State inquiry blames Netanyahu, senior officials for Meron disaster

A special committee, which investigated the incident and interviewed many witnesses, sent letters of warning to a list of politicians and officials, including the former prime minister.

By Aryeh Savir, TPS

The special stated-appointed committee that investigated the disaster on Lag b’Omer at Mount Meron dispatched warning letters to a long list of 18 senior officials who were implicated in the responsibility for the catastrophe.

In May 2021, during the main event celebrating Lag b’Omer on Mount Meron near the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, overcrowding and poor infrastructure at the site generated congestion that led to the crushing and suffocation of 45 people and the injury of dozens of others, -a catastrophe that is considered the greatest civil disaster in Israel’s history.

A special committee, headed by Judge Deborah Berliner, which investigated the incident in recent months and interviewed many witnesses, sent letters on Tuesday to a list of politicians and officials who may be affected by the committee’s conclusion.

The recipients include former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Member of Knesset (MK) Amir Ohana, who served as Minister of Public Security at the time of the disaster; Yaakov Avitan, who served as minister of religious affairs; Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai; former commander of the Northern District of the police Shimon Lavi, who has since retired; Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, and other police officers and senior officials.

While Netanyahu claimed during his testimony that he was not notified by the relevant officials about the dangers at Mount Meron, the committee wrote in the warning letter that “he who served as prime minister for more than 12 years knew – or should have known – that the site of the Rashbi’s tomb in Meron has been treated poorly for years, which could create a risk for the many participants in the celebrations that takes place every year on Lag Ba’Omer.”

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“Netanyahu did not act as expected of a prime minister to correct this state of affairs, even though the issue was the focus of serious reports by the State Comptroller, that the issue involves several government ministries, and that it was brought to the government’s table on several occasions in different years.

“Netanyahu did not ensure effective monitoring of the government’s handling of the matter, even after, as part of a discussion of a government decision in 2016, it was made clear that previous government decisions on the subject were not implemented,” the letter stated.