The April stampede killed 45 people at a Jewish pilgrimage site long considered dangerous by authorities.
Israel’s new government approved an official investigation into a stampede in April that killed 45 people and injured dozens at a Jewish pilgrimage site long considered dangerously crowded by authorities.
Although it was the worst civil disaster in the country, a large-scale investigation into the Mount Meron deaths lagged behind under the previous government amid a dispute between its ultra-Orthodox Jews and opposition politicians.
“The responsibility to learn the lessons and prevent the next disaster is on our shoulders,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at his first cabinet meeting on Sunday.
“A commission cannot bring back those who have passed away, but the government can do everything possible to avoid unnecessary loss of life in the future.”
A cabinet statement said the investigation’s findings would help safeguard other mass attendance events in Israel, which has sites sacred to Islam and Christianity, as well as Judaism.
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews flocked to the Galilean hillside tomb of 2nd century wise Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on April 30 for the annual Lag B’Omer festival that includes all-night prayer, mystical songs and dancing .
This year’s figures were lower than in previous years, but still beyond those allowed by COVID-19 sidewalks.
Some Israelis questioned whether Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous government and the police were reluctant to further limit the size of the crowd due to pressure from influential ultra-Orthodox leaders.
During the ceremony, part of the crowd entered a narrow tunnel and the 45 men and boys were suffocated or trampled.
Police are already conducting an investigation and Israel’s government watchdog, which years ago deemed the Mount Meron site dangerous, has announced its own investigation, although it cannot press criminal charges.
Netanyahu had promised a thorough investigation, but his cabinet, which included ultra-Orthodox Jewish ministers, never took formal action and major hostilities between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza erupted less than two weeks later.
Bennett is a religious observer, but his broad coalition does not include ultra-Orthodox parties. In his cabinet statements, he said that Meron attracts Jews “from all walks of life,” an allusion to denominations other than the ultra-Orthodox.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who pushed for the investigation to be carried out, said its findings would carry “heavy weight” and could not be ignored.
The commission of inquiry, headed by a judge, will have a budget of 6 million shekels ($ 1.8 million), the government said.