'I, as the commander of the event, bore responsibility'

Northern police chief resigns, taking responsibility for deadly Mt. Meron crush

Year after Israel’s worst civilian disaster killed 45, Shimon Lavi says he waited to quit only to handle urgent challenges; victim’s relative urges commissioner to also ‘go home’

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Northern District police chief Shimon Lavi seen at the Lag Baomer celebrations, at Mount Meron, May 19, 2022. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Northern District police chief Shimon Lavi seen at the Lag Baomer celebrations, at Mount Meron, May 19, 2022. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Israel Police Northern District Chief Shimon Lavi announced on Monday his resignation from the force, citing his responsibility in the deadly Mount Meron crush.

Lavi tendered his resignation to Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, who thanked the departing officer for his service and wished him luck, according to a police statement.

“As commander of the Northern District, Shimon Lavi worked in many areas, particularly the fight against crime in the Arab community and the building of forces for the future,” the statement read.

Lavi was the officer in charge of managing Lag B’Omer festivities at Mount Meron in 2021, when a crush at the site left 45 people dead. A day after the event, Lavi accepted responsibility for the authorities’ failure to prevent the tragedy.

The April 2021 incident at the festival in northern Israel was the deadliest civilian disaster in the country’s history. Around 100,000 worshipers, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, attended festivities despite longstanding warnings about the safety of the site.

In his resignation letter, Lavi once again acknowledged responsibility for the crush. “Immediately after the disaster, I said that I, as the commander of the event, bore responsibility. By that, I meant genuine responsibility, with no tricks and no gimmicks.”

He explained he had waited a year to leave the position due to immediate tasks that required attention, such as tackling the unrelenting crime in Arab communities.

Now, he said, “I’ve arrived at the conclusion that this is the time to conclude my role as commander of the Northern District and retire from Israel’s police service,” Lavi said.

Police Chief Kobi Shabtai, left, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, center, and Northern Command police chief Shimon Lavi, right, during a ceremony in Nazareth, November 9, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said he was sad to receive word that Lavi was resigning, commending him as an “exceptional” officer and praising his successes in the fight against crime in the Arab community.

“Officer Lavi is a leader, commander and, no less than that, a humane and warm person, whose extraordinary personality was appreciated by both his subordinates and the mayors of the northern cities and towns,” Barlev said.

Israel Diskind, spokesperson for a forum of bereaved families of the Meron disaster and the brother of the late Simcha Bunim, who was killed in the crush, said that it was “obligatory and not an option” to take responsibility for the incident, and called on Shabtai to also quit.

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.

“Lavi’s resignation is a wake-up call for all those responsible for the Meron disaster: Take responsibility! Save yourself the shame of calling the commission of inquiry to dismiss you and go home,” Diskind said.

Lavi faced the panel investigating the tragedy in August and claimed that, despite safety concerns, “there has been no limitation on attendance at Meron — that’s how it has been done for the last 30 years,” and added that any attempt to limit entry and put up barricades could result in “bottlenecks and much greater disasters.”

Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene of the fatal crush during Lag B’Omer celebrations on Mount Meron, in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The officer lamented that there had been “neglect for many years” and “a lack of understanding that the event grew over time and that the infrastructure was not adequate, but rather a kind of band-aid.”

This year’s Lag B’omer event took place under strict limitations. Authorities instituted several safety measures meant to avoid a repeat of last year’s disaster, capping crowd sizes, requiring tickets, and changing the way the event is organized.

The government also fixed stairs and other infrastructure around the compound to boost safety.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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