Israel's Top Justice to Appoint Panelists to Mount Meron State Probe

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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A memorial ceremony held in Tel Aviv in remembrance of the Meron Mount victims, last month.
A memorial ceremony held in Tel Aviv in remembrance of the Meron Mount victims, last month.Credit: Hadas Parush
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut announced on Monday that she will soon appoint a chairperson and two members for the state commission of inquiry to investigate April’s disaster at Mount Meron, which was approved by the Israeli cabinet on Sunday.

The newly elected cabinet voted Sunday to establish a commission of inquiry into the Mount Meron disaster, in which 45 people have died.

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On Monday, Hayut received the Israeli cabinet decision from its secretariat, and said that the process of appointing members is underway. Once they are appointed, the inquiry will officially commence. While the chairperson is expected to be a judge, it will probably not be a Justice since the High Court of Justice's roster is not complete.

Forty-five people were crushed to death during the annual pilgrimage to the grave of the 2nd century Mishnaic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at the foothills of Mount Meron after visitors began slipping on a metal ramp passing through a narrow, overcrowded passageway. The passageway had been illegally constructed by the Toldos Aharon Hasidic sect to enforce gender separation.

Justice Esther Hayut in Israel's High Court in Jerusalem, last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The pilgrimage site is usually packed beyond capacity on the Lag Ba’omer holiday. The responsibility for managing events is shared among a number of Hasidic groups, with none of them having complete oversight.

Prior to this year’s pilgrimage, then Interior Minister Arye Dery pressed officials to rescind proposed limits on the permitted size for Lag Ba’omer events. 

According to a copy of the government resolution tweeted by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the commission will investigate both the Meron disaster itself and the larger question of whether to regulate, or even nationalize, some religious sites at which mass events are held in order to prevent further tragedies. The investigation will have a budget of 6 million shekels ($1.8 million).

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