A former president of Israel's Supreme Court was appointed on Sunday to head its state commission of inquiry into a stampede at a Jewish pilgrimage site in April that killed 45 people, among them U.S. and Canadian citizens.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut appointed retired Chief Justice Miriam Naor, who will be joined on the panel by Rabbi Mordechai Karelitz, a former mayor of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish city of Bnei Brak, and retired Israeli army general Shlomo Yanai, a spokesperson for the courts said in a statement.
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The commission is expected to examine how the fatal events unfolded, and the decision-making processes that led to the approval of the event despite safety concerns. Upon its conclusion, the commission will present findings pertaining to all aspects of the disaster.
A state commission of inquiry possesses extremely broad powers. It has the authority to summon public servants and citizens alike to give public testimony and even compel them to submit materials, including confidential ones. According to the High Court ruling, the government must consider the commission’s findings, but it does not have to accept them. The committee headed by Naor is the first state commission of inquiry established since February 2009, since Benjamin Netanyahu came to power.
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Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews thronged to the Galilee hillside tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on April 30 for the annual Lag B'Omer festival that includes all-night prayer, songs and dance.
During the ceremony, part of the crowd surged into a narrow tunnel and 45 men and boys were asphyxiated or trampled to death. Israeli media said at least six of the fatalities had U.S. citizenship and two had Canadian citizenship.
Ordering the inquiry last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said it would help safeguard other mass-attendance events in Israel, which has sites sacred to Christianity and Islam as well as to Judaism.
“As we promised, we are approving the proposal of my friends - Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman - to establish a state commission of inquiry into the disaster on Mount Meron. 45 people lost their lives in the terrible disaster, and we have a responsibility to learn its lessons and prevent the next disaster. The commission will not be able to return those who [died], but the government can do everything to prevent such an unnecessary loss in the future,” said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.