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Pilgrims describe horror at Mt. Meron: ‘I thought I was going to die’

CM 29/04/2021 3

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Jewish pilgrims who participated in the Lag Ba’omer celebrations on Mount Meron Thursday night expressed shock and horror after dozens of people were killed and over a hundred were injured in a stampede by the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

United Hatzalah CEO Eli Pollack told The Jerusalem Post that the incident occurred when large crowds of people streamed into a closed-in complex, crushing dozens of people against fences. While all the injured were evacuated from the scene, many people required psychological aid, including medical volunteers.
Pollack said that people had come to the celebrations excited that they were finally able to celebrate like they were used to after a year locked down from the coronavirus, and stressed how the great joy was suddenly broken by the disaster.
“Unfortunately we found small children being trampled there, and we performed resuscitations on children. We managed to save some of them,” United Hatzalah founder Eli Beer told Army Radio. “We need to wake up; I’m shocked by the amount of people who were let in.”
“Difficult sights, people crushed without being able to escape. Some of the wounded are still being treated at the scene,” said MDA spokesman Zaki Heller, according to The Jerusalem Post‘s sister publication Maariv.

“We were standing and waiting for our friends, we were going to go inside for the dancing and stuff and all of a sudden we saw paramedics from MDA running by, like mid-CPR on kids,” 36-year-old Shlomo Katz said.
“This is one of the worst tragedies that I have ever experienced. I have not seen anything like this since I entered into the field of emergency medicine back in 2000,” said vice president of the Volunteer Department of United Hatzalah Lazar Hyman.
“We were at the entrance, we decided we wanted to get out and then the police blocked the gate, so whoever wanted to get out could not get out. In that hurry, we fell on each other; I thought I was going to die,” another eyewitness told Maariv. “I saw people dead next to me.”
One of the people injured in the incident told KAN news that people began slipping on the stairs and falling on each other. “There were just more and more and more people, until the police decided to just remove the fences from the side and to try rescue people. It took time. I remember that I lay on top of someone. He wasn’t breathing.”
“There were screams; a mess. Each one trying to get out from the other, but they didn’t succeed in getting anyone out because it was a puzzle. I saw people, children, under me,” added the eyewitness to KAN.
Pictures from the scene showed that the incident occurred on a metal incline, which eyewitnesses described as so slippery that people just kept sliding into and on top of one another. Clothes, hats, water bottles and even pieces of strollers remained strewn in the narrow passageway after the incident, according to Israeli media. 
Despite the tragedy, hundreds of worshipers refused to leave the site afterward and clashed with police, who stopped them from entering the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
“It’s just blocked; I want to pray the morning prayers. Look at this: Look what they’re doing to Jews,” said one worshiper who was trying to enter the tomb. The worshiper insisted that the celebration should continue nonetheless, saying “we need to pray by Rabbi Shimon, we need the celebration of Rabbi Shimon.”Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews had thronged to the Mount Meron tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for annual Lag Ba’omer commemorations that include all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.

The ecstatic crowds had packed the Mount Meron slope in defiance of COVID-19 warnings by health officials. It was the largest public gathering since Israel started lifting coronavirus restrictions on the public weeks ago. Witnesses said people were asphyxiated or trampled in a passageway, some going unnoticed until the PA system sounded an appeal to disperse.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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