Police Recommend Severe Charges for Staff in Flood Deaths of 10 Israeli Teens

The counselor in charge of the teens who found their death in a hiking trip should be charged with manslaughter, program director with negligent homicide

Search and rescue vehicles seen parked in the Negev desert where the 10 teens died during a hiking trip.
\ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Police on Sunday recommended charging Yuval Kahan, director of the pre-army program Bnei Zion, with negligent homicide in the recent deaths of 10 teenage members of the program in a flash flood while hiking in the Negev desert.

The counselor who was in charge of the April 26 trip, Aviv Berdichev, should face the more serious charge of manslaughter, police said. They have not yet decided whether charges should be filed against Noam Dor, another counselor who was on the trip and who warned against going through with it because of the flood risk.

Police believe Berdichev made the decision to change the hike location from the Tze’elim Stream, as originally planned, to the Tzafit Stream, despite specific warnings from the Israel Meteorological Service against hiking in the area. Berdichev even received an email warning of a flash flood risk in the area. Investigators also determined that Kahan knew about the change but told detectives that he trusted Berdichev’s judgment.

Dor, whose father is a senior member of the Arava Desert search and rescue unit, was aware of the flooding risk and had been warned by her father about the dangers in the area. She forwarded his warning to Kahan and Berdichev, who were not persuaded of the danger. Berdichev also consulted with a graduate of the program now serving in the air force, who told the counselor he wasn’t a flood expert but cautioned him that rain was expected in the area at around 3 P.M.

Police initially planned to recommend that Berdichev be charged with the lesser charge of negligent homicide, the offense they recommended for Kahan, but in the course of the investigation they decided that he deserved the graver charge of manslaughter.

“Anyone with eyes in his head can easily see that these are baseless recommendations and that once they are examined by the decision-making body, the prosecution, nothing will remain,” said Berdichev’s defense attorney, Zion Amir, after the police recommendations were issued.

The difference between negligent homicide and manslaughter relates to the suspect’s state of mind. One element of the crime of negligent homicide is that the defendant could not have anticipated the outcome of his act, while the crime of manslaughter involves an element of indifference or recklessness in connection with the outcome. Law enforcement officials suspect that the warnings received by Berdichev were more serious than those received by Kahan.

Kahan resigned as director of the academy a day after he had been released from custody.

Dor’s lawyer, Shachar Mandelman, said he and his client were “happy that the recommendations of the police absolved the counselor of all suspicion and sure that the prosecution will adopt this recommendation.”