an unprecedented drought, which was reported earlier this year as being the worst in the Middle East in 900 years, were the main cause of the initial fires.