Members of state inquiry into Meron disaster are protested while touring site

Members of the state commission of inquiry into the tragedy at Mount Meron toured the site of the deadly crush for the first time on Monday, and were met by jeers from a number of ultra-Orthodox protestors who oppose the investigation.

Forty-five people were trampled to death at Mount Meron during Lag B’Omer festivities on April 30, in Israel’s worst peacetime disaster.

In one of its first acts, Israel’s new government formed a state commission of inquiry to probe the disaster and recommend specific changes to the holy site, which hosts a yearly celebration in honor of the second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai that draws hundreds of thousands and is believed to be the largest single annual Jewish event in the world.

Former president of the Supreme Court Miriam Naor, Bnei Brak mayor Rabbi Mordechai Karelitz and former IDF planning chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Shlomo Yanai toured the site on Monday.

The taskforce’s members were appointed by current Chief Justice Esther Hayut in June.

The commission said the aim of the tour was to see the site’s infrastructure and understand how the yearly Lag B’Omer festivities occur.

In the statement, the commission added that at this stage, it would not hear claims related to the case.

“We won’t let you take Rashbi out of the hands of the ultra-Orthodox,” a number of protesters shouted toward Bnei Brak mayor Rabbi Mordechai Karelitz according to the Walla news site, referring to sage by an acronym of his name.

Most ultra-Orthodox MKs have opposed a state commission of inquiry and had pushed for a different kind of probe into the incident that would hand Haredi-controlled bodies greater power over the conclusions.

But many in the community support the state inquiry.

The newly appointed members of the Meron disaster commission: Commission chair and former chief justice Miriam Naor, right, former Bnei Brak mayor Rabbi Mordechai Karelitz, left, former IDF planning chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Shlomo Yanai, 2nd left, and sitting Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, 2nd right, who chose the commission members, on June 27, 2021. (Courtesy Courts Authority)

The tour was also attended by representatives of the police, the National Center for Development of Holy Places, the National Unit for Enforcing Planning and Construction Laws, the Merom HaGalil Regional Council, and the attorney general.

The state commission of inquiry can subpoena witnesses, but the report and testimony it gathers cannot be used as evidence in criminal proceedings, according to the Israel Democracy Institute think tank.

Victims of the April 30, 2021, Mount Meron disaster: Top row (L-R): Chen Doron, Haim Rock, Ariel Tzadik, Yossi Kohn, Yisrael Anakvah, Yishai Mualem, Yosef Mastorov, Elkana Shiloh and Moshe Levy; 2nd row (L-R): Shlomo Zalman Leibowitz, Shmuel Zvi Klagsbald, Mordechai Fakata, Dubi Steinmetz, Abraham Daniel Ambon, Eliezer Gafner, Yosef Greenbaum, Yehuda Leib Rubin and Yaakov Elchanan Starkovsky; 3rd row (L-R): Haim Seler, Yehoshua Englard, Moshe Natan Neta Englard, Yedidia Hayut, Moshe Ben Shalom, David Krauss, Eliezer Tzvi Joseph, Yosef Yehuda Levy and Yosef Amram Tauber; 4th row (L-R): Menachem Knoblowitz, Elazar Yitzchok Koltai, Yosef David Elhadad, Shraga Gestetner, Yonatan Hebroni, Shimon Matalon, Elazar Mordechai Goldberg, Moshe Bergman and Daniel Morris; 5th row (L-R): Ariel Achdut, Moshe Mordechai Elhadad, Hanoch Slod, Yedidya Fogel, Menahem Zakbah, Simcha Diskind, Moshe Tzarfati, Nahman Kirshbaum and Eliyahu Cohen.

The commission began work last month and issued an order to the attorney general to hand over documents related to the planning of the event. The attorney general will also supply the three-member committee with internal government reports that attempted to address whether it could have been averted.

The tragedy occurred as thousands of people visiting the gravesite streamed through a narrow walkway. The passage was covered with metal flooring, which may have been wet, causing some people to fall underfoot during the rush for the exit. Some apparently fell on the walkway and down a flight of stairs at its end, toppling onto those below and precipitating a fatal crushing domino effect.

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