The blame game has begun after 45 people attending Lag Ba’Omer festivities on Mount Meron were crushed to death in a stampede in the early hours of Friday morning. This was Israel’s worst ever civilian disaster, slightly exceeding the previous most deadly event, when 44 people perished in the Carmel Forest fire in 2010.
With fingers being pointed at the police, religious authorities, government ministries and politicians, State Comptroller Office deputy director general Liora Shimoni said, “The main problem is that there is no single organization that manages the site on behalf of the government.”
She added, “When no single organization controls arrangements for the place, and it is not clear who is managing such a big event as Lag B’Omer, then that opens things up for many problems, both on maintenance and safety of the place and the event itself, how many people can enter and how you regulate the numbers.”
Back in 2008, the State Comptroller’s Office itself warned of a disaster at the site of the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the second most visited site in Judaism after the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Since then not much has been done to address the long-running disputes between the four religious organizations, which claim rights to maintain and manage the various part of the site. In 2011, the State Comptroller issued a follow-up report to point out that its recommendations had not been implemented, but for a few minor improvements regarding maintenance and infrastructure.
Shimoni said, “You have to remember that before the Covid-19 crisis hundreds of thousands of people – between 250,000 and 500,000 – would come to the site. There is no other event in Israel on that scale. That’s on an international level and you have to know how to manage such an event.”
At the end of 2013 the government ordered that a government company be set up to handle the site and that authority be transferred to the company for management. Despite that decision, the disputes over authority continued and only a few of the safety problems at the site were handled.
In 2016, the High Court of Justice cancelled the authority of the government company following a petition from the four religious organizations controlling the site. The powers of the company were transferred to the Ministry for Religious Services. In 2020, the High Court of Justice approved the arrangement until 2023, whereby the Mount Meron site would be managed, with the increased involvement of the Ministry’s National Center for the Development of Holy Sites.
Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on May 2, 2021
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