Israeli probe into deadly holy site stampede opens hearings

An Israeli government commission investigating a deadly accident at a Jewish pilgrimage site in April held its first day of hearings Sunday, almost four months after the stampede at Mount Meron left 45 people dead, reported AP. The incident occurred on April 29 incident at the Jewish festival in northern Israel was the deadliest civilian disaster in the country’s history.

Mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews of around 100,000 worshippers, attended festivities despite coronavirus regulations limiting outdoor assemblies to 500 people, and in spite of longstanding warnings about the safety of the site. Hundreds of people bottlenecked in a narrow passageway descending the mountain, and a slippery slope caused people to stumble and fall. The human avalanche caused killed 45 people and injured at least 150. In June, the Israeli government approved the formation of an independent state commission of inquiry to investigate safety shortcomings at the Lag Baomer celebrations at Mount Meron. Former Supreme Court justice Miriam Naor headed the panel and began proceedings with testimony from Northern District police chief Shimon Lavi, the officer who was in charge of managing the event. The site in northern Israel is believed to be the burial place of celebrated second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

The tomb complex and adjoining structures are managed by the Religious Services Ministry’s department for holy places. Experts had long warned that the Mount Meron complex was inadequately equipped to handle the enormous crowds that flock there during the springtime holiday, and that existing infrastructure was a safety risk. But April’s gathering went forward this year nonetheless as powerful ultra-Orthodox politicians reportedly pressured then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government officials to lift attendance restrictions.