Former police commissioner Shlomo Aharonishki joins calls for a state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster. Another ex-commissioner, Moshe Karadi, issued the same demand on Friday night.
Speaking on Channel 12 news, Aharonishki, who helmed the force from 2001-4, reinforces characterizations of the Mt. Meron facility — around the burial site of the 2nd Century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai — as a kind of extraterritorial facility where ultra-Orthodox organizers have ultimate control.
“The police are not in charge of safety” at Meron, Aharonishki says, speaking in the wake of the disaster overnight Thursday-Friday in which 45 people were crushed to death in a packed, narrow, sloping walkway, with a slippery metal floor, along the exit route from the site during Lag B’Omer festivities.
Channel 12’s police reporter Moshe Nussbaum says that as far as he can determine, responsibility for security at the site ultimately rests with the National Center for the Protection of Holy Places, at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
Aharonishki says there were “sighs of relief” every year in his day when the annual Lag B’Omer festivities passed off without fatal incident. He and the former police Northern District commander Dan Ronen say there have been concerns for many years about the drastically inadequate infrastructure at the facility, including at the huge tiered outdoor stands where vast numbers of participants gather.
“The first priority is a state commission of inquiry,” Aharonishki says. “The next disaster [at Meron] is already on its way.”
There is an unfortunate tradition in Israel, the day after a disaster, to go out with “a gallows and a guillotine,” and quickly “find someone to pin blame on,” says Aharonishki. The failure at Meron was deep and protracted, he says, and needs thorough investigation and a complete overhaul of the arrangements for all activities there.
Ronen says senior ex-police officers are organizing a formal plea for a state commission of inquiry, and that it was “a mistake” by the attorney general to have ordered an investigation by the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department, since this automatically targets the police for blame.
Israel’s current, transitional government is not empowered to order a state commission of inquiry, opines Haim Ramon, a former justice minister who is also a guest on Channel 12.