The committee investigating the fatal accident at the Jewish pilgrimage site in April holds its first session.
An Israeli government committee investigating a fatal accident at a Jewish pilgrimage site in April held its first hearing, nearly four months after the stampede at Mount Meron that killed 45 people.
The April 29 incident of the Jewish holiday in northern Israel was bloody civil disaster in the country’s history. About 100,000 worshipers, most of them ultra-Orthodox Jews, attended the festivities despite coronavirus regulations limiting outdoor gatherings to 500 people, and despite lengthy warnings about the safety of the site.
Hundreds of people were trapped in a narrow gorge coming down from the mountain, and a slippery slope caused people to stumble and fall. The human avalanche killed 45 people and injured at least 150.
In June, the Israeli government agreed to form an independent state investigation commission Investigate safety deficiencies At the Lag Boomer festivities at Mount Meron.
A committee headed by former Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor began its proceedings on Sunday with testimony from Northern District Police Chief Shimon Lavie, the officer in charge of managing the event.
Lavi said the Mount Meron celebrations are the most important annual event for the Israel Police, and require significant resources, planning and preparation.
“There was no restriction on attendance at Meron, that’s what has been done for the past 30 years,” he said out of safety concerns. He said any attempt to limit entry and erect barriers could lead to “much larger bottlenecks and disasters”.
The site in northern Israel is believed to be the burial place of the famous wise rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the second century. The cemetery complex and adjacent buildings are managed by the Department of Holy Places of the Ministry of Religious Services.
Experts have long warned that the Mount Meron complex is not adequately equipped to handle the massive crowds that flock there during spring break, and that existing infrastructure poses a safety risk.
But the April meeting moved forward this year nonetheless, with ultra-Orthodox politicians reportedly pressuring then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government officials to lift attendance restrictions.
Lavie said there was a “neglect of many years” and a “lack of understanding that the event grew over time and that the infrastructure was not enough, but some kind of first aid.”