Probe finds Netanyahu ‘personally responsible’ for deadly Meron disaster

Benjamin Netanyahu knew, or should have known, of the dangers that took the lives of 45 people in 2021 at the holy site, said the state commission of inquiry.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The 2021 disaster in which 45 men and boys lost their lives during holiday celebrations at a holy site could be laid at the feet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the state’s official report on the incident Wednesday.

Every year on Lag B’Omer, Mount Meron is overwhelmed by visitors coming to the gravesite of the ancient sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. That year, a smaller crowd of approximately 100,000 pilgrims were on the site, due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Netanyahu, said the report either knew, or should have known, of the dangers at the site, where the infrastructure is not sufficient to ensure proper crowd control.

By virtue of his position as head of government, he “has the responsibility to proactively locate, by himself or through mechanisms on his behalf, issues that require the attention of his office,” especially when it is a matter of “human lives,” it stated.

However, while holding the prime minister “personally responsible,” as “there is a reasonable basis for stating that Netanyahu knew that the [site] had been poorly cared for, for years,” the report did not call for his removal from office as a result.

The one who should be fired for his personal responsibility for dozens being crushed when a crowd fell on a slippery passageway leading directly to a narrow staircase, is Police Chief Kobi Shabtai, the report said.

His term in office had been set to expire in January, but due to the ongoing war against Hamas, it was extended for six months.

The commission stated that due to these special circumstances, it will leave the decision up to the government as to when he should be let go.

Three years ago, Shabtai had blamed his northern district commander, Shimon Lavi, as Meron is located in his area of command. Lavi did assume responsibility, and retired a year after the tragedy.

In his initial reaction to the report, Shabtai said, “I will finish my job as soon as the government decides” on it.

Other government officials who the report concludes should be sanctioned include current Speaker of the Knesset and then-public security minister Amir Ohana and then-religious affairs minister Yaakov Avitan. Neither should serve again in their former ministries, the commission decided.

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“The writing that was on the wall has been known to many for many years,” the report stated. “This disaster could have been prevented, and it was our duty to prevent it.”

The 45 who died ranged in age from nine to 65 and included foreign citizens. Some 150 people were injured, including one teenager who suffered permanent brain damage and is minimally functional as a result.

Meron was the deadliest civil disaster in the history of the State of Israel.

 

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