2021 Meron crowd crush

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On 30 April 2021, at about 00:50 IDT (UTC+3), a deadly crowd crush occurred in Meron, Israel, during the annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer, at which it was estimated that 100,000 people were in attendance. Forty-five men and boys at the sex-segregated event were killed, and about 150 were injured, dozens of them critically, making it the deadliest civil disaster in the history of the State of Israel.[1][2] The crush occurred after celebrants poured out of one section of the mountainside compound, down a passageway with a sloping metal floor wet with spilled drinks, leading to a staircase continuing down. Witnesses say that people tripped and slipped near the top of the stairs. Those behind, unaware of the blockage ahead, continued. The people further down were trampled over, crushed, and asphyxiated, calling out that they could not breathe.

2021 Meron crowd crush
Police preparations for Simeon bar Yochai celebration in Mount Meron, May 2016
Tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, 2016
Tomb of Rabbi Bar-Yochai is located in Northeast Israel
Tomb of Rabbi Bar-Yochai
Tomb of Rabbi Bar-Yochai
Date30 April 2021 (2021-04-30)
Timec. 00:50 IDT (UTC+03:00)
LocationTomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Meron, Israel
Coordinates32°58′50.3″N 35°26′25.5″E / 32.980639°N 35.440417°E / 32.980639; 35.440417Coordinates: 32°58′50.3″N 35°26′25.5″E / 32.980639°N 35.440417°E / 32.980639; 35.440417
CauseUnder investigation; includes over-crowding in Lag BaOmer celebration
ParticipantsHaredi and Orthodox Jews
Deaths45
Non-fatal injuries150
InquiriesOngoing

The potential for such a calamity, given the tens of thousands of celebrants, had been reported by the state comptroller and the police chief. The local council had tried several times to close the site.[3] Reuters cited Israeli media outlets in reporting that, as a precaution against the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, bonfire areas had been partitioned off, which may have created unrecognised choke-points.[4]

BackgroundEdit

Many traditional Lag BaOmer events took place at the festival, such as dancing and lighting bonfires, preceding the crush.

On Lag BaOmer, the tomb of the 2nd-century Tannaitic rabbi Shimon bar Yochai at Mount Meron becomes a pilgrimage site for thousands of Jews, where they pray, dance and make bonfires.[5] Men and boys attend in sections different from those for women and girls.[6][7] Haaretz called it Israel's "biggest religious festival of the year".[8]

In 2020, the country restricted the pilgrimage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cabinet of Israel permitted the 2021 pilgrimage and waived the COVID-19 cap of 1,000 attendees as part of an agreement with Ministry of Religious Services officials which required attendees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.[9] The event was the largest to be held in Israel since the start of the pandemic in 2020.[10]

Additionally, for the first time in 13 years, the Mount Meron holiday took place on a Thursday and Friday, the significance being that Thursday night is seen as comparable to Saturday night in other parts of the world, with Friday being Israel's day of rest, as opposed to Sunday. Moreover, since celebrations are not permitted on Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, which starts at sunset every Friday, the event was limited to a window of 14 hours, ending at sunset on Friday. Three bonfires were lit at the same time, each by an Admor.[11] The organisers estimated that approximately 100,000 were at the site—others estimate 50,000[12]—which was larger than the restricted crowd in 2020 but smaller than the hundreds of thousands of people in previous years.[10] Israeli media reported that, as a precaution against the COVID-19 pandemic, bonfire areas had been partitioned off, which may have created unrecognised choke-points.[4]

The crush was not the first time pilgrims at Mount Meron had been killed in an accident. On 15 May 1911, eleven people were killed when a crowd of about 10,000 filled the compound and a railing of a nearby balcony collapsed. About 100 people fell from a height of roughly 25 feet (8 m) to the ground below;[8] the deaths of seven were determined at the scene and those of four others in the days following the incident. There were 40 injured.[13]

Safety warningsEdit

A 2008 report of the site by the State Comptroller of Israel concluded that the site is not adequate for the number of annual visitors.[14][15] A 2016 police report warned of issues with infrastructure and crowd control.[16]

In 2011, the state declared it would take control over the site,[17] but control was returned to owners in a court approved settlement in 2020.[18]

