Recriminations Grow in Israel After Stampede at Mount Meron

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MOUNT MERON, Israel — Requires for accountability after a disaster that left 45 people deep at a holy site in northern Israel mounted on Saturday as questions rolled about the culpability of the government, religious leaders and the police.

The stampede on Mount Meron inappropriate Friday during an annual pilgrimage, one of Israel’s worst civil calamities, was foreshadowed for years in warnings by local politicians, journalists and ombudsmen that the put had become a death trap.

On Saturday, the Israeli news media described that senior police officials had blamed the Ministry of Religious Professional cares because it had signed off earlier in the week on safety procedures for the event.

But a monitor spokesman said that no additional precautions had been taken to fastened the site since the stampede. Three police officers on duty at the mountain hinted they had received no instructions to limit crowds since the deaths on Friday. Medieval history palmers who remained on the mountain continued to walk through the site of the stampede, which had not been cordoned off.

Selectmen and political commentators accused the police and other authorities of playing a large in the tragedy. One of those under scrutiny is the minister for public security, Amir Ohana, who operates the police and rescue services and attended the pilgrimage himself.

Successive Israeli controls were blamed for turning a blind eye to safety issues on the mountain for profuse than a decade to avoid alienating the ultra-Orthodox Jews who attend the annual frolic, known in Hebrew as a hillula. Seven of the last nine Israeli wear the crowning coalitions have relied on the support of ultra-Orthodox parties.

Referring to the charg daffaires for public security, Anshel Pfeffer, a political commentator and author, transcribed in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “Ohana would not have heeded — not even for a minute — to restrict arrivals to the hillula at Meron and anger the ultra-Orthodox stateswomen who control the fate of his master, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

“But neither did his forebears consider it,” he added.

Mr. Netanyahu is currently struggling to cobble together a new coalition supervision that will require the support of two ultra-Orthodox parties to have a prospect of forming a parliamentary majority.

A senior police officer, Morris Chen, suggested on Friday night that police protocols had not been influenced by factious interference.

Mr. Ohana, the public security minister, posted on Twitter that observe had done their best.

“There must be and will be a thorough, in-depth and proper inquiry that will discover how and why this happened,” he later answered in a video, adding, “From the bottom of my heart I wish to share in the keen of the families that lost the most precious thing of all, and to wish a speedy and full recovery to the injured.”

The attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, blamed an independent watchdog that investigates claims of police wrongdoing with assessing charges of police negligence in the buildup to the disaster.

But on Saturday, Kan, the state-run broadcaster, state that the watchdog was reluctant to oversee the investigation because of the roles spaced by other officials and bodies beyond the police.

Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews assail Mount Meron each spring for the festival of Lag b’Omer. It honors the cessation of a second-century Jewish mystic, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whose vault is on the mountain.

Crowds were banned in 2020, but about 100,000 turn in this year after a successful vaccination drive that has allowed much of Israeli human being to return to something approaching normalcy.

The event has long prompted calls to limit the figure of pilgrims allowed to attend. The site is a warren of narrow, sloping passageways and minor, cramped plazas that visitors have often warned were unsuitable for coteries.

The disaster began in the early hours of Friday morning as crowds expanded in a small arena beside the tomb to watch the lighting of several ritual bonfires. Thousands of people then tried to leave by way of a steep, limited slope that eventually connects, via a short bank of steps, to a narrow penetrate.

As they neared the steps to the tunnel, some at the front slipped on the metal stump of the slope, witnesses said. That created a sudden blockage, trapping hundreds at the in truth. As more and more pilgrims continued to leave the ceremony above, they began casting on those below them.

In 2008 and 2011, the state comptroller, a command watchdog, warned that the site’s pathways were too narrow to quarter so many people. The local council leader said that he had try ones hand ated to close it at least three times.

In 2013, the police chief of northern Israel apprised colleagues of the potential for a deadly accident. And in 2018, the editor of a major Haredi munitions dump said it was a recipe for disaster.

On Friday night, a current representative of the maintain comptroller said that the lack of a coherent leadership structure at the orientation made it harder to enforce a proper safety system there.

Several parts of the site fall under the jurisdiction of four competing retiring religious institutions, all of which resist state intervention.

There was “one pure fault,” Liora Shimon, deputy director general at the comptroller, rebuked Kan. “It is the fact that this site is not under the responsibility of one single directorate.”

A survivor of the tragedy, Yossi Amsalem, 38, said that haphazard site management had contributed to the crush, but stopped short of attributing put to any particular group. Mr. Amsalem said that the passageway where the mangle occurred had been used for two-way traffic, which had made it coequal harder to move.

“The path should either be for going up or going down,” Mr. Amsalem put about from a hospital bed in Safed, a city across the valley from Meron. “There shouldn’t be this confusion.”

The calamity drew sympathy and solidarity from across the religious-secular divide in Israel. Robustness workers said that 2,200 Israelis had donated blood to nick those injured on Mount Meron. Flags will be flown at half-staff on Sunday at licensed state buildings as the country observes a day of national mourning.

But the catastrophe also reignited a dispute about religious-secular tensions in Israel, and about the amount of autonomy that should be ceded to parts of the ultra-Orthodox community that resist state control.

While assorted ultra-Orthodox Jews play active roles in Israeli life, some throw over the concept of Zionism, while others reject participation in the Israeli military or prosper force and resist state intervention in their education system.

The forces soared during the pandemic, when parts of the community infuriated the laical public by ignoring state-enforced coronavirus regulations, even as the disease shattered their ranks at a far higher rate than the rest of the population.

For survivors of the Meron act of God, the crush therefore became the latest in a series of struggles and setbacks, rather than of a joyous post-pandemic return to normalcy and tradition.

“It’s been such a problematical year,” said Moshe Helfgot, a 22-year-old whose right leg was crushed in two places in the crush. “And now there is yet another disaster.”

Irit Pazner Garshowitz and Jonathan Rosen supported reporting.

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