Tragedy at Meron: Israel Plays the “Blame Game”

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An Orthodox Jewish man looks at leftover personal belongings at the site where fatalities were reported during Lag BaOmer festival at Mt. Meron in northern Israel, Friday, April 30, 2021. Photo Credit: AP

The tragic deaths of at least 45 and the any others left seriously injured after the disaster during a Lag b’Omer celebration in Israel last week were not the result of a mere accident, as reported. Rather, they were the victims of poor planning, supervision and a lack of common sense on the part of those officials who were legally and morally responsible for the safety of these celebrants. And we’ll throw in for good measure, a good dose of stupidity. What should have been a joyous celebration and one of the happiest days of the year became one of tragedy and mourning. Someone or many who were in charge of planning, who ignored safety for whatever reasons must be held accountable and brought up on charges.

The events of that night have already been reported. Now must come a thorough, no holds barred investigation. A few days ago State Comptroller Matanyahu Engleman declared: “This disaster could have been prevented.” His office had previously issued two reports giving explicit warnings of major risks to people attending the festival. They were ignored. The festival on Mount Meron had tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews participating, lighting bonfires, dancing through the night. Following the ceremonies, the crowd of men and boys who had been gathered on stands (also a possible nightmarish calamity) began heading toward a single exit. This was a disaster just waiting to happen and one that the safety experts who signed off on this event should be held accountable for. Witnesses claimed that some slipped on steps in the narrow passageway and that started the human avalanche that ravaged the victims.

Mr. Engelman noted that reports published by a predecessor in 2008 and 2011 had warned of “dangers to human life” during these festivities held on Mount Meron. Part of that premonition-type report warned that additions and changes had been made at the site without the approval of planning committees and that access roads and paths were “narrow and not appropriate to accommodating the hundreds or thousands of people who visit the site.” Evidently, the victims were trapped, shoe-horned in the tunnel with no emergency exits The Justice Ministry has also chimed in promising a no holds barred investigation. Shimon Levi, who oversaw the security arrangements, told reporters: “I bear overall responsibility for better or worse, and am ready for any investigation.” This tragedy should never have happened. Those dead, the victims of incompetence and stupidity, should still be with us now. Those injured will never be the same, always remembering the evening that started out joyously and ended in grief and disaster. This tragedy should never have been permitted to happen. We pray for them and their families and hope that those who dropped the ball for their safety be held accountable.