JERUSALEM (VINnews) — During the last few days it has become clear that many different sources in government and official positions had warned in the past that the Lag Ba’Omer celebrations in their present format were an accident waiting to happen. Some sources even pointed at the exact place where such a catastrophe could occur. All the officials warned that the fundamental problem with Meron was a lack of a general coordinator in charge of running the logistics of the celebration.
Already in 2008 the State Comptroller pointed to safety lapses at the Meron site and asked who was responsible for fixing them. In response, Upper Galilee local authority leader Shlomo Levi issued a closure order to the site due to the safety issues there. After Chareidi MKs petitioned the courts, the site was reopened with a recommendation that safety issues be dealt with immediately. They were not.
During a 2014 discussion in the Knesset Internal Affairs Subcommittee headed by former Knesset member David Tzur, Yosef Schwinger, who is the Religious Affairs Ministry’s official responsible for Meron told Tzur that “the entire event depends on order, traffic and security.” Schwinger claimed that the same person who had said this, former police chief Yitzchak Aharonowitz, now claimed that the event requires a “coordinator” but said that he himself did not see the need for such coordination.
Tzur, a former police commander himself, responded by saying that “there is one fundamental proble and that is infrastructure. It is impossible with the present physical situation of the place, based on time and numbers of people to reach the maximum. It may be possible to add more room on the side but one cannot cut corners on timing and safety if one doesn’t change the physical aspects of the place, meaning that more car parks, more entrances and exits for pedestrians are required. The situation is a catastrophe when people go up and down from the same places.”
In July 2017 the Interior Committee itself paid a visit to Meron. MK Eliezer Moses (UTJ) said during the visit: “what will it help to add car parks and bring more people when at the lighting areas there is nowhere to move and it is simply life threatening. I stood on the balcony and saw the Toldos Aharon precinct. What went on there during the lighting was life threatening (Sakanas Nefashos). It is only in the merit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who makes this great miracle that nothing happens.”
After a long discussion Committee Head David Amsalem (Likud) said that: “This looks sloppy, I’m telling you, it doesn’t look logical what is happening here. I don’t know who runs this place in this way but it isn’t logical. I see a tragedy here one day because things are not organized properly. The lighting areas have to be enlarged.
In 2018 the committee visited Meron once again before Lag Ba’Omer and toured the precinct where Toldos Aharon’s lighting takes place. Yisrael Deri, the director of holy places in the Northern Region for the Religious Affairs Ministry, pointed out to committee head Yoav Kish that here on this stage there is a huge crowd, at least 20,000 at one time, so we enlarged the site in order to give proper safety to people, so that they shouldn’t be crowded and not become endangered.
At one point Kish pointed to one area and said: “Here it is packed.” Deri responded: “Not just packed, it is dangerous, there is only one exit.” Kish asked what had been done and Deri said that “we made the route begin from here, from the firemen’s post” (implying that a longer route would be less crowded.)