This element of nature has been known in these hills for millennia during drought and the sprawl of building into them has risked this disaster. There was a time perhaps when fire was used by the white colonist to drive the North American Indians from their tepees and their caves. Gunfire, fire, smallpox and other imported disease erased twenty million natives from the land of open sky and prairie. The colonist's descendants and the many late comers would not have dwelt on the justice of these acts of God but instead heat gave rise to hyperbole.
Firefighters described scenes of devastation, with one pilot battling fires in San Diego telling his commanders: "It looks like an atom bomb is going off over there," the Los Angeles Times reported. Another firefighter, Mitch Mendler, said the area "was like Armageddon. It looked like the end of the world." Good that a US citizen has had a glimpse of both.
Another element carried by a storm surge breached the levees of New Orleans as forecast. Homes and people were submerged in filthy water and many drowned. At least several thousands died. People in a nursing home were abandoned by its staff. It was a difficult tragedy of the greatest proportions but FEMA was slow and inadequate in its response. Guests who were stranded in a luxury hotel were whisked away it was said. Unusually, BBC reporters like Peter Marshall gave it straight. So straight that Bush asked Blair to get the message blunted on the box. Many felt that if the low lying areas had been occupied by the white bourgeosie then the responses would have been quicker and more competent. The social distress has been terrible with poor families separated and re-building slow; some have returned to their homes to find security firms barring entry. The US can demolish Iraq from 4000 miles and install a 'missile defence system' but capital reacts like capital where there is no clout. Consider how the socialist country of Cuba responds as a nation to the hurricanes which batter it.
In Palestine, peoples homes – in this case tin shacks belonging to Bedouin – are being bulldozed right now in the Negev (Gush Shalom)
Altogether eighteen thousand Palestinian homes have been demolished since 1967. Fire or water are not the agents. Instead D9 bulldozers, swing shovels with demolition picks or engineers of the Israeli Occupation Force are the tools. The latter set high explosive charges in the base of these temples of the family. The main pretexts are the absence of a building permit or a connection between the house and a resistance fighter. Whilst he is tried in summary fashion in a military prison and often tortured, collective punishment is meted out to a grieving bitter family.1
The family is charged for the cost of demolition whilst the Red Cross generously provides a tent if there is no room in a relative's house. Not too many 'advanced democracies' are demolishing houses with such abandon except for the two main allies of Israel, those being the US and the UK. These crimes are fully documented but there is almost total silence amongst the nations of the world. Just hand out the tents. The strategy if one can call it such, is to break the spirit of the Palestinian and to drive him from his land. Mr Olmert has recorded his vision. 2 If approximately 120,000 Druze and Arabs were expelled from the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967 and their villages (134 in number) were completely demolished, that makes about 20,000 more demolished homes, assuming six people per family unit. 3 Then add the many thousands of homes demolished during el nakba – the catastrophe of 1948 – or the War of Independence as the Israelis call it. Symbolic of this lawlessness and deepest cruelty is the case of Salim Shawamreh of Anata. His home did not have a building permit. It has been demolished thrice and rebuilt yet again by ICAHD volunteers and money. How many people have seen the fires in southern California on TV? At least a billion. How many know that Palestinian homes have been demolished in very large numbers in '48 and since '67 as at Emmaus. A few percent of the European and US populations, and some of those remain mute. Self-obsession and greater tolerance of the other's pain might be barriers to awareness of such cruelty but the conscientious human is bound to rely on the broadcast and print media. And that is the rub. The media are determined to shield the populations from the grotesque excesses of the Israeli state (and the 'coalition of the willing in Iraq and Afghanistan'), whilst they fill the screens and thus the minds with loss by fire of eighteen hundred homes – by act of God. Evil is the act of demolishing one home in the remnants of Palestine. Is it the lesser evil for the western media to hide that?
2. "I believed, and to this day still believe, in our people’s eternal and historic right to this entire land." Ehud Olmert, Israeli Prime Minister, to the US House of Representatives, June 2006
3. Israeli Committee Against House Demolition http://www.icahd.org/eng/