MOUNT MERON, Israel — Demands for accountability after a disaster that left 45 people dead at a holy site in northern Israel mounted on Saturday as questions swirled about the culpability of the government, religious leaders and the police.
The stampede on Mount Meron early Friday during an annual pilgrimage, one of Israel’s worst civil disasters, was foreshadowed for years in warnings by local politicians, journalists and ombudsmen that the site had become a death trap.
On Saturday, the Israeli news media reported that senior police officials had blamed the Ministry of Religious Services because it had signed off earlier in the week on safety procedures for the event.
But with more pilgrims expected to arrive at Mount Meron after sundown on Saturday for a second day of ceremonies, a police spokesman said that no additional precautions had been taken to secure the site since the stampede but that further assessments would be made in the evening. Three police officers at the scene said they had received no instructions to limit crowds since the deaths on Friday.
posted on Twitter that police had done their best.
“There must be and will be a thorough, in-depth and real inquiry that will discover how and why this happened,” he later said in a video, adding, “From the bottom of my heart I wish to share in the sorrow of the families that lost the most precious thing of all, and to wish a swift and full recovery to the injured.”
soared during the pandemic, when parts of the community infuriated the secular public by ignoring state-enforced coronavirus regulations, even as the disease devastated their ranks at a far higher rate than the rest of the population.
For survivors of the Meron disaster, the crush therefore became the latest in a series of struggles and setbacks, instead of a joyous post-pandemic return to normalcy and tradition.
“It’s been such a difficult year,” said Moshe Helfgot, a 22-year-old whose right leg was broken in two places in the crush. “And now there is yet another disaster.”
Irit Pazner Garshowitz and Jonathan Rosen contributed reporting.