Gantz to Propose Commission of Inquiry Into Mount Meron Disaster, After Attorney General's Green Light

Police chief says he will 'not allow Israel Police to be anyone's scapegoat' for tragedy that left 45 dead at Lag Ba'omer celebration

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Defense Minister and Acting Justice Minister Benny Gantz, last week
Defense Minister and Acting Justice Minister Benny Gantz, last weekCredit: Hadas Parush

Justice Minister Benny Gantz instructed officials on Monday to start preparing a proposal for a state commission of inquiry into Thursday's Mount Meron disaster, Israel's worst ever civilian disaster, in which 45 people were killed.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said Monday that there is no legal impediment to establishing a commission of inquiry into the disaster during the transitional government, in response to an inquiry made by Gantz on Sunday.

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"The best way to clarify the circumstances surrounding this tragedy and to learn the necessary lessons that will prevent such a thing from happening again, is to carry out an investigation under a singular body," Mendelblit said, "not amid a multiplicity of decentralized investigations."

Attoreny General Avichai Mendelblit in Israel's top court, last month.Credit: Emil Salman

Despite the attorney general's approval, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to oppose a state commission of inquiry, the type of investigative panel that has the broadest of powers, including the power to subpoena witnesses.

Speaking at the Knesset on Monday, Netanyahu said, "We are obliged to investigate every aspect of the Meron tragedy. As the day of mourning has passed, we will investigate in an organized, intensive and responsible manner."

'Nobody's scapegoat'

Hours before the Attorney General's statement, Israel Police chief, Kobi Shabtai, deflected allegations of police misconduct in the Mount Meron stampede.

"It is a tragic incident," the police chief said during a briefing on Monday, "however, I will not let the Israel Police become anyone's scapegoat."

According to the police chief, the site has seen years of neglect and mismanagement and the police are not at fault for the incident.

The Public Security Minister, Amir Ohana, who was also present in the briefing, backed police officials. "They did everything they could, with peak seriousness and thoroughness, to prepare for the celebration," he said. Ohana claimed that certain actors in the media are attempting "to drive a wedge between us: A wedge between the police commissioner and the central commander, a wedge between the police commissioner and the minister, a wedge between the police and the public."

On Saturday, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi said in closed conversations that they do not plan to resign following the disaster, Haaretz has learned.

The Justice Ministry department responsible for investigating allegations of police misconduct is conducting its own investigation into the disaster. It is expected to collect statements from Lavi and other senior officers in the Northern District. However, at this point it does not intend to question any of the officers as potential criminal suspects, or to take a statement from the police commissioner himself.

Testimony will also be gathered from engineers and safety advisors from the Religious Services Ministry, who authorized the event to take place.

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