Cabinet approves state commission of inquiry into Meron tragedy

Families of the victims hail probe into Israel’s worst peacetime tragedy.

By World Israel News Staff

The cabinet voted Sunday to establish a state commission of inquiry into the Meron tragedy in which 45 people were crushed to death in April during the holiday of Lag B’Omer at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. It was Israel’s deadliest peacetime disaster.

The formation of the  inquiry was stalled for nearly two months in a disagreement with Haredi ministers over its makeup and scope. As a formal state inquiry, the independent commission will be led by a retired Supreme Court justice who will appoint the three other members. The commission will have the authority to call witnesses and compel testimony.

The committee was allocated NIS 6 million ($1.8 million) for administrative expenses.

Hundreds of thousands of people come to Meron every year to celebrate Lag B’Omer, which is also the anniversary of the death of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who authored the Zohar, Judaism’s primary book of mysticism. In the April tragedy, celebrants making their way down a narrow passageway covered with metal flooring slipped, apparently on a wet area, causing a cascade of people tumbling down. The 45 who died were either trampled on or asphyxiated in the surging crush of people. Another 150 were injured.

The Forum of Families of Meron Victims praised the cabinet decision, saying, “This is a very important decision. Although it will not bring back our most beloved ones, at least we will be able to ensure the prevention of another disaster.”

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Criticizing the nearly two-month delay in the commission’s creation, the Forum added, “This decision should have been made the week after the disaster, and it is sad that we had to fight for it ourselves.”

The Israeli police and State Comptroller Matanyahu Engelman had already launched their own separate investigations.

Among the issues the committee is expected to examine is why previous warnings that the site was no longer safe for the growing crowds went unheeded and who has overall administrative responsibility for the site. Its recommendations will not be binding, but will carry great weight.

Meron is Israel’s second-most visited holy site after the Western Wall.

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