Senior police official: Politicians refused to limit Meron’s presence

Northern District Police Superintendent Shimon Lavi told the Mount Meron Disaster State Commission of Inquiry on Sunday that politicians have blocked all attempts by police to limit traffic to the site surrounding the celebrations. by Lag Ba’omer.

Lavi, who gave a very moving account of how the tragedy unfolded, was the opening witness to testify before the commission which is expected to hear from political, religious, security and victims officials.

The commission is expected to hear tomorrow the testimony of Lavi’s predecessor as northern police commander Alon Asur, as well as Rabbi Kotel and Holy Places Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich.

On April 30, some 45 men and boys, most of them ultra-Orthodox, died in a mass crash on Mount Meron, the site of the tomb of Talmudic sage Shimon Bar Yohai, where tens of thousands of pilgrims sided. gathered for the annual Lag Ba ‘omer celebrations of what has been Israel’s worst civil disaster.

The previous government of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and various ultra-Orthodox parties, which were at least partially involved in the demand for unlimited participation, refused to establish a state commission of inquiry, which would be free from political interference.

This contravened the wishes of the majority of the families of the victims who claimed that only a truly independent panel would be able to find who was responsible for the deaths of their loved ones and prevent such a catastrophe in the future.

Meron Commission of Inquiry, August 22. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL / FLASH 90)

Some of the ultra-Orthodox officials had advocated improved infrastructure in the past, but few were willing to limit the number of participants and none of them wanted a survey that would point the finger at them.

While the coronavirus was expected to force the government to limit attendance, by the time the holidays rolled out, the crown in Israel was routed by the first wave of vaccines.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government quickly approved a commission of inquiry, and in late June Supreme Court President Esther Hayut appointed a three-member panel to chair the investigation into the state of Meron disaster.

The commission is chaired by former Chief Justice Miriam Naor, the other two members being Rabbi Mordechai Karlitz and the IDF Major General. (res.) Shlomo Yanai.

Each of the commission members asked Lavi tough questions on Sunday.

Yanai noted that a 2017 police report insisted that no more than 9,000 people could be safely at the Meron site.

In contrast, Tanai noted that Lavi cleared more than 25,000 people at the site last spring.

Lavi responded with two main points.

First, he said the police had revised his view as the site itself had been expanded since 2017.

Second, he said that on every issue where he or his predecessors at the head of the police force pushed to limit the number of participants, the number of bonfires and increase the security measures, there had been a political setback. and religious haredi to be more discreet about the way the faithful behaved.

He appeared to say he was able to limit the number of bonfires despite political pressure, but was less successful in limiting the number of participants.

Lavi mentioned both former Interior Minister Amir Ohana and various religious figures as urging him to be more flexible on the balance between security and non-intervention.

Naor asked him what he was going to change for the future?

He replied, “We have to restart everything related to the events in Meron. We have to change the location of the bonfires, the parking lot, to change everything. We must pave the streets and [build] infrastructure – the area is small.

The commission chief then asked him if he would agree to host the Lag Baomer celebrations in Meron in the spring of 2022 if major changes had not yet occurred.

Immediately he replied that he would not and that a hard line had to be taken to demand reforms and overcome political pressures that would otherwise intervene again to challenge public safety.

As the commission members were announced, Hayut said appointing a state inquiry using this model would ensure the independence of his findings from political considerations and restore public confidence in the management of the issue by the state.

A statement said Naor was chosen because of her stature as the head of the entire judiciary and her experience in dealing with very complex issues.

Rabbi Karlitz was selected for having served as mayor of Bnei Brak and having experience in construction and design matters, with Meron events in general and with public policies and the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community regarding the integration into the army.

Yanai was selected because of his expertise in logistics and planning matters, both during his time in the IDF and in the private sector since his retirement from the military.

Hayut cited the tradition that when she announced that the survey was on the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tamuz, was a day of fasting in memory of when the walls of Jerusalem were broken during the Roman invasion in 1970. EC. She expressed the hope that this Meron commission would counteract this story by restoring some positivity and stability to Israeli society.

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