At least 45 persons were killed and more than 150 were injured, many critically, in a festival crush that occurred around around 1:00am on Friday, April 30, at a mass gathering to commemorate the annual Jewish celebration of Lag B’Omer at Mount Meron in northern Israel, medical evacuation authorities announced hours after the incident.
Channel 12 reported on Friday that for weeks health officials had vigorously sought to impose a limit on the number of visitors to Mount Meron for this year’s Lag B’Omber celebrations because of coronavirus concerns, and made desperate last ditch efforts to do so up until the start of the event. The Health Ministry also hoped to make entrance to Moron conditional upon pilgrims’ having received the required COVID-10 vaccinations or alternatively having recovered from the virus, documentation for both situations being issued by the state. However, a number of right-wing lawmakers pushed back against the idea of restricting entry, and insisted that the overwhelmingly Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) crowd be allowed to celebrate at Meron as they have in past years.
Chairman of Shas and Interior Minister, Aryeh Deri had sent an official request to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, saying that “anyone who wants to come to Meron should be allowed to do so.” Ohana went on to approve the request and put no limits on attendees at Meron, despite repeated and dire pleas from health officials to do so.
Other than publishing a picture of Ohana overlooking the securing of the site by police, until Saturday night, May 1, the Public Security Minister issued no statement regarding the calamity. When a tardy communique did eventually come nearly 48 hours after the horrific incident, while it made a vague reference to ministerial responsibility, it explicitly denied any notion of blame on the part of Ohana.
Already early Friday, Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) called for Ohana’s resignation, accusing him of “sweeping disregard for the many warnings and signs of danger.” Odeh elucidated the broader context of the deadly event, tweeting “From the violence and crime that takes place in Arab society to the mismanagement of the pandemic, to the Meron disaster, the government and the police are closing their eyes and abandoning entire sectors of the public.” (In fact, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the scene of the disaster on Friday morning, he was booed and made the target of bottles thrown in his direction.) Odeh continued, “Ohana must take responsibility for the terrible omission and resign immediately.”
The head of the Joint List expressed empathy with the heartache of the dozens of families “left torn and bereaved,” saying he was heartened to see Jews and Arabs work together to respond to the disaster, calling it “a small ray of light in a great tragedy.”