Israel’s State Comptroller announces investigation into Meron disaster

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman bypasses Knesset, will hold his own special investigation into deaths of 45 people at religious festival.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s independent State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman announced Monday that his office will conduct a special audit of the Lag b’Omer disaster that claimed 45 lives to determine what has been done following the release of a report in 2011.

At a press conference convened at his office in central Jerusalem, Englman said he will examine the circumstances and the preparations of the different government bodies and organizations prior to the incident on Friday, focusing on actions taken since the State Comptroller issued a report on the annual Lag b’Omer event in 2011.

“This is a disaster that could have been prevented,” Englman said. “Now, it is up to us to examine and determine how, and what was required to have prevented this event.”

Englman spoke to the political storm brewing over the disaster as some politicians demand an official state commission of inquiry, while others dismiss a national inquiry out of hand. He said that his office would pursue its investigation even if the Knesset ordered a state inquiry.

“To the extent that aspects of personal liability arise in the audit, this will be reflected in the report unequivocally, with individual reference to those concerned,” Englman cautioned. “It is our duty to check the event and what preceded it and we intend to fulfill this commitment to everybody.”

Englman said his review would focus on three main areas: the conduct of all parties involved in organizing prior to and during the event; the management of the site over the years, including a review of the actions taken to correct the deficiencies highlighted in previous State Comptroller’s reports on the issue; and a forward-looking view of how religious mass-attendance events are held in Israel to prevent a future catastrophe.

Englman, who was appointed in 2019, told reporters that a previous State Comptroller report from 2008 and a follow-up audit in 2011 would be checked to see what recommendations from those reports had or had not been implemented.

“These criticisms indicate a number of shortcomings. If they had been rectified, the catastrophe might have been averted,” Englman said.

He noted that the previous audit pointed to deficiencies such as the absence of a government body responsible for the overall management of the site and for organizing the annual event, poor maintenance and illegal construction at the site, and inadequate road infrastructure for access of rescue vehicles at mass-participant events.

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Englman added that if he discovered any “suspicion of criminal offenses,” the matter would be immediately referred to the attorney-general.

In the early hours of Friday morning, a crowd estimated at 100,000 gathered at Mount Meron in Israel for the annual pilgrimage to a revered rabbi’s grave. People packed into a narrow staircase slipped on the slick metal flooring. As people collapsed backwards, it created a domino effect and hundreds were crushed in the restricted passageway. Forty-five people died and hundreds were injured in Israel’s worst peace-time disaster.