© Reuters. Israel celebrates a day of mourning after dozen are crushed to death at a religious festival
By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel marked a day of mourning on Sunday for 45 people who were knocked down to death during a Jewish religious festival. The flags have been lowered to half the staff, raising questions of accountability for one of the country's worst civilian disasters.
According to Jewish tradition, funerals were held as soon as possible. More than 20 of the victims of Friday's Mount Meron disaster were buried overnight after official identification was completed.
"I only wish that we achieve even a small fraction of your stature in study and sacred devotion," said Avigdor Chayut, praising his 13-year-old son Yedidya at a funeral in the town of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv.
The victims died when a nightly annual pilgrimage by large numbers of ultra-Orthodox believers to the tomb of a second century Jewish mystic, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, in northern Israel ended in a rush.
Witnesses described a pyramid of bodies, including several children, in a packed and slippery metal-bottomed passage.
The Israeli media estimated that around 100,000 people attended the event. Those numbers underscored a relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in a country that was ahead of others in introducing vaccinations.
There was growing evidence that it was a disaster awaiting a pilgrimage site that state investigators had classified as dangerous years ago.
Questions were also raised as to whether the government and police were unwilling to cut the crowd in order not to anger influential ultra-Orthodox rabbis and politicians.
"A thorough investigation is required," said Minister of Culture Hili Tropper to the public broadcaster of Kan. "This terrible disaster will help everyone understand … that there shouldn't be a place where the state doesn't make the rules."
The Justice Department said investigators were investigating whether there was any police misconduct.
NETANYAHU PROMISES INQUIRY
Police and regional government officials said the Mount Meron site was managed by four different private religious groups, making it difficult to oversee.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised an investigation. His presidential mandate to form a new government expires on Wednesday after an inconclusive election on March 23, but public calls to determine responsibility for the tragedy seemed to haunt any future government.
The US embassy said US citizens were among the dead and injured but did not immediately name them.
The US media has identified some of the dead, including a 19-year-old who was in Israel in a gap year. Two Canadians were killed in the disaster, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday.
Leaders from around the world, including US President Joe Biden and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have offered condolences.
Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the information contained on this website is not necessarily real time or accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indices, futures) and forex prices are not provided by exchanges, but by market makers. Therefore, prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price. This means that the prices are indicative and not suitable for trading purposes. Therefore, Fusion Media is not responsible for any trading losses you may incur as a result of using this data.
Fusion Media or any person involved with Fusion Media assumes no liability for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information contained on this website, such as data, offers, charts and buy / sell signals. Please inform yourself comprehensively about the risks and costs associated with trading in the financial markets. This is one of the riskiest forms of investment possible.