Israeli State Probe Into Mount Meron Stampede Urges Cap on Visitors

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews celebrate Lag Ba'omer at Mount Meron in northern Israel in April.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews celebrate Lag Ba'omer at Mount Meron in northern Israel in April.Credit: Jalaa Marey/AFP

An Israeli state inquiry into a crush that killed 45 people during Lag Ba'omer festivities at Mount Meron in April recommended Monday that future admissions be capped and ceremonies streamlined to prevent overcrowding.

The panel, headed by a former Supreme Court chief justice, submitted interim findings designed to help authorities better plan for the next festival at the pilgrimage site, the Galilee tomb of second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, which will occur May 18-19.

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual commemorations could draw as many as 200,000 revelers for all-night prayer, songs, picnics and dances around bonfires.

Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews arrived to Mount Meron, which covers about 5.6 acres, last April. When a crowd surged into a narrow tunnel, 45 men and boys were asphyxiated or trampled to death. Six of the victims were American and two were Canadian.

"The material brought before the commission and testimonies heard by it indicate that the maximal number of people that could be safely contained at the area at the same time is approximately 20,000," the panel said in a 16-page report.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews look at the site of the Meron crush, April.Credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters/File Photo

While not recommending a target number, it said more space could be freed up by banning tents and pirate vendors at the site and by holding one central bonfire ceremony.

Visitors could be encouraged to rotate by bussing them in and out on tickets valid for specific hours, the panel said. It advised against allowing in food to "reduce the duration of stay (and) the danger of falling and slipping on garbage".

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government signalled it would implement the findings.

"The 2022 observances at Meron will be entirely different from the observances held heretofore, and will take place according to other safety standards," Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana said in a statement.

The panel is separately looking at possible culpability among planners of the April observances, which took place under the previous government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

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