Israel's Watchdog Issued Warning a Decade Ago. Last Night, 45 People Were Killed During Lag Ba'omer Festivities

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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An ultra-orthodox man at the scene in Mt. Meron, northern Israel, today.
An ultra-orthodox man at the scene in Mt. Meron, northern Israel, today.Credit: rami shllush
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The State Comptroller’s Office warned a decade ago of safety deficiencies at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Mount Meron, where at least 45 people were killed and 150 injured at the mass Lag Ba'omer festivities overnight Thursday.

In 2008 and again in 2011, then-State Comptroller Micha Lindenstraus published reports that implicitly warned of a potential disaster on Mount Meron.

One report noted that the site of the tomb was not properly prepared to accommodate mass gatherings.

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In the 2008 report, the State Comptroller’s Office said that "all of the building additions and changes made to the tomb site and around it had been done without the approval of the local and district planning and building committees."

The report alleged that the regional council, which is the local government at the site, “had refrained from overseeing the issues at the site and issuing demolition orders."

Medics and rescue workers attend to the Lag B'Omer event in Mount Meron, northern Israel, today.
Ambulance services working to evacuate the injured
Rescue services at work after the stampede at Mount Meron
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Medics and rescue workers attend to the Lag B'Omer event in Mount Meron, northern Israel, today.Credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS
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Ambulance services working to evacuate the injured
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Rescue services at work after the stampede at Mount Meron

In the disaster early Friday, it appears that the cramming of people in a narrow access path has led to the casualties. The comptroller report mentioned that “the access roads and paths are narrow and not appropriate to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the site.”

In regard to the manner in which the site was being run, the Comptroller’s Office has also said that it had "caused harm to the site and the public."

“There are no grounds for permitting the current situation to continue,” the Comptroller’s Office concluded, “and this includes a neglected building and officials who treat it as their own” at a site that the report described as “of great importance both from a national standpoint and a religious standpoint."

The northern district police commander of the Israel Police, Shimon Lavi, said on Friday that he bears responsibility for the deaths at the site.

“I will put things on the table here. I, Shimon Lavi, the northern district commander, for better or worse, bear overall responsibility,” he admitted. “We uncompromisingly prepared for all of the scenarios relating to safety. I can tell you that at the moment, we are at the stage of gathering evidence. There’s a complex effort here to gather evidence to properly get to the truth.”

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