MKs Demand That Gov't Authority Operate Mt. Meron Holy Site

Mt. Meron - Israel's 2nd-most frequented tourist site - has fallen between the cracks, and MK Yaakov Litzman wants to pick it up.<br/>

Contact Editor
Hillel Fendel,

The Knesset Interior and Environment Committee held a session on Monday with the goal of making sure that what happened at Mt. Meron in the Galilee on March 14 never repeats itself.  Its strategy to this end: Find a body that will oversee and operate the holy site.

March 14 coincided this year with the Hebrew date of the 7th of Adar Bet, the traditional birthday and yahrtzeit (anniversary of the death) of Moses.  As on this date every year, many hundreds of Jews made their way to the site - in the Galilee mountains, where the holy Tannaitic Sage Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai is buried - in order to commemorate the occasion with prayers at the holy site.

When they arrived, however, they were faced with a local council closure, police blockades, and confusion - and many people were turned away.

The story began when the local Merom HaGalil Regional Council issued a closure order on the day of Adar 7, claiming a lack of parking spots and that the structures at the holy site are dangerous to the public.  However, MK David Azulai (Shas) later told Arutz-7 that he believes this was merely a ploy by the Regional Council to put pressure on the national government for additional funding for the site.

When thousands of people began arriving at the site despite the closure, the police tried to instill order.  They diverted traffic in many places, and prevented access in others - leaving the elderly and physically handicapped unable to reach the holy site.  "It was a big mess," MK Azulai said. "The police were not prepared for what happened, and it was total confusion."

MKs Azulai, Litzman (United Torah Judaism) and others say that the problem stems from a lack of clear authority over the site.  "Many bodies have a claim there," Azulai said, "including the police, the Regional Council, the Ashkenazi and Sephardi hekdeshim (bodies that have been unofficially running the place for decades), the Tourism Ministry, the Holy Sites Authority, etc."

MK Listzman Inititates Session
For this reason, MK Litzman initiated the Knesset Committee session.  The committee members decided that within two weeks, the police are to present a report regarding the holy site of Mount Meron, based on which the committee will designate a body to run and oversee it.

The issue is of critical importance with the impending approach of the minor holiday of Lag BaOmer - when each year over 100,000 people descend onto the site, many of them days in advance, to mark Rabbi Bar-Yochai's date of death.  Lag BaOmer is now less than two months away.

2nd Only to the Wall
Tourism Ministry figures show that Mt. Meron lags behind only the Western Wall in the number of visitors it attracts annually.  This, too, however, is cause for concern, in that security precautions are practically non-existent. "Tens of thousands of people enter the site without even a minimal security check," warned the Mt. Meron Committee Chairman, Mordechai Halpern, who took part in the session.

Deputy Regional Police Chief Kobi Bechar agreed with the MKs.  "We also want to know who's in charge there," he said. "It's obvious that there must be one authority that will be responsible for running it."

Following the police report, it is likely that an authority - such as the Western Wall Heritage Foundation that runs the Western Wall - will be established to operate and oversee the holy site of Mt. Meron.