Fatal Lighting Rig for Israel's Main Independence Day Ceremony Erected Without Safety Permits

Ceremony's main producer arrested on suspicion of negligence, even as three other suspects were released with restrictions by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court.

Police say a written safety inspection report for the site of this week's fatal lighting rig collapse was never issued, and they are trying to sort through whether there were any verbal agreements on safety details. The collapse killed 2nd Lt. Hila Bezaleli and injured several others.

The ceremony's main producer, A., was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of negligence, even as three other suspects were released with restrictions by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court. At the request of the police, however, the three were held overnight to give the police a chance to appeal their release this morning. The three are Itzik Zucker, the site's safety manager; Oren Warshavsky, who engineered the lighting rig that collapsed; and Elad Lavi, vice president for operations of the Itzuv Bama firm that was producing the event.

Har Herzl safety manager Itzik Zucker surveying the scaffolding Thursday.
Michal Fattal

Police said that Warshavsky and Zucker were each trying to blame the other for the Mount Herzl lighting rig's collapse. The crux of the disagreement is whether any verbal safety assurances were given.

Guy Beim, Warshavsky's lawyer, says his client never gave any verbal approval. He said that the staff at Itzuv Bama had asked Warshavsky several times to be the engineer for the project, but that he had refused to take responsibility until he got answers about the weight they planned to load onto the structure, and no answer was ever received.

By contrast, Zucker's attorney said that not only did Warshavsky plan the lighting structure, he had come to the site several times in recent weeks to check on the progress of the work.

According to Zucker, on the eve of Passover there was a meeting at the site between himself, Warshavsky, and A., the producer arrested on Thursday, at which Warshavsky assured them that rehearsals under the lighting structure could begin.

Police believe that fraud and forgery may also be involved. According to Supt. Isaac Simon, one of the suspects has claimed that someone affiliated with Zucker had forged the construction plans for the lighting bridge, which had not been signed by an engineer.

Police also suspect Itzuv Bama may have paid Warshavsky for work that he never did. This may have included allegedly paying him to sign a safety permit for an inspection he never did.

Supt. Eli Cohen told the court on Thursday that "we aren't talking about whether a screw was tightened or whether this or that material was used, but about more basic faults."

Although the police wanted the suspects to be remanded for seven days, lest they disrupt the investigation, Judge Haim Li-Ran decided to release them on bail, pending another hearing this morning.

Cohen protested, saying, "A person died here. This is a tragedy. This is a national event, a national symbol has been undermined."

Li-Ran, however, said police "should have dug a bit deeper in its investigation" before asking for the suspects to be remanded. He also accused the police of making statements in court, like the reference to "a national event," that he said were meant to impress the media.

Meanwhile Wednesday's tragedy set those organizing Memorial Day and Independence Day ceremonies elsewhere on edge.

The Defense Ministry asked dozens of safety inspectors and engineers to reinspect every site where such ceremonies are scheduled to take place next week. Many local authorities are also reinspecting the stages set up for local Independence Day performances and events.

Parts of the setup for the Memorial Day ceremony at Yad Labanim in Jerusalem, including the grandstands, were dismantled on Thursday, after engineering faults were discovered in them, and are being replaced. It emerged that two of the safety engineers allegedly responsible for the collapse on Mount Herzl - Zucker and Warshavsky - had also okayed the structures at Yad Labanim.

Knesset sources said that the grandstands and the stage erected in the Knesset plaza for a Memorial Day ceremony were also reinspected following the tragedy.

"Now we're not 100 percent convinced, but 1,000 percent, that the structure is sound and can hold the assembly's audience and participants," a Knesset source said.

On Thursday morning, organizers of the Independence Day ceremony had considered moving it to the Knesset plaza, whose structures offer about as much room as those on Mount Herzl. But Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who has the last word on the Independence Day ceremony, nixed the idea, saying there was symbolic importance to holding it on Mount Herzl as usual.

Sources involved in the ceremony say the event will be far more modest than originally planned, and that the focal point will be the traditional torch-lighting ceremony.

"You can't have an eye-popping ceremony after such a tragedy," one source said. Instead, the event's focal point will be the traditional torch-lighting ceremony.

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