Could Israel fires be a spark for peace?

Max Levin, originally from St. Louis, is a former active Israeli soldier serving in the IDF Reserves. During his service, Levin served in Operation Protective Edge and spent 2014-2015 working in the West Bank until he was honorably discharged in 2015. Levin’s team has been openly acknowledged and awarded for their excellence during their service. He is currently an undergraduate student at Columbia University.

By Max Levin

Hashtag “Israelisburning” became a trend over Arabian social media outlets during November. The State of Israel was in flames during the worst arson attack in its history: 1,800 fires ravaged the country. That’s more than 225 fires a day. 

Israeli police suspected the majority of these fires were caused by arson. 

Israel is about the size of New Jersey. Can you imagine if 1,800 fires were started in New Jersey in one week? How could fire departments cope with a disaster of this magnitude? Even with all of Israel’s resources, they had to ask for help. 

To everyone’s surprise, one of the many leaders to offer help was Mahmoud Abbas from the Palestinian Authority (PA). The contradiction between the hashtag and Abbas’ actions is astounding.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett both believe that Israel should expand settlements in response to the arsonists’ attacks. Others feel this would provoke more attacks. Many Israelis insist that Israel should increase security along the security fence. Others, like Reserves Brigadier General Rami Zur of the Israel Defense Forces  and me, believe that because Abbas decided to help the Israeli people during this time of crisis, there is an opportunity for Israel to take a chance and come to the negotiating table to work out a peace solution.


Israeli police have arrested many suspected terrorists in these acts of arson. To no one’s surprise, most of them were Palestinian. 

Liberman and Bennett believe that Israel should punish the Palestinians for committing these acts of terrorism by expanding settlements. They believe this because, as was noted in Arabian social media, Palestinians and others were celebrating the fact that Israel was burning. 

However, the situation was not so simple. Some Israeli Arabs opened their homes to help shelter fire victims throughout the country. Moreover, Abbas helped Israel by sending over Palestinian firefighting teams. These acts of kindness seem to disprove the general notion that the Palestinian people and their leader were rejoicing Israel’s destruction. 

Thus, if the Palestinian people are not celebrating the potential death of Israelis and the burning of their cities and homes, there is a chance for peace. A notion of progress is being made between the relations of these two peoples. This progress should be expanded and allowed to flourish. In the end, that is what the majority of Israelis want: peace with their neighbors.

Therefore, expanding settlements is not the right idea. Furthermore,increasing Israel’s security would only heighten tensions between the two peoples.

As a soldier who has guarded Israel’s borders, I can say that there is no foolproof method to increase security in a way that would prevent such attacks. In the end, the equipment a person needs to start a fire can be innocently bought at any local gasoline station. There would be no practical way to stop this from occurring. 

It could be argued that increasing security measures on a more permanent basis, such as adding more checkpoints, would increase hostilities between the two peoples and increase the likelihood of more Palestinians committing acts of terror against Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already taken the first step by thanking Abbas for his help. I believe he should go evenfurther and offer to sit down at the negotiation table to discuss a peace agreement. Israel should use Abbas’ actions as an opportunity to open up discussion towards peace.

 Zur of the Israeli Defense Forces also believes that this is an opportunity for Israel to come to the table to talk to the Palestinians about peace.

“We always need to try and make peace, we can never give up on it,” he said. “Not all of the Arabs committed acts of terrorism, so not all of the Arabs should be punished.” 

This is the way Israelis have thought for their entire existence (68 years to be exact), and it has brought them peace with Egypt and Jordan. Hopefully, Netanyahu will take this tragedy not as a sign of despair between two peoples, but as an opportunity to create a peace that would better the entire world.