In 2018, a journalist reported that the "exit passageway creates a bottleneck and causes risk of people being crushed"[19] and recommended that a larger exit way be constructed for safety after overcrowding at a funeral in Bnei Brak had led to one death and dozens injured.[20]

A week prior to the 2021 festival, during the Covid-19 pandemic, government departments limited the gathering to up to 10,000 people on the site, approximately 3,000 at each bonfire.[1][11] The Israel Fire and Rescue Services required that, for a crowd of 9,000 people, the site needed four different escape routes.[21] According to The New York Times, none of the government agencies took on the task of enforcing the rules,[22] and in the event an estimated 100,000 people attended.

In addition to the disastrous crush, the executive director at the National Coronavirus Taskforce expressed concerns about possible spread of Covid-19 due to the huge, closely-packed crowds at the event. However, many restrictions were lifted in mid-February 2021 after most of the population had been vaccinated, and since then "things have gone amazingly well, even after events with very dense gatherings. ... we have to wait to see what happens".[23]

CrushEdit

 
Crowd before the disaster

Four religious groups oversee different parts of the compound,[22] with the Toldot Aharon running the part where the incident occured.[22][24] According to witness accounts, the event was held in a fenced area that was overly confining.[25] At the time, the restricted area was filled with as many as 20,000 people.[22] After the lighting ceremony, and as dancing began, hundreds of people left. The exit path was a narrow, steep slope with a smooth metal floor.[26] There were no police or rescue services managing the flow into the walkway.[24] With nothing to hold onto, the crowd leaned on each other. The path then leads to steps before a narrow tunnel.[26][27] Close to 01:00, some participants began to slip and fall, either on the metal slope or the stone steps,[5][10][25][26][27][28] and were trampled over and asphyxiated by those behind.[27][29][30] As the crowd moved to the gates, a crush started.[1][25] The crowd broke open side barriers of the path, creating rigged up exits for some to break free.[24]

According to one witness, security blocked the passageway and kept people from exiting. As people were starting to lose consciousness as the crush prevented them from breathing, police finally opened the gates to allow people through. The crush ensued as a large number of people tried to exit at the same time through the narrow passageway.[31] Other witnesses said the path was slippery from spilled water and juice.[25][5] Another witness recalled "hundreds of people screaming 'I can't breathe'".[5]

Survivors described being buried under heaps of people and thinking that they were going to die as they could not breathe.[32] Helpers spoke of "so many dead people ... on top of each other". Metal handrailings were bent and twisted by the pressure.[33] Helpers tried to perform CPR on unresponsive victims, then realised that they were spending time on the dead while others were alive, but in danger of death. The helpers themselves were traumatised by the experience; group therapy was arranged to try to ward off PTSD.[34]

As medics were trying to reach the injured, former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau remained on stage urging calm and reciting psalms for the injured.[1] Three hundred rescue buses were prevented from entering the site due to blocked access roads.[35] Six helicopters were flown in to evacuate the injured. Cell phone service crashed due to the number of people trying to get in contact with their families.[1]

VictimsEdit

In the crush, 45 people were killed and about 150 more were injured.[1][27] [36] The dead included six Americans, two Canadians, an Argentine and a Briton.[37] The Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir completed the identification of all 45 victims by 2 May 2021.[38][39]

InvestigationEdit

 
Israel Defense Forces personnel after the disaster

The crush is currently under investigation. Israeli police said the crush was unpreventable and that the location was being inspected for structural flaws, but the scenario of people slipping on stairs was out of police control.[40] Police Northern commander Shimon Lavi said that he bears full responsibility.[41][42] Police released a statement that the passage was authorized by all authorities and that they had understood the event would be abnormally large.[42] Mordechai Halperin, ex-mayor of moshav Meron (the site is located witin moshav Meron), said that the passage which narrowed an escape route was constructed without any building permits and against his strenuous objections.[43] Many commentators put forward the Haredi community's extensive autonomy within Israel's governance as a major contributing factor to the catastrophe.[44]

State Comptroller of Israel Matanyahu Englman announced on 3 May an audit of the events leading to the disaster, which would also recommend policy for future mass events. It had not been decided whether to set up a state commission of inquiry.[45] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a thorough state investigation, but did not specify any details.[37]

