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This is Terrorism

By Paula Stern
12/5/2010, 12:00 AM
Elie said those words in anger last night as we watched the flames consuming our land, our precious and beautiful land. Many decades ago, a representative of Burma came to Israel. Burma is, apparently, a land covered in trees. To find place for the growing population, they have an aggressive deforestation plan, to rid the land of the trees so that people can live.  

The representative of Burma came and was so impressed by our wide open spaces with no trees, that he commented on how amazingly successful our deforestation plan was. In reality, according to history, our "deforestation" plan is thousands of years old, and never really ours. When the Romans came to our land more than 2,000 years ago, destroyed the Holy Temple and took many of our people into slavery, they salted the earth, to curse it and make it barren.  

There are many statistics. If I were trying to be thorough, I would do research and point to sites to prove the numbers I say here - perhaps later I will add them. For now, I'll tell you that I remember hearing that only Israel, of all the nations in the world, has MORE trees today than 50 years ago. We have no deforestation plan. It is our love of the land that drives us, year after year, to plant new forests and trees, to care for them, to cherish them.  We have lost over 5 million trees. 

The tragedy of this knocks us to the ground. If you are not Israeli, I do not know if you can comprehend the incredible agony of the heart that we Israelis are feeling today. We take such pride in our forests, our trees. They are an expression of our love. It causes such pain to watch them burn, hour after hour, day after day, as the flames are fanned by the winds. I could say the same and more at the thought of the 42 people who have been killed in this fire, the wounded, the homeless.  

More than trees, these are people and yet both the people and the land break our hearts. Two stupid, careless boys from a Druze village have been arrested for setting the fire. Some reports say there were burning garbage; others say they had a picnic at night and didn't bother to extinguish the fire. 

Was it deliberate? Probably not. After all, who wants to think that someone would intentionally cause such destruction, such incredible suffering? Elie calls it terrorism - it is his love of the land that brings this harsh verdict, but it comes after hearing that in the last 48 hours, there have been more than 20 arson attempts by Arabs to set fire to our land - the latest this morning near Jerusalem.  

They know that from all over the country, firefighting equipment has been sent north. Little remains to protect other areas. It is all we have to give. Countries around the world, even those that still call themselves enemies - Turkey, Egypt, Jordan...have joined the Greece, Cyprus, Italy, France, Russia, the United States - forgive me if I have forgotten someone, we are so grateful.  

The thought of so many coming to help us brings tears to my eyes. A part of me says it is only right - we have flown the world to help others, to Kenya, to Turkey, to Haiti, to Indonesia, and beyond. Again and again, it is only right that they come and help us. But this isn't about right or wrong. It is about the beauty of it all. They come to our land to help us. We are so grateful. Tomorrow will be time enough for politics and an accusing finger.  

Perhaps our government, this one and previous ones, should have done more. Perhaps this minister or that one. I don't focus on that now. For now, I listen only to reports from the north. I need to know all the details - are they safe, these firefighters of ours and theirs? Do they have enough water to fight this? Is the wind endangering them? How soon can the planes take to the air and help? Again and again, I check the news.  

The big fire in the north was not, apparently, terrorism, but these arson attacks definitely are. Again and again throughout the day, I heard of more arson attacks. I am left with one burning thought - if someone intentionally sets fire to the land, it is obscene for him to then claim that he loves it. You do not intentionally burn trees and acres and acres, dunams after dunams, of a land you love. Those who love this land, are those who have spent days fighting these fires. I see it in their eyes, as they tell the story to reporters. The overwhelming heartache, the sadness, the damage.  

And there is one more thing in their eyes - something the Arabs forget to easily, something they are blinded from seeing now...and for the last 63 years. We love this land. We will replant. We will rebuild. This was terrorism and for all of our lives, we have answered terrorism with the one thing that can stop it - determination. We will plant. We will build.