Commission of inquiry submits interim report on deadly crush at religious festival

Prime Minister Bennett says he will use the lessons from the report on Meron disaster that killed 45 to ensure that nothing like it happens again

Security officials and rescuers at the scene of a fatal crush during Lag B'Omer celebrations at Mt. Meron in northern Israel, April 30, 2021. (AP Photo)
Security officials and rescuers at the scene of a fatal crush during Lag B'Omer celebrations at Mt. Meron in northern Israel, April 30, 2021. (AP Photo)

The state commission of inquiry into the Mount Meron disaster submitted an interim report Monday to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on the deadly crush in April that killed 45 people at a religious festival in the northern shrine of Mount Meron.

Bennett said the government will study the report closely to ensure such an incident never recurs.

The disaster happened at the annual Lag B’Omer celebrations, which drew some 100,000 worshipers, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, despite longstanding warnings about the safety of the site and the dangers of overcrowding.

Hundreds of people bottlenecked in a narrow passageway, where a slippery slope caused people to stumble and fall in a human avalanche that killed dozens and injured at least 150.

The tragedy, Israel’s worst peacetime disaster, “cannot be repeated,” the prime minister said.

“Negligence, failed management, unprofessional appointments cost lives,” Bennett said in a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“We will study the report and work to hold the event [the Lag B’Omer festival in Meron] safely this year,” added the prime minister.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on November 21, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/pool/Flash90)

The report was also submitted to the Religious Services Ministry and Public Security Ministry.

Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana vowed that next year’s celebrations “will be completely different from past Meron events, and will take place according to different safety standards.”

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.

“Past errors must not be repeated,” said Public Security Minister Omer Barlev. “It is our duty to allow safe freedom of worship for all citizens of the State of Israel.”

The panel, chaired by retired Supreme Court president Miriam Naor, laid out a list of recommendations for holding the Lag B’Omer celebrations at the holy site, including appointing a minister to oversee preparations, capping the crowd at 20,000, improving the infrastructure at the site, expanding the site to reduce crowding, and redistributing the crowds to different areas.

Lag B’Omer in 2022 starts on the night of May 18.

Last month a retired police commander pointed to alleged major missteps by Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai that led to the deadly stampede.

Amnon Alkalai said that — as head of the police’s operations division at the time — he had sought to impose crowd caps at Mount Meron due to the COVID-19 outbreak and had warned of an impending disaster. But, he said, Shabtai had opposed the restrictions.

A month earlier, Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash told the commission that no government body had been willing to accept responsibility for ensuring COVID-19 policies were upheld during the annual event.

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