Hours before Meron tragedy, official warned that ‘kids were almost crushed’

“Kids were almost crushed, [it was] a really unsightly spectacle,” said Rabbi Yosef Schweinger of the Holy Sites Authority.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Just hours before the tragedy at Mount Meron, the head of Israel’s Holy Sites Authority warned that conditions at the site were dangerous.

“We are stressed and trying to make sure that all systems are working appropriately,” said Rabbi Yosef Schweinger, in a clip republished on Twitter by Kan News.

“God forbid, we don’t want a situation where a child is suffocating, because it’s so crowded around him. We have invested a lot of energy in [preventing] this, and I just wish it was already the day after [the event.]”

Schweinger complained about the “pressure” added by police at Meron, complaining that they had over-zealously enforced crowd restrictions.

“People think the Holy Sites Authority didn’t organize well, but…the police already pushed us, and they know who we are, and they didn’t exactly move us gently. Standing next to me was a well-respected MK, and they also pushed him… Kids were almost crushed, a really unsightly spectacle.”

He added that the public unfairly blames the Holy Sites Authority for organizing the event improperly, but he believes that crowding issues were the sole responsibility of law enforcement.

“The real body responsible for this space is Israeli police, and they can’t escape from this reality,” he said. “We planned everything, we budgeted everything, but in reality, the ‘landlord’ here, on the level of security, is the Israeli police.”

In an interview two days before the event with haredi news site Kikar HaShabbat, Schweinger urged the public to visit the site in staggered groups, calling on visitors to “avoid crowding” and not to stay at the site for longer than necessary.

When asked about how governmental bodies divide responsibility for various aspects of the event, he said, “Immediately after Pesach, we receive a set of demands from the police, the fire brigade, the MDA, the Health Ministry, and we incorporate everything [into the planning.]

“The event costs the State of Israel 15 million shekels. Most of the budget goes to infrastructure and the preparation of parking lots, preparation of lighting, sewage, signage…and security.”

The interviewer alluded to massive traffic jams caused by the event in previous years, but Schweinger dismissed the concerns as out of his control.

“I want to tell you something, even though we’re not responsible for the transportation issue, if there’s a breaking point, the [Holy Sites Authority] will be blamed for it,” he said.