Comittee for investigation of the Meron disaster
Comittee for investigation of the Meron disasterFlash 90

Three years following the incident, the committee of inquiry into the Meron disaster has published its findings.

The Meron disaster occurred on Lag B'Omer in 2021, at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron. 45 people died in a crowd crush incident, and more than 100 were wounded.

Prime Minister Netanyahu was found personally responsible: “Based on all the materials and testimonies presented to us, and our direct impression of them, we conclude that Netanyahu knew that the tomb had been deficiently maintained for years and that this was likely to lead to mass endangerment of those visiting the site, especially on Lag B'Omer. Even if, out of caution, we were to assume Netanyahu did not have specific knowledge of the matter, in this context, he should have.”

“The Prime Minister is intentionally responsible for the site, and either himself or parties under his direction have responsibility for things which require the attention of his office or even his personal involvement, especially when lives are at stake. This responsibility is even more obvious following the Carmel disaster and what the State Comptroller wrote in the report about it.”

“In the context described, the Prime Minister should have identified the need for care for the site, as it was that kind of matter; if not proactively, then certainly after the matter had been raised repeatedly in a manner that clearly indicates that the problems associated with it had not been solved and that they continue to endanger visitors' lives.”

“Following our conclusion that Netanyahu knew about, or should have known about, the deficient maintenance of the site and the dangers implicit in that to the visitors, we find that he should have acted to remedy this. The steps taken in this context were insufficient. This is particularly true when considering that he knew that cabinet decisions made in this regard or not implemented.”

Former Public Security Minister Minister Amir Ohana was found to be personally responsible, and the committee recommended that he not be reappointed to the position.

Former Minister of Religious Services Rabbi Yaakov Avitan was found personally responsible, and recommended, in light of the evidence regarding his position, that he never be appointed as a minister again.

Regarding Police Commissioner Kobi Shabbtai, the committee recommended that he be dismissed from his position, but considering the unique context of the war, left the government to decide when the best time for that would be.

Regarding the Director of the National Center for Development of the Holy Sites in Israel, Yosef Sheunger, the committee stated: “Sheunger bears personal responsibility, and the evidence against him is particularly severe. The committee recommends that he immediately leave his position as the director and that he never again be employed in any other position connected to the site or the Lag B'Omer celebrations.”

Regarding Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Rabbi of the Holy Places, the committee found: “Accounting for all the circumstances in which he acted, and the actions that he took to improve the situation, and according to the approach concerning a situation where there is reasonable concern that a person may be unjustly impugned despite having done the best he could, the committee has decided not to hold Rabbi Rabinowitz personally responsible.”

Shimon Lavi, the commander of the Northern District of the Israel Police, was found personally responsible: “The committee finds Lavi personally responsible and notes that he took responsibility immediately following the incident and that he later drew personal conclusions and resigned from his position. As such, the committee has decided that Lavi has done as expected of a commander and followed the values of the police leadership. The committee notes that since June 30th, 2023, he no longer serves in the Israel Police. In light of this, the committee will satisfy Itself by presenting the evidence and conclusions as listed in the report.”

The chief of security for the fateful celebration, Reuven Ben-Gal, was blamed: “The committee finds Ben-Gal personally responsible, and recommends that he never again be hired as chief of security for large events. Additionally, the committee recommends that the Attorney General examine the evidence regarding the civilian security measures in place and consider whether to continue investigating the matter.”

The report adds: “The disaster could and should have been prevented. the writing was on the wall well before the disaster, like the prayers written on the walls of the tomb. It was clear and concise, but remained unaddressed.”

“The painful results likely to occur we're also known. like in a Greek tragedy, the end is clear from the beginning. it was unknown when or on whose shift, or in which part of the site. It was impossible to know what price would be paid, how many celebrants would pay with their lives and health, how many families would be left shattered, but it was clear that a disaster was certain to occur.”

“We have found an evil culture within our home, which led to the disaster on Mt. Meron. The writing on the wall was known to everyone for years. This disaster could have been prevented, and there were those who were obligated to prevent it.”

The Committee was led by former Supreme Court president Miriam Naor. After her resignation, retired justice Devorah Berliner took her place. Other members of the committee included General Shlomo Yanai and former Bnei Brak mayor Mordechai Karelitz.

None of the parties named in the report, except Shimon Lavi, have resigned since the disaster.

The government is not obligated by law to implement the committee's decisions, which may include punitive measures and recommending the commencement of criminal investigations against those responsible for the disaster.

Approximately a year and a half ago, members of the committee sent warning letters to a number of senior officials who were involved in the decision-making process ahead of the disaster. Among those who received such letters were Prime Minister Netanyahu, former Ministers Amir Ohana and Yaakov Avitan, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabbtai, Northern District commander Shimon Lavi, and the head of the security department of the Israel Police, Morris Chen.