Israel –– Police, prison commanders who handled Carmel Forest fire reportedly to forcibly resign, get fired following sustained criticism.
The commander of the polices Northern District, Asst.-Ch. Rony Atia, was expected to resign or be fired, and other law enforcement officials already have retired, following severe criticism of the way they handled the December 2010 Carmel Forest fire, Army Radio reported Wednesday, citing unnamed sources.
Zeev Even-Chen, a former police Central Region commander and father of Topaz Even-Chen Klein, who, along with 43 others, was killed in the fire, has led a public campaign for the dismissal of law enforcement and political officials who, according to him, mismanaged the crisis.
Even-Chen and others have submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice to remove these officials. The petition is based on, among other things, a report by then-state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and scathing criticism of the law enforcement sectors state of readiness going into the crisis, and its management of the crisis once the fire started.
According to the Army Radio report, Atia was called to a meeting on Tuesday with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and national police chief Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino. The two pressured him to announce his early retirement in order to assist the law enforcement community in moving on from the incident and ending the bad press it has been receiving.
The report also said that one Israel Prisons Service officer had been forced to retire two months ago; that the police forces deputy inspector-general will be retiring early; and that another officer in the police had been removed from his post following criticism from Even-Chen and others.
Even-Chen has also called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to fire Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.
The petition to the High Court was submitted two weeks to the day after the State Comptrollers Office released its report on the fire. The report found glaring failures in the way Yishai and Steinitz handled the disaster, as well as in their preparation of rescue services for such a catastrophic event.
The petitioners stated that Netanyahu and Aharonovitch have the obligation to use the power given to them by law and remove these people from their positions and to draw personal conclusions based on what is written in the State Comptrollers Report.
The petition adds that the failure to exercise this power would be an extreme oversight. There is no authority without responsibility, and no responsibility without anyone being held responsible, the petition says.
Even-Chen wrote personal letters to Netanyahu and Aharonovitch following the disaster letters he said were not answered, leaving no choice but to turn to the court.
The petition includes excerpts from the comptrollers report that focus not only on the conduct of Steinitz and Yishai, but also on criticism of a series of police, Prisons Service and fire department commanders. It calls for Aharonovitch to examine these failures, adding that in the moment of truth, at the moment when their professional and leadership capabilities were put to the most important test of all, the following people, unfortunately, showed leadership that was rife with failure.
Attorneys for the petitioners wrote that their clients are not seeking revenge. They are concerned.
As people who served in the security services for more than a few years their concern is for the principle of responsibility that has defined the security services since the founding of the state until today.
Even-Chen took center stage at a social justice protest in front of around 10,000 demonstrators in Tel Aviv at the beginning of July. He spoke of his plans to submit the petition and drew a connection between the failings detailed in the comptrollers report and the claims of failed national leadership made by social justice protestors.
The disregard for peoples lives is something that must be stopped and you must make this part of your protest, he told the crowd. Look what happens: No one is responsible. The finance minister blames the interior minister; the interior minister blames the finance minister; the Finance Ministry says its the Prisons Service; they say its the police or the firefighters. Everyone says, It wasnt me, it was him. Its one big kindergarten and the prime minister is in charge.