Meron victims’ families demand independent state inquiry

The disaster that claimed 45 lives must be investigated impartially rather than by the government, say the families of those who died in the Lag b’Omer festivities last month.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The families of the 45 victims who died last month during the Lag B’Omer celebration in Meron sent a letter Monday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding that an independent probe be made into the cause of Israel’s worst-ever civilian disaster.

“We want to say in a loud, clear, and unequivocal voice that cannot be misinterpreted, all the families as one, that we are demanding an independent state commission of inquiry,” the letter said.

The Knesset Arrangements Committee is set to discuss the matter Monday. The opposition controls the committee agenda, and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, head of the opposition, has already said he will try to fast-track a bill to set up such a commission.

A state commission is headed by a former or current Supreme Court judge and is considered an impartial investigation untainted by politics. Although its final recommendations are not binding, they are considered serious and are usually followed by the relevant government ministries.

The letter said that only such a group can be trusted to uncover those responsible for the disaster and prevent it from happening again.

Read  Report: Netanyahu ready to quit in exchange for a Saudi peace deal, dismissal of criminal charges

“We believe that only a state commission of inquiry will investigate the matter completely and thoroughly [so as to] … prevent the next tragedy and apply justice in the most correct way to all the elements involved,” the authors wrote.

So far, only the police and the Police Internal Investigations Department are investigating the tragedy, where a crush of people fell on top of each other on a slippery, narrow incline while leaving one of the traditional bonfire sites on the mountain that contains the grave of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Interior Minister Arye Deri, who heads the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Shas party, had taken credit before the event for overruling health considerations and getting permission for unrestricted access to the site. Up to 100,000 mostly ultra-Orthodox men and boys ended up attending, when in pre-Covid 19 years the crowds have been even larger.

After the tragedy, Shas and fellow haredi party United Torah Judaism called for a proposed bill to establish a public committee of inquiry that would be run by a former local authority head appointed by Deri. It would consist of representatives of the Interior, Public Security and Religious Services ministries and the Chief Rabbinate, and two others the committee would decide on together.

Read  Report: Netanyahu ready to quit in exchange for a Saudi peace deal, dismissal of criminal charges

Opponents saw this move as a way for the ultra-religious parties to basically investigate themselves, as the Interior and Religious Services ministries are run by Shas, and the Chief Rabbinate is also a bastion of the haredi parties.

On Wednesday, UTJ turned around and supported a state commission of inquiry. UTJ MK Moshe Gafni wrote to Netanyahu that the government should initiate it as “the right way to obtain a legal solution regarding the sanctuaries and ownership at Meron, as well as comfort for the families of the dead.”

Supervision over the site and the annual mass celebration is currently divided among a hodgepodge of bodies and security professionals have considered it a safety hazard for years.