Deadly stampede in Israel followed political pressure to allow festival – New York Post

As Israelis watched for updates on the conditions of a score of survivors of Thursday night’s disastrous stampede on Mount Meron, multiple reports in the Israeli press suggested that government officials yielded to political pressure from religious lawmakers to place no limits on the number of attendees.

An 11-year-old boy, one of the youngest injured, was taken off a ventilator and was fully conscious Saturday morning, the Jerusalem Post reported. He was among 21 victims in the hospital for treatment of injuries sustained when the massive festival turned deadly.

Glasses, hats and other items left on the floor after dozens were killed in crush at a religious festival in Mount Meron
Glasses, hats and other items left on the floor after dozens were killed in crush at a religious festival in Mount Meron.
Amir Levy/Getty Images

The incident, being called the deadliest peacetime tragedy in Israel’s history, left 45 dead, including six Americans mostly from the New York metro area, and 150 injured. It started when some of the packed crowd of ultra-Orthodox pilgrims moving through a narrow, slippery walkway that ended with a flight of stairs at the mountainside gravesite of a revered rabbi, fell down. Others fell on top of them and what some called an “avalanche” of humans resulted.

Rescue workers take a dead body into an ambulance after dozens were killed in a crush at a religious festival in Mount Meron
Rescue workers take a dead body into an ambulance after dozens were killed in a crush at a religious festival in Mount Meron.
Amir Levy/Getty Images

The conditions at the site, where safety has been questioned before, are among the lines of inquiry that several investigations will pursue, the Times of Israel reported.

Leftover personal items lie at the Jewish Orthodox pilgrimage site of Mount Meron
Leftover personal items lie at Mount Meron, where dozens were killed.
Ilia Yefimovich/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

But even more concerning was that cabinet ministers had pressed the police to waive any limits on the number of people attending the Lag B’Omer festival, the paper reported, citing Israel’s Channel 13.

Israeli Police officers stand in front of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish people gathering at the Jewish Orthodox pilgrimage site of Mount Meron
Israeli Police officers stand in front of people gathering at of Mount Meron.
Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty Images

Lifting coronavirus-imposed crowd limits was meant to compensate for last year’s festival being canceled, the Times reported.

Nearly 100,000 people turned out Thursday night, despite warnings about spreading COVID-19. It was the largest public gathering in Israel since the country began lifting coronavirus restrictions last month after a mass vaccination campaign.

A man checks bags filled with leftover personal items
A man checks bags filled with leftover personal items at Mount Meron.
Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Times, citing another Israeli TV station, Channel 12, said Aryeh Deri, the head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, sent an official request to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana ahead of the event, saying that “anyone who wants to come should be allowed to do so.”

Israeli rescue workers carry the body of a victim into an ambulance
Israeli rescue workers carry the body of a victim into an ambulance.
Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty Images

Ohana, who is responsible for police, approved the request, the paper reported, and no limits on attendees were put in place, despite health officials’ concerns about the virus.

Citing a third news outlet, Kan, the Times said former police officials spoke about “political pressure on police to hold the event at any cost.”

Medical teams arrive at the scene after a stampede at a Jewish religious festival in northern Israel
Medical teams arrive at the scene after a stampede at a Jewish religious festival in northern Israel.
Magen David Adom / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

An investigation has been opened by Israel Police into the cause of the accident.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend the funeral of one of the victims of Meron stampede at Segula cemetery in Petah Tikva on April 30, 2021.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend the funeral of one of the victims of Meron stampede at Segula cemetery in Petah Tikva on April 30, 2021.
GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images

Neither of the investigations has the authority to probe cabinet ministers or other senior officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Times reported. Several prominent Israelis, including a former police commissioner and current Defense and Justice Minister Benny Gantz, have called for a state commission of inquiry, which would have broader powers to investigate the tragedy.

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Deadly stampede in Israel followed political pressure to allow festival – New York Post

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