In the immediate aftermath of the catastrophic events that occurred in Meron last Friday in the early hours of the morning, eye-witnesses were many but those able to speak about what they had seen and experienced were few.
However, by Sunday, with some space between the traumatic events, accounts began to emerge that shed light on the tragedy and its causes.
Yitzhak Deri was in Meron at the time of the disaster and only narrowly escaped – his friend and former room-mate from yeshivah, however, Haim Ozer Seller, lost his life in the fatal crush when thousands of people attempted to exit one of the main plazas via a narrow walkway that was blocked, according to multiple eye-witness accounts, by police who were deaf to the pleas of those trapped within and refused to open the barrier.
On Sunday, Deri was interviewed on Radio 103 FM and related his chilling tale.
Just a few moments before the crowding increased to such a point that people toppled on top of each other, Deri managed to escape the area. His life was saved, but 45 people perished.
“First of all, I want to thank G-d that I am here today, alive, whereas my friend and room-mate, Haim Ozer Seller, the father of a two-week-old daughter, is no longer here,” he began.
“I was there, standing in the tremendous crush of people, with people being propelled along like in a river. At one point I was next to that [corrugated iron] wall, that wall of death, battling against the stream of people being pushed down the slope, and somehow I managed to make my way up and out. I cried out to the police officer there and I told him: ‘You have to remove that wall – people are going to die here if you don’t. Dozens of people are going to be killed here, and I’ll bear witness against you in court.’ That was just ten minutes before the disaster,” he noted.
Deri continued: “I almost passed out from the crush. I can’t begin to understand who gave that crazy order to close off the exit. People were trying to get out and they [the police] wouldn’t let them. Next to me there was a father with his three-year-old son, begging me, ‘Please, get my son out of here or he’s going to die.’ And that was before the disaster.
“Gradually the crush was getting worse and worse until there were literally thousands of people trying to get out of the plaza. Until my dying day I will see that police officer before my eyes. Anyone who thinks the police didn’t cause this disaster is so completely mistaken. The barrier the police refused to take down was what caused this terrible tragedy. Why didn’t they let people leave? People knew they were going to die! One of those who escaped told me, ‘My son and I recited Shema Yisrael.’ Everyone was begging the police officers to remove the barrier – ‘Pull it down – we’re dying here.’
“When the Evil One [G-d’s messenger for evil, the Satan -ed.] succeeds to such an extent, it tells us that G-d, our Father must be very angry with us,” Deri told his interviewers. “I have no words. The pain is unbearable.”