The State Prosecutor’s Office announced Monday that the families of nine of the teens killed in the Nahal Tzafit tragedy three years ago will receive a total of 24 million shekels ($7.3 million) in damages, after the settlement reached in a mediation process was approved.
The insurance company will pay the families 18 million shekels and the state will pay six million.
In February of last year, the families of nine of those killed and another family whose son was injured in the disaster filed 11 civil suits. The Bar-Shalom family, whose daughter Ilan was killed, did not join the suit and so will not receive compensation.
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“We will not sit to negotiate the value of our daughter’s life,” said Ilan’s father, Uriel Bar-Shalom. “If ultimately we have to sue, a judge will have to decide.”
Etti Balali, mother of Gali Balali, who perished in the disaster, says she has mixed feelings. “With the settlement, the state taking responsibility in a way for the disaster in which nine girls and one boy died, and we look at that as something a little positive. This is justice and it is the appropriate step. However, to this day not one government body – neither the Education Ministry nor the Defense Ministry – is ready to say that they bear some blame for what happened. The statement today from the State Prosecutor’s Office also did not contain any words like that.”
The Nahal Tzafit disaster occurred in April 2018, during a hiking trip for incoming students of the Bnei Zion pre-military academy. Nine girls and one boy died: Agam Levy, Ilan Bar-Shalom, Ella Or, Gali Balali, Maayan Barhum, Tzur Alfi, Romi Cohen, Shani Shamir, Yael Sadan and Adi Raanan. The other teens who were on the trip managed to take cover just before the flash flood hit and were rescued.
The head of the academy, Yuval Kahn, and the tour’s guide, Aviv Berditchev, were charged with negligent homicide and causing severe injury, and their trial is still going on. The maximum sentence for negligent homicide is 12 years’ imprisonment. The indictment states that Kahn and Berditchev did not cancel the hike in the stream and did not stop the teens from entering it, even though they knew there was a clear and present danger of flash flooding.
According to the indictment, they had gotten repeated warnings about bad weather, both before and during the trip, including warnings from experts on the risks of rain and flash flooding in the area of the hike, but they let it go ahead anyway.
The prosecution opened an arbitration proceeding, but numerous parents objected and insisted on refusing the proposal by the Be’er Sheva District Court to sign off on a plea agreement with them. In July of last year, the process ended when the prosecution also refused to accept the court’s proposal for a plea agreement under which Kahan and Berditchev would be charged with manslaughter, rather than negligent homicide.
In February of last year, an examination committee was set up to determine how to prevent future disasters during activities by pre-military academies, and the government granted it the powers of an investigative inquiry. The committee is headed by retired District Court Judge Shulamit Wasserkrug.