Mount Meron Was Israel's Worst Civilian Disaster, but It's Just the Latest Preventable Tragedy

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A funeral in Jerusalem of a victim from the Mount Meron disaster
A funeral in Jerusalem of a victim from the Mount Meron disaster Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Macabbiah bridge disaster, the Versailles wedding hall disaster, the Arad music festival disaster, the Carmel fire disaster and the Wadi Tzafit flood disaster. Israeli history is full of civil disasters that took the lives of dozens of people from all sectors of society, and under a variety of circumstances.

Most events had one thing in common: contempt for human life by the authorities and private entities, shortcuts and the “it’ll be fine” attitude that can end up costing human lives. In some cases, the disaster could have been averted or there may have been fewer fatalities if those responsible were properly prepared. In certain cases, the authorities and private entities ignored the warnings, did not repair hazards, flouted the rules and paved the way for an outcome that became inevitable.

The list includes train wrecks, building collapses, drownings, suffocating crowds, fires, and other disasters. Not in every instance does the number of fatalities attest to the seriousness of the incident. Sometimes disasters with relatively few casualties have gone down in history because of the failures and oversights that preceded them.

Arad musical festival, 1995

Arad musical festival in 1991Credit: Chen-li Gal

In 1995, three young people were killed at the veteran Arad music festival, the Israeli version of Woodstock, when they were crushed to death during a farewell concert by the Israeli rock group Mashina. Thousands more tickets were sold than the site was authorized to hold, which caused the deadly overcrowding. As a result – 12 years later – a new safety regulation was instituted at mass events. Five of those responsible for the Arad concert disaster were convicted of negligent homicide and sent to prison or a sentence of community service – the head of the ticket office, the CEO of the festival, the producer and some police officers. The court ruled that those involved ignored warning signs and did not consult experts. “The proper legal policy cannot be accusing others without first removing the blindfold from the eyes of those pointing the finger at others," the judges wrote.

Maccabiah Games, 1997

Two years later, in 1997, another tragedy struck the country. Four athletes were killed and dozens injured when a bridge over the Yarkon River in Ramat Gan collapsed during the 15th Maccabiah Games.

Five of those responsible, including an engineer and contractors, were convicted of negligent homicide and sent to prison or were sentenced to community service. The court determined that they had a “low moral threshold” and that they were “arrogant.” The parliamentary committee that investigated the disaster wrote that “no official saw himself fully responsible,” for the incident and that it was caused due to poor planning and coordination, a lack of oversight, careless construction without experience or authorization and inferior materials used to construct the bridge.

The Versailles wedding hall after its collapseCredit: Eyal Warszewski.

Versailles wedding hall, 2001

In 2001, the dance floor at the Versailles wedding hall in Jerusalem collapsed during a wedding. Twenty-three people were killed and hundreds injured. It was the most serious construction disaster in the history of the state. A video capturing the disaster sparked public shock and outrage. The hall’s owners and engineers, among them the man who invented the defective construction material Pal-Kal, Eli Ron, were convicted of negligent homicide and sent to prison. Following the disaster, a government committee that investigated the disaster published its findings in 2003. The committee found faults in construction stemming from ongoing systemic failures.

In 2014, a state comptroller’s report found that the recommendations following the Versailles disaster had not been implemented and enumerated a number of safety incidents that had occurred in the following years due to safety failures, some of which led to loss of life. Among these incidents: the collapse of a lighting beam during preparations for Israel’s 64th Independence Day Ceremony; an explosion in a building in Jerusalem due to a fault in a gas line; the collapse of a retaining wall on the Modi’in-Tel Aviv railroad line; the collapse of a balcony in a new building in Hadera; the sinking of the Dror highway interchange; and the collapse of a bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem.

Mount Carmel forest fire, 2010

The fire in the Carmel in 2010Credit: Dan Amir

In 2010, 44 people were killed in a forest fire on Mount Carmel. Among them were prison guards trapped on a bus that was burned and police and firefighters who came to their aid. The disaster uncovered serious failures, and the state comptroller found fault with the responses of various bodies at all levels. He charged Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Interior Minister Eli Yishai with “special responsibility” for “serious failures that led to a particularly low level of preparedness by the firefighting and rescue services,” but did not call for their resignations. He charged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Abramovitz with “overall responsibility.”

Wadi Tzafit flashflood, 2018

In 2018, ten young people were killed in a flash flood in Wadi Tzafit when they were on a hike organized by a pre-military academy. Last year, the head of the academy and the guide were charged with negligent homicide. The indictment states that they ignored the flood dangers despite multiple warnings.

Ella Or, Gali Balel, Agam Levi, Shani Samir, Adi Ra’anan, Yael Sadan, Maayan Barhum, Romi Cohen and Tzur Alfi were killed in a flash flood April 27, 2018