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The arsonist’s tale

What is strikingly absent from those who set fires is compassion for the land itself
Flames rise as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens, on July 23, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/ ANGELOS TZORTZINIS)
Flames rise as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens, on July 23, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/ ANGELOS TZORTZINIS)

If social media had hashtags for crime, this week’s trending topic would no doubt be #arson. Arson is global. Flames are everywhere. Arson is the crime of the season, with fires ringing the planet from California, to Greece, to Israel.

California police have already arrested one man suspected of starting one of the deadly wildfires. Greek authorities also suspect arson in last week’s tragic wildfire that killed 91 people so far, with many people still unaccounted for.

What do we know about the culture of fire starters? When arsonists are arrested they tell very similar narratives. The arsonist’s tale typically features anger, revenge or profit, or the orgasmic thrill of flames and power of destruction. Or all of the above.

Although they might regret having killed people — if that had not been their intention — what is strikingly absent from the arsonist’s story is compassion for the land itself.

Arsonists have no compunction about destroying living forests and trees. For them, land is nothing but a stage for their personal drama.

Today the Greek wildfire has been quenched. Firefighters are making tentative progress against California’s deadly fires. And Israel continues to suffer nearly daily arson attacks that began back in March.

Unlike most arsonists, those attacking Israel are not loners. They are adults and children, recruited and organized by terrorist leaders, Hamas and others, to set fire to the villages of southern Israel. Fields, forests and farms have suffered damage estimated at 1.4 million dollars, and rising.

The arsonists’ disregard, even contempt for land contrasts sharply with Israel’s culture of nurturing its land. Israeli children are brought up with stories of heroes who drained the swamps, planted orchards and invented creative ways to irrigate them; heroes who made the desert bloom, and continue to maintain it today. The land itself is revered. The land is an active character is Israeli mythology, in its history, religion and culture.

But for Gazan arsonists, as for arsonists elsewhere, land is merely a stage for drama. The arsonist tale has no mercy for living forests and trees.

Yet, oddly, Palestinian leadership who back the arsonists claims to love the land they are destroying. They’re loving it to death. Their drama, playing out daily on a fragile ecology, is simple: “If I can’t have it, then no one will have it.”

The earth itself weeps at the arsonist’s tale.

About the Author
Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D. is a psychologist, radio host and writer for various publications, including The Washington Times and Psychology Today. She lives in Jerusalem and can be reached at CultureCafeStories@gmail.com
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