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Failure to tackle glaring deficiencies requires national introspection – analysis

CM 30/04/2021


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Lag Ba’omer, always a time of celebration and partying, turned into a day of tragedy and calamity this year when the country woke up on Friday morning, to one of the worst civilian disasters it has ever experienced. Special news broadcasts relayed the grim tidings of dozens of people crushed to death at Mount Meron, the burial place of Talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, where annual celebrations commemorating the anniversary the rabbi’s death are staged and where members of the ultra-Orthodox flock in their tens of thousands. Many of the victims came from the ultra-Orthodox hassidic Toldos Aharon community whose bonfire lighting ceremony was adjacent to the site of the disaster. The dead tragically included fathers who leave behind large families, young men and even children. What precisely happened at Mount Meron at close to 1:00 in the morning Thursday night is still not clear. Some eye witnesses at the site say that the police blocked off an exit path from the main courtyard which led to a mass of people stuck behind them and ultimately the crush in which at least 45 people died. Others have said that the police were not at fault and that among the thousands of people stuck trying to make their way out down a narrow, slippery pathway on a decline, a few fell over and caused a mass of others to fall behind them causing the crush.

Whatever the exact circumstances turn out to be, the general problems at the site were well known, the dangers readily apparent, and the writing was apparently on the wall.Indeed, a police report from 2016 addressing the Meron pilgrimage entitled “Erasing the Writing on the Wall” highlighted the inadequate infrastructure at the site, its small size, and the huge number of people who congregate there for the annual celebration. “The area of the site is not appropriate for the event, the crowd that comes to the mountain is excited and includes people of all ages, and at the time of a disaster it would be difficult to control,” said the report. And a report on the Charedim 10 ultra-Orthodox news website three years ago reported problems specifically at the site where Thursday night’s tragedy happened under the headline “Who will prevent a disaster at the bonfire lighting ceremony of Toldos Aharon. As in previous disasters in Israel such as the Carmel Forest Disaster in 2010, the problems were known in advance but no action was taken until the unthinkable became reality.Similarly, in the Maccabiah bridge collapse in 1997 shortcuts and cheap solutions were used to construct infrastructure that was wholly inadequate for the job with insufficient oversight.No one who has ever been to Mount Meron for Lag Ba’Omer, or at any other time of the year, can truly be surprised that such a tragedy could have happened given the hundreds of thousands crammed in to such a small and inappropriate space.This pattern of ignoring problems until it is too late, and of failing to tackle concerns even when forewarned has once again led to a new tragedy in a country which has sen too much heartache during its short lifetime. With the country in the midst of perhaps its worst ever political crisis, eyes will always turn to the unstable nature of the system of government here which lends its hand to frequent changes to ministerial personnel and a subsequent inability to look beyond the short term because of the frequently changing political landscape. At the same time, questions should also be raised, once again, about the country’s relationship with the ultra-Orthodox sector, especially the more radical groups. It may well turn out that there mistakes were made by the police in the management of the pilgrimage this year which led to the disaster. But as indicated by the 2016 police report, the site is totally unsuited for mass pilgrimage regardless of what the police might be able to arrange on the mountain. Demands are now being heard that limits be placed on the number of pilgrims allowed to visit Mount Meron on Lag Ba’Omer, but such a step would face enormous opposition from the ultra-Orthodox communities which are so devoted to the celebrations there. Even last year on Lag Ba’Omer at the height of the COVID-19 crisis when mass gatherings were deadly even without mass crush events, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men, many from the most radical sects of the community such as Toldos Aharon, evaded police cordons and roadblocks, disregarded Health Ministry regulations, and fought with police to ensure they could celebrate on Mount Meron.And the entire duration of the coronavirus crisis saw the government struggle, and in large part fail, to impose its writ on large portions of the ultra-Orthodox community, with the period bearing witness to the largest incident of mass civil disobedience in the history of the country when tens of thousands of children from the sector went to school in defiance of government orders.Should the government limit the celebrations on Meron to say 50,000 worshippers the country would witness more mass civil disobedience every year on Lag Ba’Omer, particularly amongst the extremist ultra-Orthodox groups. As witnessed in the COVID-19 crisis, confronting such problems is something the government shies away from, due to both political difficulties and the societal combustibility of such issues. But however difficult, the Meron disaster must lead to serious introspection and soul-searching not just about Thursday night’s tragedy but more broadly over how the country is managed, how it can both identify and tackle short and long term problems, and how the relationship between the state and its different societal sectors needs to change. Failure to conduct such self-accounting would desecrate the memories of those who perished in the Lag Ba’Omer disaster.
Source: Jerusalem Post

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CM

The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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