Israel's national inquiry into the Mount Meron disaster will likely be delayed due to the death of former Supreme Court president Miriam Naor, who was chairing the commission, on Monday.
Senior state officials testified before Naor as recently as two days ago, and another day of hearings had been scheduled for Monday. Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai’s testimony is likely to be among the delayed hearings.
The Mount Meron disaster occurred during Lag Ba'Omer celebrations last year, when 45 people were trampled to death and another 150 injured during a bonfire ceremony hosted by the Toldot Aharon Hasidic sect. Thousands of attendees had crowded into a narrow metal passage that collapsed, resulting in the victims crushing one another.
According to the Inquiry Commissions Law, when a commission member dies, the Supreme Court president, currently Esther Hayut, must appoint a replacement. The commission chair must be “a former or current Supreme Court justice or district court judge.” The law also specifies that, “The commission, in its composition, shall properly express both sexes.” The commission’s members are now Ret. Gen. Shlomo Yanai and Rabbi Mordechai Kerlitz, so Naor is expected to be replaced by a female former judge. Assuming an effort is made to replace Naor with a figure of equal stature, former Supreme Court President Dalia Dorner could be a candidate.
Naor’s replacement will have to complete an in-depth review of the existing material, including the 119 testimonies the commission has heard—a process expected to take several weeks at the least. This is likely to result in the delay of the Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai's testimony. Shabtai was harshly criticized for his conduct leading up to the disaster. Another witness yet to testify before the commission is Amir Ohana, the public security minister at the time of the disaster.
In November, the commission submitted interim recommendations to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ahead of this year’s Lag Ba’Omer celebrations. The recommendations included appointing a minister in charge of the festival, limiting the number of participants, and “urgent steps to improve infrastructure.” “We recommend that anyone holding parts of the mountain unlawfully be evicted, and recommend prohibiting tents, structures, and overnight sleeping on the mountain,” the interim recommendations state.
Last week Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced that they had agreed on an outline for aiding the families of the Meron disaster victims, though it is pending government approval. The draft proposes initially giving each family 500,000 shekels. It states that the money will be deducted from compensation granted in any future civil legal proceedings, once the compensating body is determined.