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Says promotion was nixed after accusation of leak to inquiry

Top officer tells Meron disaster probe: Police chief dismissed crowding concerns

Head of police operations division says commissioner responded to his warning ahead of deadly event by saying ‘Don’t worry, any commission of inquiry will be on me’

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

A senior police officer testified Sunday that Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai had dismissed his concerns of overcrowding ahead of last year’s Meron disaster and that his promotion within the police was halted after he was accused of leaking materials to the state commission of inquiry into the deadly crush.

The three-member commission held witness testimony related to the April 2021 Lag B’Omer tragedy at Mount Meron, where 45 people were killed in a crush despite repeated warnings having been sounded saying that it was unsafe for such a large crowd to attend the celebrations at the holy site.

Testifying in front of the commission, Shimon Nachmani, the head of the police Operations Division, said that he had aired his concerns over a decision not to limit the number of people attending the event, saying the site could not contain the huge crowds that arrived.

“The density [of the crowd] there is uncontrollable,” he told the commission.

However, Nachmani said, following a meeting with senior police officers ahead of the Lag B’Omer festivities, Shabtai had flippantly told him that if there were to be an incident that brought about a commission of inquiry, he would deal with it.

“Don’t worry, any commission of inquiry will be on me,” he quoted Shabtai as telling him.

Shimon Nachmani, head of the Israel Police’s Operations Division, testifies before the state comission on the Meron disaster in Jerusalem on January 9, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Nachmani said he believed that his promotion within the force had been nixed due to allegations he had leaked materials to the commission.

He said that he had been told he was in line for a promotion to deputy chief of a new branch aimed at fighting crime in the Arab community.

“I was surprised when [the police chief] asked me during the interview, ‘Why did you give materials to the probe?’” Nachmani said.

While Nachmani said Shabtai sought to sabotage his promotion due to the allegations, former Supreme Court president Miriam Naor, who heads the commission of inquiry, said Nachmani did not leak documents to the probe.

Former chief of the Supreme Court Miriam Naor (center) heads the Meron Disaster Inquiry Committee in Jerusalem, on August 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At the April 2021 celebrations, hundreds of people bottlenecked in a narrow passageway, where a slippery slope caused people to stumble and fall in a crush that killed dozens and injured at least 150.

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

Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi (R) and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai (R) at Mount Meron ahead of the tragedy, April 29, 2021 (Israel Police)

Amnon Alkalai, head of the police’s operations division at the time, said he had sought to impose crowd caps at Mount Meron due to the COVID-19 outbreak and had warned of an impending disaster. But, he said, Shabtai had opposed the restrictions.

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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