Hearings Into the Tragic Mount Meron Disaster Have Begun in Israel

The first meeting of the panel probing the fatal accident at the Jewish pilgrimage site in April has taken place.

The first meeting of an Israeli government commission investigating a tragic stampede at a Jewish pilgrimage site in April took place over four months after the Mount Meron tragedy killed 45 people.

The tragedy on April 29 during a Jewish festival in northern Israel was the country’s deadliest civilian disaster. Despite coronavirus restrictions limiting outdoor assemblies to 500 people and long-standing concerns about the site’s safety, about 100,000 attendees, largely ultra-Orthodox Jews, attended the festivities.

Image Source: The New York Times

Hundreds of people were squeezing through a limited path descending the mountain, and a slick slope led people to trip and fall. The ensuing human avalanche claimed the lives of 45 people and injured at least 150 others.

The Israeli government approved the formation of an independent state committee to investigate safety issues at Mount Meron’s Lag Baomer celebrations in June.

On Sunday, a panel led by retired Supreme Court justice Miriam Naor heard testimony from Northern District police commander Shimon Lavi, the official in charge of the event’s management.

The Mount Meron celebrations, according to Lavi, are the Israel police’s most important annual event, involving enormous resources, planning, and preparedness.

“There has been no limit on attendance at Meron, that’s how it’s been done for the previous 30 years,” he said, citing safety concerns. Any attempt to restrict access or erect barricades, he said, may result in “bottlenecks and far larger calamities.”

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a famous second-century sage, is thought to have been buried at the location in northern Israel. The Religious Services Ministry’s holy places department is in charge of the tomb complex and its surrounding structures.

Image Source: CNB.com

Experts had long warned that the Mount Meron complex was unprepared to accommodate the massive people that visit during the spring holiday season, and that the existing infrastructure posed a safety concern.

Despite this, the event in April took place this year after influential ultra-Orthodox politicians reportedly lobbied then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government officials to relax participation rules.

According to Lavi, there had been “decades of negligence” and “a lack of understanding that the event evolved with time and that the infrastructure was inadequate, more of a band-aid.”

Source: AL JAZEERA

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