JERUSALEM (VINnews) — In what is by far the worst civilian tragedy in Israel’s history, 44 people died and 150 were injured, 18 of them in serious condition after a mass of people trying to leave the precinct of the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai were trampled to death. 38 of those killed were declared dead at the scene and another 6 died later in hospital.
The event occurred during the traditional lighting ceremony of the Toldos Aharon rebbe which took place after midnight. Police had permitted 10,000 people to be present at every lighting, with 14 different lightings due to take place one after the other in close succession due to the fact that Lag Ba’Omer fell on Friday this year and most people wished to arrive at the tomb during the night.
Immediately after the lighting a large number of people tried to leave the precinct of the tomb on a narrow slippery metal descent. For some reason police allowed people to leave without regulating the amount of people going out. The mass of people slipped, started falling on one another and the people at the bottom were crushed by those above them. Contrary to previous reports, none of the fences and tribunes collapsed on people but the density of the crowd led to the crushing of those who fell under those above.
One of those injured described the scene: “It started when there was a huge crowd. The descent is slippery and it was impossible to stop before the stairs so people fell into the stairwell. There were lots of people on top of me. I was lying on someone and he wasn’t breathing. There was screaming and pandemonium, I saw children under me. The only thing running in my head was that I don’t want my child to be orphaned.”
Police chief Kobi Shabtai immediately opened an internal investigation in order to determine whether there was criminal recklessness on the part of police in allowing so many people to leave at once. The investigation is not being conducted by the police themselves but rather by internal investigations, a part of the justice ministry.