Israelis demand answers from officials, police after Meron tragedy

The tragedy claimed the lives of 45 attendees at Lag B’Omer festivities on Mount Meron, including at least 10 children and teens younger than 18.

By Associated Press

Calls grew louder Saturday for establishing an official commission of inquiry related to a disaster on Friday that cut short the annual festival of Lag B’Omer on Israel’s Mount Meron.

The festival had drawn some 100,000 people in the largest gathering so far this year as Israel’s successful vaccination campaign allowed the country to emerge from coronavirus restrictions.

The tragedy claimed the lives of 45 attendees, including at least 10 children and teens younger than 18, who were killed in the crush at Meron.

The calls for an investigation demand an inquiry into the responsibility of politicians and senior decision-makers for allowing the mass gathering to take place, despite repeated warnings over the years about safety lapses.

Veteran paramedic Yossi Halabi told Israel TV’s Channel 12 on Saturday that he “encountered a wall of bodies” after he was first alerted to the disaster from his nearby post. He said it took him and fellow rescuers about 40 minutes to extract the dead and wounded from the chaos.

He said that it was “one of the worst if not the worst incident” he had seen in 30 years on the job.

Experts have long warned that the Mount Meron celebrations were ripe for disaster due to the crowded conditions, large fires and hot weather. In a 2008 report, the state comptroller, a watchdog government office, warned conditions at the site, including escape routes, “endanger the public.”

The Justice Ministry said it was launching a probe into possible criminal misconduct by police officers. Witnesses complained that police barricades had prevented people from exiting properly.

However, there were growing demands Saturday, including from retired police commanders, for an official commission of inquiry that could also review decisions by the political leadership.