Five men convicted of being responsibility for the deaths of three teenagers in the Arad Festival disaster six years ago were yesterday sentenced to jail terms, community service and fines.
More than 26,000 tickets were sold for the Arad music festival although the stadium in which it was held had been built for a maximum of 18,000 people. The disaster occurred on 17 July 1995 at the concluding performance of the festival - at 10 P.M. under the pressure of thousands of teenagers trying to push their way into the already jam-packed arena for the performance, three iron supporting struts collapsed, trapping hundreds of youngsters beneath. Furthermore, because of poor safety preparations by the organizers, emergency personnel experienced significant delays getting to the scene. Three teenagers - Na'ama Alkariv, Eitan Peled and Chen Yitzhak - were trampled to death before help arrived.
Be'er Sheva Magistrate Court convicted five people of negligent manslaughter - a charge that carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail. The court imposed lesser sentences, noting that the defendants were all people who had contributed to society in the past and had suffered from feelings of guilt. The court also noted that before the disaster, there were no clearly laid down safety procedures for such mass events.
The following sentences were imposed:
l Yossi Bender, the owner of the ticket office that oversold the performance so disastrously - and who also falsified the records afterward - was sentenced to one year in jail plus a NIS 30,000 fine. The fine, the judges said, was because he profited personally from the extra tickets that were sold.
l Ro'i Schwartz, the festival producer, was sentenced to nine months in jail and a NIS 20,000 fine. Schwartz was involved in making many of the poor safety decisions, and also failed to supervise the ticket sales.
l Avinoam Werbner, executive director of the festival association and Arad's city manager, was sentenced to six months of community service for his failure to supervise the festival properly.
l Moshe Avni, who at the time was commander of the Negev regional police, also received six months of community service. The court said he failed to enforce the business licensing laws properly, in particular by approving a ticket distribution system that precluded checks on the quantity sold.
l Shlomo Abutbul, then head of the Negev police's operations department, was sentenced to three months of community service for having failed to deploy his forces properly, which could have prevented or at least mitigated the disaster.
All five men said they plan to appeal their sentences, and the prosecution agreed to defer making them effective until the appeal is heard. The victims' families were equally unhappy, saying the sentences were too lenient.