Kahlon Comes Through on Fire-Assistance Monies

YERUSHALAYIM -

Emergency assistance for victims of last week’s fires has already been budgeted, according to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, following through on his promise for immediate action.

Kahlon announced a 21 million shekel budget for relief of private citizens and municipalities, The Jerusalem Post reported Monday.

“The Finance Ministry, along with the Property Tax Fund and the [ministry’s] Capital Market, Insurance, and Savings Department, has made a decision to provide assistance to all citizens affected by the fire,” Kahlon said in a statement. “Later we will receive the appropriate indications from the qualified authorities as to whether it was hostile activity or arson, but right now we are responding to everyone.”

According to law, the state will compensate citizens for direct and indirect property damages caused as a result of hostile acts, war or terrorism, whether or not a citizen is privately insured.

The Tax Authority’s Property Tax Fund, which will administer the funds, set up a call number (*4954) for people to contact and make their requests. According to Moshe Asher, director-general of the Tax Authority, more than 100 authority workers were dispatched on Sunday, mainly to the Haifa area, to assess damages and claims.

The question of how much of a role terrorists played in last week’s fires continues to be under investigation. If arson cannot be established, then victims will have to rely on private insurance — if they have it. Only about 45 percent of Israelis are covered for fires, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

However, even the uninsured may be able to get help from the state.

“[The Finance Ministry] has plans for everyone, even those who are not covered by insurance or the property tax laws,” Omri Harush, Kahlon’s spokesman, said.

“It is, however, premature and theoretical. We must first wait to get all the conclusive decisions and recommendations from the police as to which places were subject to acts of hostility and which were not, and only then act accordingly.”

This appeared to be at odds with a statement from Ilana Chernenko, a spokeswoman at the Finance Ministry, who said “the state will compensate any victim of the fires, regardless of what caused the fire, assuming that said victim is insured.”

But full recovery from the national disaster will cost much more and take many years.

Rehabilitation of parks and infrastructures could take as much as 30 years, according to experts, Ynet reported Monday.

The Jewish National Fund estimated that approximately 2,700 acres of wooded lands were destroyed by 58 different fires. About two thirds of that was in the Yerushalayim Hills alone.

Uri Naveh, head of the Nature and Parks Authority Yerushalayim district, noted that Cafira nature park in the Yerushalayim Hills was completely devastated by the fires.

“This is one of the important nature reserves in the area. There are many animals there — deer, foxes, jackals and hyenas. The process of rehabilitating the reserve could continue for years or even decades,” he said.

“Our experience in the Mount Carmel forest fires in 2010 enabled us to learn from the fires then, and therefore to deal a lot better with the process of rehabilitation after fires now.”

Even the pine trees which are still standing in the forests will not survive, Naveh explained. “They are essentially dead.”