Left: Hamas Tweet about the fires. The Arabic reads, "The Zionist entity is burning" (Twitter account of Palinfo, November 25, 2016). Right: A fire in the neighborhood of Romema, the largest and most dangerous of all the fires in Haifa (Spokesman for the Israeli Coast Province police, November 25, 2016).
1. For six days, between November 22 and 27, 2016, raging fires spread throughout Israel and the districts of Judea and Benjamin. According to Israeli police reports, more than 90 fires broke out. Prominent among them were fires along the Carmel mountain ridge (Haifa and Zichron Ya'akov) and a series of fires in the Judean mountains. No one was killed but there was heavy property damage and about 40,000 dunams (about 1,000 acres), most of them forests, were consumed by the flames (See Appendix A). The extreme dryness and high winds prevalent in Israel at the time helped spread the fires.
2. International help arrived in Israel, including firefighter planes, fire engines and teams of firemen. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was prominent among those sending help, dispatching eight fire engines and 41 firemen who worked alongside Israeli teams to put out fires in Haifa and the Judean mountains. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu phoned Mahmoud Abbas to thank him for his help. The PA-affiliated media represented the help as "humanitarian aid" consistent with the universal principle of mutual aid in times of natural disaster (alongside criticism of Israel for rushing to say the fires were acts of Palestinian terrorism). The Palestinian foreign ministry said in an announcement that the help sent was based on the "PA's principles" and was given to Israel despite Israel's "historical injustice" against the Palestinian people.
3. The Palestinian reactions to the fires were the following (See Appendix B for more information):
a. Most of the Palestinian social networks users were exultant, and some claimed Israel was being punished by Allah for the proposed "muezzin law"(quoting a Qur'an verse as a reference). The social networks exaggerated the extent and impact of the fires (claiming "Israel is burning," "the Zionist entity is burning").
b. Most of the users were strongly critical of the help the PA and the Arab states extended to Israel, calling it "a betrayal of the Palestinian people."However, others gave various arguments in support of the aid, among them that the fires endangered Israeli Arab villages and harmed "the land of Palestine."
c. The Hamas mediadid not give much prominence to the events. However, they did inflate the amount of damage, described the fires and the "fire intifada" (as in the "Jerusalem intifada"), and represented arson as a Palestinian weapon.
d. The Salafist-jihadists in the Gaza Striprepresented the fires as divine retribution for Israel, condemned the PA and Turkey for the aid they extended, and called on Allah to burn all those who rushed to help the Jews.
4. According to partial, initial information, only a small portion of the fires were the result of arson.Israeli police sources reported that 30 suspects had been detained. Seven of them were released and 23 remained in custody. Most of the suspects were Israeli Arabs and a few were Palestinians [updated November 28, 2016]. Apparently the few cases of arson were fires set by individuals who may have been influenced by the reports of the damage done by the fires and the high winds that spread them (copycatting is a familiar phenomenon of popular terrorism in Judea and Samaria).
5. So far no organized campaign has been identified in the media calling directly and blatantly on Palestinians and Israeli Arabs to set firesor to exploit the meteorological conditions that spread them. That is in contrast to the direct, blatant incitement from Hamas and the other terrorist organizations that accompanies Palestinian popular terrorism (explicit calls top carry out stabbing and vehicular attacks and throwing stones and Molotov cocktails). Even after the wave of fires ended, no calls were heard to include arson in the popular terrorism toolbox. One reason may be that many Palestinians (and Israeli Arabs) do not consider arson a legitimate weapon.