Amid calls for an independent commission of inquiry to be established, to determine the causes of the mass tragedy in Meron on Lag Ba’Omer last week, the various official bodies – government ministers, ministry staff, and police – are already preparing their defenses and getting ready to point the finger of blame elsewhere, namely, at the Supreme Court, for allegedly preventing the government from taking control of the site and preparing it adequately for the huge numbers of people that have been converging there every year for the past few decades, at least.
Internal Security Minister Amir Ohana of the Likud party has, according to the news outlet Mako, instructed his ministry’s staff to begin gathering evidence that can be used to blame the Supreme Court for what occurred.
Already on Friday, Ohana indicated that he would not personally accept blame, writing in a post on his Facebook page that: “I am the person responsible – but responsibility does not mean guilt.” The actions he has taken since suggest that he is planning to stick to this line of defense and seek to pin the guilt elsewhere.
Officials working in the Ministry of Internal Security have apparently already consulted with the Ministry’s legal adviser and are planning to shift blame toward the Supreme Court, which prevented, they allege, the then-Finance Minister in 2013, Yair Lapid, from wresting control of the Meron holy site from the religious bodies supposedly in control of it. The Court then ordered the two sides – the government and the religious bodies – to come to a compromise agreement, and as a result, Lapid’s order was effectively frozen and nothing in Meron changed.
Ministry officials are not the only people in fear of what an inquiry might reveal. Mako writes that police officers involved in the disaster are already taking legal advice and gathering evidence with the aim of absolving themselves of all guilt. Mako suggests that the various other bodies involved in the management of the site are likely following suit.
Meanwhile, internal police inquiries as well as the Police Investigations Department (PID) are refraining from questioning those officers who were present at the scene. So far, no permission has been given to order the officers to give testimony, apparently because the police are waiting to see if an independent commission of inquiry will be established.
Among the pieces of evidence likely to be presented at any future inquiry are: documentation of the preparations for the yahrtzeit events; transcripts or recordings of the discussions held; authorizations given for the various plans adopted; and also, perhaps most crucially, the visual and audio recordings from the many security cameras at the site.
One fact has already been made public: the fact that the official engineer’s report on the site concluded that the area where the crowd gathered for the lighting ceremony conducted by the Admor of Toldot Aharon was deemed suitable for a maximum of 3,000 people. In fact, around 20,000 people were estimated to have been gathered there immediately prior to the disaster that occurred, almost seven times the permitted number.
The crush was described as deadly by many of those present, even before the tragedy occurred; it was, however, only when people attempted to leave the area and were penned into a narrow corridor in order to do so that the fatal events leading to multiple fatalities transpired. Multiple eye-witness accounts have attested that police blocked off this exit, despite the increasingly desperate pleas of those crushed within the closed-off area to remove the barrier. Police have denied that the exit was blocked, but if security camera footage contradicts their denials, the evidence against them will be damning indeed.