AftermathEdit

 
Flags lowered to half-mast on 2 May

The crush was the deadliest civilian disaster in the history of the State of Israel,[26] surpassing the 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire which killed 44.[46] Netanyahu called it a "great tragedy" and said that everyone was praying for the victims.[46] He also declared 2 May 2021 a national day of mourning.[47] Several cultural activities were cancelled.[48] President Reuven Rivlin offered his condolences to the victims.[40]

Condolences were issued also by officials from many authorities, including several Arab governments,[49] the European Union,[5] the United Kingdom[50] and the United States.[40]

Israel's Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration declared that a "fast route" to enter Israel had been defined to allow families of the injured and deceased to enter Israel.[51][52]

On 3 May 2021, the Israeli authority for sacred locations had been given a decree requiring a permit from the Israeli police commissioner to hold any celebration.[53] Prior to the decree only a permit from the regional police chief was required.[53]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f Joffre, Tzvi. "Israel works to identify 45 killed in Lag Ba'omer Mount Meron stampede". The Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on 29 April 2021. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
  2. ^ ""There are casualties, the event is over!": The moment of the disaster, live from Mount Meron". Ynet (in Hebrew). Archived from the original on 2 May 2021. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
  3. ^ Kingsley, Patrick; Kershner, Isabel (5 May 2021). "Deadly Stampede at Israeli Religious Festival Followed Years of Warnings". New York Times.
  4. ^ a b Williams, Dan; Rabinovitch, Ari (30 April 2021). "Israel seeks to identify many of 45 dead in crush at religious festival". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2 May 2021. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e Kershner, Isabel; Nagourney, Eric; Ives, Mike (29 April 2021). "Stampede at Israel Religious Celebration Kills at Least 44". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 1 May 2021. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
  6. ^ "Israel crush: Israel mourns as festival crush victims identified". BBC News. 1 May 2021.
  7. ^ Liphshiz, Cnaan (30 April 2021). "Why do ultra-Orthodox Jews flock to Mount Meron on Lag B'Omer?". Times of Israel. Archived from the original on 2 May 2021. Retrieved 1 May 2021.
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  9. ^ Schwartz, Felicia (29 April 2021). "Dozens Killed in Stampede at Israeli Religious Festival". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 2 May 2021. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
  10. ^ a b c "Israel crush: Dozens killed at Lag B'Omer religious festival". BBC. 30 April 2021. Archived from the original on 30 April 2021. Retrieved 30 April 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ a b "44 הרוגים ויותר מ-100 פצועים בהילולה בהר מירון". Ynet (in Hebrew). 29 April 2021. Archived from the original on 30 April 2021.
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  13. ^ Israel, David (30 April 2021). "The Tragedy on Mt. Meron, Lag B'Omer 1911". Archived from the original on 2 May 2021. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
  14. ^ "מבקר המדינה מצא ליקויים בקבר הרשב"י כבר לפני 12 שנה: "אין לאפשר את המצב הקיים"". ynet. 30 April 2021. Archived from the original on 2 May 2021. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
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  20. ^ "Thousands Attend Levaya Of Yungerman Trampled to Death at Rav Wosner's Levaya". Retrieved 5 April 2015.
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  23. ^ TERCATIN, ROSSELLA (6 May 2021). "We'll see Meron's effect on coronavirus next week, health official says". The Jerusalem Post.
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  43. ^ ""מאשר האתר הוא רוצח, אני מאשים את היועמ"ש"". 103FM (in Hebrew). 2 May 2021. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
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  51. ^ Offical PIBA facebook page (PibaIsrael), 1 May 2021
  52. ^ @GLZRadio (30 April 2021). "רשות האוכלוסין וההגירה: "לאור האסון שאירע במירון וכמחווה למשפחות הנפגעים השוהות מחוץ לישראל - פתחנו מסלול ייעודי עבור בני משפחה מדרגה ראשונה מחו״ל, המבקשים להגיע לבקר את הפצועים הנמצאים בישראל"" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  53. ^ a b "פרסום ראשון | הנחיה חדשה למרכז המקומות הקדושים אחרי האסון במירון". ערוץ 7.

External linksEdit