2 hours before disaster, holy sites chief spoke of fear of kids being crushed

In an interview two hours before the Meron disaster, the head of the Religious Affairs Ministry’s holy sites administration spoke of apprehension over crowding at the site and claimed police were ultimately responsible for the event — an assertion police officials have contested since the crush that killed 45 people there on Thursday.

“We are constantly in apprehension that all the systems function correctly,” Yossi Schwinger, head of the National Center for Development of Holy Places, told a Haredi journalist. “That God forbid some mother’s child isn’t in danger of suffocating due to a crush and crowding.”

When the reporter noted the police seemed especially tense due to the huge volume of people there, Schwinger noted that earlier he too had been pushed around by crowds and at one point “children were almost crushed. It was an unpleasant sight.”

But he added: “People think if there was crowding, the [Center] didn’t manage things properly.” However, he said, “the manager [of the event] is the Israel Police. We budget everything, plan everything but here on the ground, safety-wise it’s the Israel Police.”

Since the tragedy, current and former police officials have said police can only do so much in light of the massive political pressure to allow the event to go forward without limitations on numbers, and have every year done their best to secure the site but have not been given the tools to truly ensure the safety of worshipers by restricting attendance.

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