Mount Meron stampede
On 30 April 2021, a stampede occurred in Israel during the annual Mount Meron pilgrimage on the Lag BaOmer holiday. The disaster took place at around 1:00 a.m. IDT, killing at least 44 people and leaving over a hundred more injured, including dozens who were critically wounded. It was one of the worst civilian disasters in Israeli history.
Haredi Jews traditionally covene for Lag BaOmer at the grave of the 2nd-century tannaitic rabbi Shimon bar Yochai at Mount Meron to dance and make bonfires.
In 2020, Israel 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. This was lifted as part of an agreement with Ministry of Religious Services officials which required attendees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The event was the largest event to be held in Israel since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Additionally, for the first time in 13 years, the Mount Meron celebration had happened between Wednesday and Friday, and for that reason the celebration was limited to a window of 14 hours when three bonfires had been lit at the same time, each lit by an Admor, with approximately three thousand people for each bonfire.
The site was limited to 10,000 people, but approximately 100,000 had arrived to the site.
The stampede was not the first time pilgrims to Mount Meron had been killed in an accident; in 1911, a roof collapse killed nine people.
According to one witness, a narrow road, with over a thousand people trying to pass through, caused people to fall on top of each other as they emerged from a compound where festivities were held. Israeli police sources said a crush of people developed after attendees slipped on stone steps near the narrow corridor with a metal ramped surface at around 1:00 a.m. IDT. Organizers estimated that 100,000 people, the vast majority of whom were Haredi Jews and police, arrived on the night of 29 April.
As medics were trying to reach the injured, former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau remained on stage urging calm and recited psalms for the wounded.
Three hundred rescue buses had been prevented from entering the site due to blocked access roads.
Six helicopters were flown in to evacuate the wounded. Cellphone service crashed due to the number of people trying to get in contact with their relatives.
The event is under investigation. Israeli police said the event was unpreventable and that the location was inspected for structural flaws but people slipping on stairs was out of police control.
Police Northern commander Shimon Lavy stated that he "bears full responsibility".
Police released a statement that the passage was authorized by all authorities and that they had understood the event would be abnormally large.
The stampede was the deadliest civilian disaster to occur in Israel since the 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire that killed 44 people.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a "great tragedy" and said that everyone was praying for the victims. German foreign minister Heiko Maas called it "devastating", saying "our thoughts are with the victims' families and loved ones".
Sources: wikipedia.org, news.lv
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