Ombudsman suspends probe of Meron disaster to let state commission take lead

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman announced Wednesday that he has suspended his investigation into the tragedy at Mount Meron to allow the state commission of inquiry take the lead in probing the deadly crush during Lag B’Omer celebrations earlier this year.

Englman’s decision to suspend the probe came a day after he met with members of the commission and presented them with his office’s findings so far.

“I decided to wrap up the inspection and allow the committee to carry out its role optimally and exclusively,” Englman said in a statement.

The announcement came a week after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ordered a halt to the ongoing criminal investigation into the disaster for the same reasons.

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, which has been blamed on improperly installed ramparts and walkways.

Despite previously opening an investigation, Mandelblit said last week that the state commission should get priority over other investigations because it has a “wide mandate.”

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, Israel, January 23, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Therefore, he said, the investigations by the Israel Police and the Police Internal Investigations Department into the event “will be suspended.”

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.

The state commission of inquiry began work earlier this 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.

Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene of the fatal crush during Lag B’Omer celebrations on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The tragedy occurred as thousands of people visiting the gravesite of the 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai 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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