Israeli police have deployed 8,000 police officers and Border Police, helicopters and other means of crowd control in preparation for Lag Ba'omer revelry at Mount Meron after last year's event saw 45 people stampeded to death for lack of proper arrangements.
Lag Ba'omer holiday traditionally draws massive crowds to Mount Meron in Northern Israel, where the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is located. Despite the magnitude of the event, safety arrangements for it have been neglected for years.
As opposed to previous years, when police were in charge of crowd control, this year the event's organizers are responsible for limiting the number of participants. Police said they will intervene only in cases when force is needed to ensure participants leave the site. They compared this year's event with the example of a concert in which organizers are required to provide ushers to manage the crowd.
Last year, 45 people died and some 150 were injured after a stampede occurred in a narrow pathway after some revelers slipped on steps, making many others fall on top of each other and triggering a panic.
Last week safety arrangements were approved by the Knesset Public Security Committee that were based on recommendations from a government investigation of the 2021 disaster.
The number of visitors to the site at any given time will be limited to only 16,000, as compared with 70,000 in past years. Each visitor will be allowed to remain at the site for a maximum of four hours and will be allowed entry only by presenting a bus ticket, issued by the Transportation Ministry, that will indicate a specific time slot.
Each participant will receive a bracelet in a color that represents their designated time of entry. Buses will run on a frequent schedule to remove people from the site.
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Police said they will use all means at their disposal to ensure that buses leave the site only after the boarding of all revelers whose time it is to leave. Anyone refusing to leave after four hours will be removed by force, if necessary.
Commander of the police's Northern District, Maj. Gen. Shimon Lavi, said police have been monitoring extremist groups protesting this year's arrangements and that these groups may cause disturbances at the events.
In recent days, police have detained several people suspected of vandalizing infrastructure at the site. Two other men have been arrested for selling fake tickets to the event.
"Attempts like these harm the public. We expect mutual responsibility from attendees. Those who will try to sabotage the event will be punished with the full severity of the law," Lavi said.