Attorney general freezes criminal probe into Meron disaster

Avichai Mandeblit says priority will be given to the state commission of inquiry to investigate the deadly crush that killed 45 people in April

Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene of the fatal crush during Lag B'Omer celebrations on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene of the fatal crush during Lag B'Omer celebrations on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ordered a halt of the ongoing criminal investigation into April’s deadly stampede at Mount Meron in order to allow for the state commission of inquiry to take the lead.

Forty-five people were trampled to death at Mount Meron during Lag B’Omer festivities on April 30. In one of its first acts, Israel’s new government formed a state commission of inquiry to probe the disaster, which has been blamed on improperly installed ramparts and walkways.

Mandelblit said the state commission should get priority over other investigations because it has a “wide mandate.”

Therefore, he said, the investigations by the Israel Police and the Police Internal Investigations Department into the event “will be suspended.”

The state commission of inquiry can subpoena witnesses, but the report and testimony it gathers cannot be used as evidence in criminal proceedings, according to the Israel Democracy Institute think tank.

Mandelblit made the announcement at a meeting Sunday with the commission — headed by former Supreme Court Chief justice Miriam Naor, alongside former Bnei Brak mayor Rabbi Mordechai Karelitz and former IDF planning chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Shlomo Yanai — to discuss the ongoing investigation of the tragedy.

“At the meeting, the attorney general repeated the importance he places on the work of the committee and its ability to investigate the truth and to formulate recommendations that will prevent such tragic events, like the disaster at Mount Meron on Lag B’Omer, from happening again,” said the attorney general’s office.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman is also currently conducting an investigation into the tragedy, which will apparently continue.

Victims of the April 30, 2021, Mount Meron disaster: Top row (L-R): Chen Doron, Haim Rock, Ariel Tzadik, Yossi Kohn, Yisrael Anakvah, Yishai Mualem, Yosef Mastorov, Elkana Shiloh and Moshe Levy; 2nd row (L-R): Shlomo Zalman Leibowitz, Shmuel Zvi Klagsbald, Mordechai Fakata, Dubi Steinmetz, Abraham Daniel Ambon, Eliezer Gafner, Yosef Greenbaum, Yehuda Leib Rubin and Yaakov Elchanan Starkovsky; 3rd row (L-R): Haim Seler, Yehoshua Englard, Moshe Natan Neta Englard, Yedidia Hayut, Moshe Ben Shalom, David Krauss, Eliezer Tzvi Joseph, Yosef Yehuda Levy and Yosef Amram Tauber; 4th row (L-R): Menachem Knoblowitz, Elazar Yitzchok Koltai, Yosef David Elhadad, Shraga Gestetner, Yonatan Hebroni, Shimon Matalon, Elazar Mordechai Goldberg, Moshe Bergman and Daniel Morris; 5th row (L-R): Ariel Achdut, Moshe Mordechai Elhadad, Hanoch Slod, Yedidya Fogel, Menahem Zakbah, Simcha Diskind, Moshe Tzarfati, Nahman Kirshbaum and Eliyahu Cohen.

The tragedy occurred as thousands of people visiting Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s gravesite streamed through a narrow walkway. The passage was covered with metal flooring, which may have been wet, causing some people to fall underfoot during the rush for the exit. Some apparently fell on the walkway and down a flight of stairs at its end, toppling onto those below and precipitating a fatal crushing domino effect.

The attorney general stressed that civilian enforcement of illegal and life-threatening buildings at the Mount Meron site would be implemented in the immediate future.

The state commission of inquiry began work earlier this month, and issued an order to the attorney general to hand over documents related to the planning of the event. The attorney general will also supply the three-member committee with internal government reports that attempted to address whether it could have been averted.

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