Ministers agree on NIS 500,000 in aid for each family of 45 Meron disaster victims

Justice and finance ministers announce compensation for ‘tremendous loss’ in Israel’s worst peacetime disaster

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

Government ministers said Thursday they had agreed to grant NIS 500,000 ($160,000) in “initial aid” to each of the families of the 45 people killed last year in a deadly crush during Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron in northern Israel.

The proposal to grant the aid to each of the victims’ families still requires government approval.

“The pain cannot be eliminated, but we will do everything in our capabilities to provide the maximum response for the families and we will take all precautions to prevent the next disaster,” Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said in a joint statement.

“The tremendous loss experienced by the 45 families in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora can not be compensated for. The least the government can do is make sure that a case like this doesn’t happen again and to economically assist the families that were harmed,” they said. Most of the victims were Israeli, but some were Jews from the United States and other countries.

“The catastrophe that happened at Meron is of a national magnitude and the feeling of deep loss and pain are experienced first and foremost by the families and, with them, the State of Israel,” Liberman said. “The financial assistance plan we’ve put together is necessary and important.”

Liberman said the State Commission of Inquiry into the disaster is continuing its investigation.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar addresses a New Hope party conference in Modiin, on December 5, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The April 2021 disaster at the Meron religious site came after repeated warnings that it was unsafe for such large crowds to attend the celebrations.

The 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 deadly crush has been blamed on improperly installed ramparts and walkways, as well as a failure to limit numbers at the site. Different areas of the sprawling Mount Meron site were administered by different ultra-Orthodox groups, making regulation and organization difficult.

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.

Earlier this month, a Knesset committee pushed off an opposition bill for compensation for the victims’ families, as Sa’ar said the matter should be resolved by government decision rather than legislation. Sa’ar said he had urged Liberman to allocate funds for compensation as part of a cabinet decision.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference, presenting new reform on housing, at the Finance Ministry offices in Jerusalem, on October 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A senior police officer testified earlier this month that Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai had dismissed his concerns of overcrowding at the site ahead of the disaster.

In October, a retired police commander pointed to alleged major missteps by Shabtai that led to the deadly stampede.

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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