The Knesset’s Finance Committee on Monday approved the transfer of compensation funds to the bereaved families of the victims of last year’s Meron tragedy, which saw 45 people killed in the worst civilian disaster in Israeli history.
According to the agreement signed between the families and the state, over a year after the incident took place, each family will receive NIS 500,000 ($160,000) for every family member deceased in the tragedy, for a total of NIS 22.5 million.
The chairman of the United Torah Judaism opposition party, MK Moshe Gafni, criticized the coalition for waiting until now to approve the transaction.
“It should have been done immediately and not drawn out this long, but better late than never,” the Haredi lawmaker said in a statement. “We’ll monitor the agreement and make sure the money reaches the families in the coming days.”
In January, the government agreed on the details of the agreement, called “initial aid” to the bereaved families, though its approval took months to finalize.
A forum of bereaved families from the Meron disaster thanked the government for overcoming political differences in order to finalize the agreement.
“The Meron disaster is a painful issue that must come before any narrow political consideration. We thank members of the Knesset for acting in rare cooperation between the coalition and opposition,” the group said.
“The pain cannot be eliminated, but we will do everything in our power to provide the maximum response for the families, and we will take all the necessary precautions to prevent the next disaster,” Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said in a joint statement in January, after announcing the agreement.
“The tremendous loss experienced by the 45 families in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora cannot be compensated for. The least the government can do is make sure that a case like this doesn’t happen again and to financially assist the families that were harmed,” they added.
Most of the tragedy’s victims were Israeli, but some were Jews from the United States and other countries.
The Meron tragedy occurred on April 30, as thousands celebrating Lag B’Omer festivities at the gravesite of the second-century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai streamed through a narrow walkway. Some people fell on the walkway and down a flight of stairs at its end, toppling onto those below and precipitating a fatal crushing domino effect.
Around 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, attended events at Mount Meron during the holiday celebrations. The stampede was Israel’s most deadly peacetime disaster.
The response to the disaster has been marred by political disputes and recriminations.
The former government resisted forming a state commission of inquiry into the affair, but the current government did so. Its work is ongoing. There is no known deadline for the inquiry findings to be finalized, although interim findings were published in November.
Liberman said the State Commission of Inquiry into the disaster is continuing its investigation, which was postponed in January following the passing of former Supreme Court chief justice Miriam Naor, who headed the investigation up until that point.
She was replaced by former justice Dvora Berliner, who has since been studying the materials gathered by the committee.
Appearing before the committee in April, Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai maintained that he was not responsible for the tragedy, blaming it on an engineering failure at the site.
A senior police officer testified in January that Shabtai had dismissed his concerns about overcrowding at the site ahead of the disaster.