Director, Guide Charged With Negligent Homicide in Israeli Teens’ Flash Flood Deaths

Charges say Yuval Kahan and Aviv Berditchev received multiple flood warnings but decided not to cancel the trip that ended in disaster

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  Ella Or, Gali Balel, Agam Levi, Shani Samir, Adi Ra’anan, Yael Sadan, Maayan Barhum, Romi Cohen and Tzur Alfi were killed in a flash flood April 27, 2018
Ella Or, Gali Balel, Agam Levi, Shani Samir, Adi Ra’anan, Yael Sadan, Maayan Barhum, Romi Cohen and Tzur Alfi were killed in a flash flood April 27, 2018

The director of the Bnei Zion pre-army academy and one of its guides were charged Monday with negligent homicide and causing severe injury after 10 teenagers in their care died in a flash flood while hiking in the Negev desert in April 2018.

The negligent homicide charges against program director Yuval Kahan and tour guide Aviv Berditchev carry a maximum sentence of 12 years. The difference between negligent homicide and manslaughter relates to the suspect’s state of mind.

Eight of the dead teenagers were high school students interested in applying for the pre-military program and two were studying in the program. They were Agam Levy, Ilan Bar-Shalom, Ella Or, Gali Baleli, Shani Shamir, Adi Ra’anan, Yael Sadan, Maayan Barhoum, Romi Cohen and Tzur Alfi. Other teens on the trip managed to find shelter before the flood at Nahal Tzafit and were ultimately rescued.

Kahan and Berdichev didn’t cancel the trip and didn’t stop the teenagers from entering the wadi despite being aware of the clear and present danger of flash flooding. The two received warnings about the risk of flash floods before and during the trip, including from experts.

The charges list the warnings the two received before the flood: “It was brought to the attention of the defendant, Kahan, in the days before the trip that all the Education Ministry trips in the areas prone to flooding had been canceled, but he ignored that warning, and wrote about it that it ‘really isn’t interesting,’” the charges state.

The two also knew of, and ignored, the opinion of the Arava rescue deputy commander that they shouldn’t go on the trip at this time and shouldn’t “take the chance.”

The program had paid the weather forecasting company Meteo-Tech for information about potential flooding in the area but the charges say the two ignored that as well. Another guide with Bnei Zion responsible for preparing the trip begged the defendants to cancel it for fear of flooding, but they ignored those pleas.

During the trip itself, after the teens had entered the wadi bed, Berdichev found out that rain had started falling in the stream’s drainage basin but he still told the group to walk on. Kahan also received information about the rain and the risk, but according to the charges, he “did nothing to stop the trip.”

The trip had originally been planed for Nahal Tze’elim but that route was closed. Berdichev decided to move the hike to Nahal Tzafit and another stream, Tamar, despite flood warnings that also pertained to them. The charges note that Berdichev was not personally familiar with these streams, did not know their paths and had not hiked them before he went there with the teens. Moreover, while the school’s recruitment team had decided to postpone the trip, Kahan “was not satisfied with that decision, and told the children to bring rain gear.”

“By their deeds of commission and omission, the defendants caused the deaths of 10 members of the group and severe injury to two candidates, casually, while undertaking an unreasonable risk,” the charges state.

A representative of the parents said that the grave charges speak for themselves but nothing can heal the injuries of the families: 10 children died on a field trip that had been born in sin and ended in disaster. The families hope the responsible parties will be judged, as well as all the authorities discounting their responsibility, the representative said.

Kahan’s lawyers, Natan Simchony and Asaf Klein, stated that they can only regret the decision to try their client: A correct examination of all the evidence should have led to the informed decision to close the case. However, they said, their client places his trust in the court and believes he will be vindicated.

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