State investigation into deadly Mont Meron festival stampede hears first witness

A state investigation into an April stampede at a Jewish pilgrimage site that killed 45 people, including U.S. and Canadian citizens, began hearing testimony on Sunday to determine what led to the world’s worst civil disaster. Israel.

On April 30, tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews invaded the Galilee hillside tomb of 2nd century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for the annual Lag BaOmer festival which includes prayers all night, mystical chanting and dances. During the ceremony, part of the crowd surged into a narrow tunnel and 45 men and boys were suffocated or trampled on.

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Medics and rescuers attend Lag BaOmer event at Mount Meron

Medics and rescuers attend to injured at Lag Baomer event at Mount Meron

(Photo: Reuters)

Years ago, the Israeli government watchdog deemed the Mount Meron site dangerous. Although the number of worshipers this year at the site was lower than in previous years, it was still beyond those allowed at the time by the COVID-19 borders.

Major-General. Shimon Lavi, northern district police commander, told the commission on Sunday that due to the coronavirus outbreak and the March elections, “we had no idea what would happen with the Meron festivities. “.

“My understanding was as follows – without any decision at the national level, if I start making immediate arrangements for critical infrastructure [at the pilgrimage site], Meron will probably explode in my done on the 29th. “

Lavi said that just a day before, officials found out there would be no coronavirus-related restrictions at the event, with any action being “insignificant” unless event organizers decide to maintain them.

Some Israelis have questioned whether the former government of Benjamin Netanyahu and the police were reluctant to further limit crowd size due to pressure from influential ultra-Orthodox leaders.

Netanyahu had promised a full investigation, but his cabinet, which included ultra-Orthodox ministers, never took any formal action and major hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas erupted less than two weeks later.

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ועדת החקירה הממלכתית לחקר אסון הר מירוןועדת החקירה הממלכתית לחקר אסון הר מירון

Former Super Court chief Miriam Naor, head of the state commission on the Mount Meron disaster

(Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)

Launched shortly after a new government was sworn in, the state commission of inquiry has judicial powers in that it can call witnesses and ask them to produce documents or other evidence that it deems. relevant. Its findings will be presented to the government although they are not legally binding.

The hearings are open to the public and will be streamed online.

If the panel, led by former Super Court chief Miriam Naor, uncovers suspicions of criminal conduct, it should report them to the Israeli attorney general. His first witness on Sunday was Northern District Police Commander Shimon Lavi.

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About Douglas Mackenzie

Douglas Mackenzie

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