In his testimony on Monday before the official state commission of inquiry on the Mount Meron disaster, which took place almost a year ago on Lag Ba’omer, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai provided an outstanding example of taking responsibility without anyone being responsible, and taking blame without anyone being to blame.
“Just because the police served as the responsible adult in a place when no one else would, does not make me responsible,” said Shabtai – passing on the blame in every direction.
Shabtai evaded question after question, and avoided saying the simple words: I’m responsible, I’m the address. Instead, he accused the police’s Northern District. “The preparations for Meron have always been made in the Northern District, and this was the way it was in 2021 too,” said the commissioner. “Like the Tel Aviv Marathon, it is an event on the district level,” he claimed. “Just like the IDF chief of staff does not manage the front in a campaign, the police commissioner doesn’t run the events in the districts either.”
But in practice, the police’s plan for the celebrations was brought before Shabtai himself for approval, and like his predecessors, he ignored the issue of severe overcrowding at the event, as well as the unimaginable burden on the temporary, rickety infrastructure at the site – infrastructure that had been built under the noses of government authorities. Shabtai went ahead and approved unrestricted entry to the site, and the disaster – which was to be expected – happened on his watch.
After avoiding accepting responsibility time after time, Shlomo Yanai, a member of the commission, pushed Shabtai up against the wall. Only then did Shabtai adopt the dubious argument devised by the person who appointed him to his post, former Public Security Minister Amir Ohana: Responsibility is not guilt. But the authority to approve reckless events comes with responsibility too, and the blame derived from it in case of disaster.
We cannot accept Shabtai’s approach that responsibility stops in the Northern District. The responsibility lies with the police commissioner, and he should have examined the plans more professionally. Even more so, casting the responsibility on his subordinates, no matter how senior they are, does not relieve him of his responsibility. It was on his watch, and the same goes for Northern District commander Shimon Lavie, that the largest civilian disaster since the founding of Israel took place, in which 45 people were crushed to death.
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Shabtai is not solely responsible for the events. He shares this responsibility with the Religious Services Ministry, the Center for the Holy Sites and the politicians who applied pressure to hold the event. But because Shabtai is the highest ranking officer in the police, and the eyes of all police officers are on him, he is expected to accept responsibility for an event that he himself approved, and which ended in a terrible tragedy. Lavie did not hesitate a few hours after the disaster to stand before the cameras and clearly accept responsibility – even though he did not resign. While Shabtai, even a year after the disaster, is still finding it hard to do the same.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.