Israeli Cabinet Orders Inquiry on Deadly Festival Stampede

By Reuters
June 20, 2021 Updated: June 20, 2021

JERUSALEM—Israel’s new government approved on Sunday an official inquiry into a stampede in April in which killed 45 people at a Jewish pilgrimage site long deemed dangerously crowded by authorities.

Establishing the state commission of inquiry a week after he was sworn in, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in televised remarks that while it “cannot bring back those who are gone, the government can do everything to prevent future needless loss”.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks as he chairs the first weekly cabinet meeting of his new government in Jerusalem, on June 20, 2021. (Emmanuel Dunand/Pool via Reuters)

A cabinet statement said the inquiry’s findings would help safeguard other mass-attendance events in Israel, which has sites sacred to Islam and Christianity as well as to Judaism.

Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews gathered at the Galilee hillside tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shim Bar Yochai on April 30 for the annual Lag B’Omer festival that includes all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.

During the ceremony, part of the crowd surged into a narrow tunnel and the 45 men and boys were asphyxiated or trampled.

Israel Festival Stampede
Israeli security officials and rescuers carry a body of a victim who died during a Lag Ba’Omer celebrations at Mt. Meron in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021. (AP Photo)

Police are already carrying out a probe and Israel’s government watchdog, which years ago deemed the Mount Meron site hazardous, has announced its own investigation, though it cannot bring criminal charges.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who pushed for the inquiry, said its findings would carry “heavy weight” and could not be ignored.