Police Official: I Warned Chief About Crowd at Mount Meron, He Said Not to Worry

The Police Commissioner allegedly wanted to dismiss the officer from his post because he suspected he leaked to the media information about his unwillingness to restrict access to the site of the disaster last April

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
Brig. Gen. Shimon Nachmani at the Mount Meron inquiry commission, on Sunday.
Brig. Gen. Shimon Nachmani at the Mount Meron inquiry commission, on Sunday. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

A top police official on Sunday told the inquiry commission into the Mount Meron disaster that he warned Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai against opening the area to unlimited worshipers for last year’s Lag Ba’Omer festival, but that Shabtai replied, “Don’t worry. If there’s an inquiry commission, it’s on me.”

Last April, 45 religious men and boys were killed at Meron in a stampede.

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Brig. Gen. Shimon Nachmani, head of the Police Operations Division, said he told Shabtai that such a decision requires debate and a visit to the mountain. Nachmani further testified that at a discussion headed by Shabtai some ten days before the festival, the police decided that no restrictions would be placed on entry to the mountain.

“As soon as it was decided that the mountain would be open, I was troubled,” Nachmani said, “We tried to place limitations on the event.” He testified that Shabtai made the statement to him after he approached the commissioner at the end of the discussion, expressing concern about the decision.

Nachmani also described how he approached his superior, then-head of the Operations Division, Amnon Alkalay, and told him that they must make the commissioner understand that allowing an open event without crowd restrictions was a bad idea. “We’ve never done such an event, with an open mountain, within a single day.” According to him, Alkalay replied that he had approached the commissioner on the subject, and they were awaiting then-COVID taskforce chief, Prof. Nachman Ash, to rule on pandemic-related restrictions.

“Eventually, the festival did take place without restrictions. The event was open and we got into crowd overloads in a single day, which caused weak spots with high risk,” Nachmani testified. “Unfortunately, at a certain point, at a certain time, this led to disaster. You can’t designate Meron as a perpetually open mountain. You have to designate numbers. You have to build a plan for adjustment and control – and that didn’t exist.” Nachmani further noted that preparations for the upcoming festival only began in recent days, with only last Thursday seeing a first discussion of the subject at the Operations Division.

During the hearing, Nachmani testified that Shabtai sought to dismiss him from his post after suspecting him of passing on documents to the inquiry panel and leaking them to the press.

Following this, Nachmani approached the commission and asked to testify to dispel rumors spread about him. “I learned of rumors that I was withholding material preventing the commission from learning the truth,” said Nachmani. “A serving major general and a retired one approached me and told me that the commissioner had said that I gave the commission materials, and that’s why my next posting won’t be as planned.”

He said he “arched an eyebrow” as he knew that the intention had been to appoint him to a senior post, but in conversation with Shabtai, he realized that the current and former senior generals were right and that it had been decided to appoint him to a lower post. “I came to the commissioner, found out I was going to be appointed deputy head of the SIF division [crime prevention in the Arab community], which took me completely by surprise,” Nachmani told the commission. “The commissioner asked me, ‘Why did you pass materials to the commission?’ I told him that’s irrelevant, that’s rumors by bad people who have tarnished my name and that of the organization… The commissioner told me that only two people knew about the matter and that he was going to look into it. I felt very hurt and asked to speak with the minister (of public security, Omer Bar-Lev).”

Nachmani said that as he left the interview, a journalist he did not know called and told him, “We hear that you’re out of a job.” After that, Nachmani said, “I felt a sort of retaliation from the commissioner, and I said with sadness that the commissioner is being fed rumors, and suddenly I found myself in an outpouring of leaks to the media or being accused of leaking to the media. Later on, I was summoned urgently to the commissioner, and he told me I have to end my duties as head of the Operations Subdivision.”

Nachmani then described the meeting held later at Lachish District in the presence of Shabtai and his aide: “At the meeting, they accused me of leaking to the media. I undergo a polygraph test once a year, I never spoke to the media, and the commissioner is criticizing me,” he said.

Nachmani denied the rumors, and the commissioner suggested taking a polygraph test together, to which Nachmani agreed: “I went to take a polygraph for my conscience. I felt there was persecution going on.” Nachmani was found to be telling the truth and showed the result to Bar-Lev, who left him in his post, against the commissioner’s will.

At this point in the inquiry commission hearing, Chairwoman (and former Supreme Court president) Miriam Naor intervened, saying, “I will make an exception to note that we have not received anything directly from you. Do you think that there are officers who are hesitant to provide materials to the commission?” Nachmani replied: “Not that I know of, but the move [against] me has an effect.”

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit approached Nachmani after the confrontation with Shabtai, calling upon him to file a complaint with the Police Investigations Department, but he declined. “There is an understanding by the commissioner that he was wrong here,” Nachmani told the inquiry panel. “I respect the commissioner and don’t think I should be waging a campaign against him. I wanted to leave matters aside and move on.”

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