State Comptroller Netanyahu Engelman announced Monday that he is launching a special investigation following the disaster on Mount Meron in which 45 people were trampled to death during the Lag Ba’Omer celebrations.
“This is an event that could have been prevented and it is now up to us to examine how this event could have been prevented,” stated Engelman.
In 2008, the Office of the State Comptroller published an opinion on the condition of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s tomb on Mount Meron and the preparations for Lag B’Omer. In 2011, the ministry conducted a follow-up audit of these inspections, pointing out a number of deficiencies “that if they had been corrected, this [disaster] might have been avoided,” said Engelman.
Previous reports pointed to several deficiencies, including the absence of a government entity responsible for the overall care of the tomb and for organizing the event, poor maintenance, illegal construction, inadequate road infrastructure and improper access roads, especially for rescue vehicles during multi-participant events.
Various segments of Mount Meron are owned and run by private organizations which compete for control over the holy site and oppose any change to it.
“I would like to announce that I intend to open a special audit that will investigate the circumstances that led to this disaster, the preparation of the various bodies, and the actions taken by them this year and during the years that passed from the Office’s audit report in 2011,” he declared.
The audit will deal with three levels. The first is examining the conduct and activities of all parties involved, from the level of the decision-makers to the field, including the law enforcement system and other bodies, in preparation for and during the event.
The second aspect is the treatment of the tomb complex over the years, including actions taken to correct deficiencies mentioned in previous reports.
The third is a forward-looking perspective on how religious mass events should be held in Israel to prevent the recurrence of this disaster in the future.
“Any aspects of personal responsibility that come up in the audit will be reflected in the report unequivocally, with individual reference to those concerned,” he noted, and the matter will be referred to the Attorney General for examination if needed.
No politician has stepped forward and assumed responsibility for Israel’s worst civilian tragedy. Several ministries were involved in planning various aspects of one of Israel’s largest annual festivals, but there was no one supreme manager.
The Police’s Internal Affairs has already announced it will probe the police’s conduct.