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Meron disaster report: Netanyahu personally responsible, police chief should be fired

Report investigated failures that led to 45 casualties in 2021 stampede

Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene after a mass fatality scene during the celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (Photo: David Cohen/Flash90)

Two and a half years after the 2021 Meron disaster, the state commission responsible for investigating the failures that led to the tragedy presented its findings to the government on Wednesday and determined that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was partially to blame

The disaster in 2021 was the worst civilian tragedy in the nation's history when 45 people were killed and about 150 injured in a stampede during the Jewish festival of Lag B'Omer. The incident took place at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on Mount Meron in the Upper Galilee region.

Roughly 100,000 mostly ultra-Orthodox worshippers were at the site when panic broke out after a mass of people fell while descending a set of narrow and steep metal stairs that was slick with spilled beverages. The people behind them continued pushing, leading to the crush that killed 45 people, including children.

The report did not recommend taking any action against Netanyahu but laid responsibility on three public officials: Amir Ohana, the internal security minister at the time; Yaacov Avitan, then religious services minister and Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai.

In light of its report's findings, the commission recommended that Ohana not be nominated to the post again in the future. It was also recommended that Avitan not be made minister again, and that Shabtai be fired from his post.

However, because Israel is currently in the middle of an ongoing war, the commission said it would let the government decide when to let Shabtai go.

When Netanyahu was questioned by the committee in 2022, he denied responsibility for failing to address the longstanding warnings and well-known safety problems at the Mount Meron complex.

The report stated that “there is a reasonable basis for stating that Netanyahu knew that the site of the Rashbi’s tomb for years had been poorly cared for and that this could create a risk for the multitudes of visitors to the place, especially in Lag B’Omer.”

The committee determined that “Netanyahu knew, or at the very least should have known, about the poor treatment of the Rashbi’s grave site and the risks that this entails,” and that he should have corrected the situation.

“The steps he took in this regard were not satisfactory,” the report added.

Following the report's release, the Likud party released a statement essentially downplaying the commission’s findings.

“In practice, the government has already implemented necessary conclusions and the last event in Meron was held with a large and impeccable audience. The government will examine the need to draw additional operational lessons to prevent the recurrence of a disaster of this kind,” the party wrote.

In addition, the Likud statement attacked the Bennett and Lapid government for establishing “a Commission of Inquiry against its predecessor on the political right,” and accused former Prime Minister Yair Lapid of including the participation of a close associate in the commission for political gain.

Lapid called the accusations “a shameful disgrace” and said Netanyahu attempted to flee responsibility.

Ohana, who is now the Knesset speaker, stated: “As described in the report, this is a long-standing failure in organizing the event and the site’s infrastructure but the disaster happened on my shift as the Internal Security Minister, and therefore I have responsibility. I will study the report and do my best to draw the necessary lessons from it.”

Shabtai stated that he would step away from his post “as soon as the government decides.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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