Ma’sadat al-Mujahideen, a Palestinian Salafist group, claimed responsibility for carrying out arson attacks that sparked colossal fires in the northern and central regions of Israel. Some 75,000 people were forced to flee the coastal city of Haifa as firefighters battled to bring the blaze under control.
In a statement claiming responsibility the group said that Jews must “return from whence they came since they have no place among us.”
The group has not offered proof that it was involved in setting the fires and security services are unsure if their claim is true or not. Nevertheless, Israeli government officials said that an estimated 50% of the fires were set by arsonists. Officials in Israel on Sunday told the public that while some fires still remain, the wave of fires which have blazed for the past six days is now mostly over.
At least 35 people have been arrested for arson since Thursday.
The damage caused by the fires was extensive. Estimate suggested that between 400-700 homes in Haifa were destroyed by the blaze. Some 1,700 residents of Haifa who had been evacuated were unable to return on Saturday night since their homes were unlivable. At least 136 people were treated for smoke inhalation.
According to Israel’s Natural Parks Authority 7,400 acres of protected park areas were burned and 32,000 acres of natural forests were burned.
Ten nations including the United States, Greece, Russia, Cyprus and Turkey sent 15 planes to help Israel’s efforts to battle the fires, which involved some 2,000 Israeli and 69 Cypriot firefighters, backed up by 450 soldiers from the Home Front Command.
“Every fire that was caused by arson, or incitement to arson, is terrorism by all accounts,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) told the press. “And we will treat it as such.
"Whoever tries to burn parts of Israel will be punished for it severely."
The Palestinian Authority sent fire trucks and firefighters to assist in combating the blaze. Their willingness to help however should be taken with a pinch of salt, given the PA’s track record of using hateful Islamist rhetoric to incite its supporters to violence and then denying involvement in said violence.
For example, in May the PA lauded a terrorist who murdered a visiting U.S. army veteran. Rather than being seen as a humanitarian gesture, their assistance should be seen as a gaslighting tactic aimed at concealing their complicity in inciting Islamist terrorism. Gaslighting (from the black and white film of the same name) is an abuse tactic in which the perpetrator of abuse denies they are being abusive and tries to make the person being abused question their own sanity.
The Al-Qaeda linked group which claimed responsibility for setting some of these fires also claimed responsibility for setting the Mount Carmel forest fires (which killed 40 people in 2010), one near Jerusalem in 2011 and a fire in Nevada in 2012.
Al-Qaeda was also suspected of being behind a series of forest fires in Europe in 2012.
“One should note that setting fires to forests in the countries of the European Union is a new tendency in al-Qaeda's strategy of a 'thousand cuts'," the head of Russia's Federal Security Service Alexander Bortnikov said in 2012, according to state news agency RIA Novosti, at a meeting of heads of security agencies.
"This method allows (al-Qaeda) to inflict significant economic and moral damage without serious preliminary preparations, technical equipment or significant expenses."
Bortnikov noted calls to “forest jihad” on a number of different extremist websites as evidence that the blazes may well have been set by terrorists. This shows the connection in the minds of Islamists such as Al-Qaeda between the war against Israel in particular and the war against the West more generally.
Globally, the response from the pro-Palestinian community was telling. #IsraelIsBurning trended on Twitter as self-proclaimed supporters of the Palestinian cause expressed their unrestrained delight in the suffering of Israelis. They did not seem to care that Palestinians would also suffer as a result of the fires.
“The welcome acts of arson are a part of the Palestinian resistance against the Zionist entity,” one Twitter user wrote, as reported by Truth Revolt.
The glee demonstrated as the fires raged, the number of separate arson attacks and the quickness of a terrorist organization to lay claim to the devastation shows that there is huge grassroots support among the pro-Palestinian community for any and all actions, no matter how damaging to Muslims or how limited the political gains, that will lead to the suffering of Israelis and Jews.
Islamists have stoked and lit these fires and hatred and will continue to do so until their hateful ideology is extinguished.