At a press conference in Jerusalem this morning, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman announced that he had decided to open an immediate special inquiry into the fatal disaster at Meron last Thursday night at the annual festivities in honor of the second century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai.
The inquiry will have several aspects. Besides the examination of the role of government agencies, it will also deal with the personal responsibility of senior police officers and of the government itself for the disaster in which 45 people were crushed to death.
The inquiry will examine the circumstances that led to the disaster, the preparedness of the various agencies and the actions they took, both this year and in the period since the State Comptroller's report of 2011.
"Unfortunately, we are dealing with an incident that could have been prevented," Englman said. "In 2008, the State Comptroller's Office published a report on the condition of the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai at Meron and the preparations for the Lag Ba'Omer events. In 2011, the Office carried out a follow-up audit on the matter. These audits indicated a series of defects that, had they been fixed, the disaster might have been prevented.
"The audit pointed out deficiencies relating to, among other things, the absence of a government agency responsible for dealing with the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai in general and for the organization of the event, a low standard of maintenance, the failure to complete the takeover of the site by a government agency, illegal construction, inadequate roads and paths, and access roads not adapted for rescue vehicles at mass participation events.
"I make it clear that if suspicions arise of criminality, we will act in accordance with section 14 of the State Comptroller Law and the matter will be passed to the Attorney General for his examination. Similarly, if a state commission of inquiry is set up, I will review the relevance of the State Comptroller's Office and the added value of its activity in parallel to that of the commission. I again extend my condolences to the families who have lost their dear ones. It is our obligation to investigate the incident and what preceded it, and we intend to fulfil that obligation without fear or favor."
As soon as the disaster occurred there were calls for the establishment of a state commission of inquiry, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not so far addressed the matter. Yesterday, Blue & White leader Benny Gantz wrote to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit asking for a legal opinion that would enable a state commission of inquiry to be established during the period of a transitional government. Gantz said that only a state commission would have the authority and the means to investigate thoroughly and formulate recommendations, including summonsing members of government, and that it was important that it should be established quickly.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 3, 2021
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