MK Yitzhak Pindrus at committee meeting
MK Yitzhak Pindrus at committee meetingNoam Moshkovitz, Knesset spokesperson

“Israel Police is a fiction – there’s no such thing,” said MK Yitzhak Pindrus at Tuesday’s meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee.

The committee was discussing the disaster that occurred in Meron on Lag b’Omer, in which 45 people lost their lives, and the repeated warnings – unheeded – throughout the past few decades that “it was not a question of if, but rather when tragedy would strike.”

“Everyone passes the buck,” emphasized Pindrus, a MK from the haredi UTJ party. “The police say it’s not their responsibility,” in which case, one might ask – if so, what are they doing there in the first place? “And then comes the Minister for Internal Security, and he says yes, it’s his responsibility – but he won’t take the blame.”

ח"כ פינדרוס: שאוחנה יתפטר ויחזור בסוף החקירה

Several committee members, including those from Meretz and UTJ, called for the Minister of Internal Security, Amir Ohana (Likud) to resign as a result of the tragedy.

Pointing out that other state commissions of inquiry have taken years to reach their conclusions, Shas MK Moshe Arbel stressed that this is not an option for any inquiry that is set into motion regarding what went wrong in Meron – the lessons have to be learned, and implemented, before next year. After the Kotel Hama’aravi (Western Wall), the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron is the most visited site in the country, attracting up to half a million visitors on Rashbi’s yahrtzeit, and committee members stressed that the government bears the responsibility for ensuring that those who wish to visit the site may do so safely.

ח"כ משה גפני: כולם ידעו שיהיה אסון, רק לא ידעו מתיערוץ כנסת

Addressing the committee, chairman MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) noted that the issue of Meron has been discussed and debated and agonized over for years, but virtually nothing has been done to resolve issues that all were aware of. “When you compare Meron to the Western Wall, it’s clear that the government could do far more. But all the government actually has done is give some money to make minor improvements – another parking lot, a few cosmetic changes. The access roads are woefully inadequate, and I warned for years that the situation would be absolutely indescribable if there ever was such an incident – how would they evacuate people?”

In the event, the entire chain of command collapsed once the extent of the disaster became apparent, with police, United Hatzalah, MDA, and ZAKA all on the scene and, at least at first, unaware of who was in charge and who should be doing what. Due to a failure to coordinate the access routes to the site, ambulances could not reach the scene in sufficient numbers and had to make repeat round trips between Meron and Ziv Hospital in Tzfat. Triage was not always efficiently managed because doctors did not reach the scene sufficiently fast or in sufficient numbers. And when the dead were finally evacuated to the Abu Kabir Forensics Institute, the problems continued.

“I have been in contact with several of the families,” MK Hava Attiya (Likud) told the committee, “and I kept hearing how they had to wait for hours” to identify their loved ones. “We need to investigate this.”

MK Gafni concurred, noting that, “The institution is far too small to cope with a disaster of this dimension. But again, no one wants to take responsibility. The Health Ministry passes the buck, the police say they are not responsible, the Minister of Internal Security says he is not responsible – and he won’t even answer any questions on the topic, as it is supposedly ‘under investigation.’”

“In such a situation, the Knesset should replace the government, and Minister Ohana should go home,” committee members concurred.