(photo credit: AP [file])
Each time Michal Yosef hears the word "Versailles," the horrors of May 24, 2001, the night she celebrated her cousin Keren's wedding, come rushing back.
"Five-and-a-half years have gone by and I still deal with what happened everyday," said Yosef, 31, who broke her spinal cord when the Jerusalem banquet hall's dance floor gave way beneath her feet. "It is especially difficult when there is a court case or an inquiry and everyone starts talking about it all over again," she said, in an interview Monday.
On Sunday a Jerusalem court judge found the three engineers and the developer of the Pal-Kal construction method, used to build the Versailles hall, guilty of causing death by negligence. Twenty-three people were killed and more than 400 were injured when the building collapsed, in what has been called Israel's worst civilian tragedy.
"I don't believe this is negligence," said Yosef, adding that the sentence handed out last year to the banqueting hall owners - Avraham Adi and Efraim Adiv - of 30 months imprisonment was also not enough.
"They took down a main pillar that was supporting the dance floor," she continued. "Negligence? I don't think so. It's more like murder."
"These people [the hall's owners and its engineers] should be sent to prison for many years," said Yosef angrily. "We live in a country of illusions from the top echelons down to the bottom. All anyone cares about is how to fill his or her pockets [with money]. I have no doubt that this kind of tragedy will happen again in Israel in the future."
Developed by Eli Ron, and engineers Uri Pessah, Dan Shefer and Shimon Kaufman, Pal-Kal, which uses metal plates and thin layers of cement, was a popular construction method in the 1980s. It was banned in 1996 by the Israel Standards Institute because it did not meet safety requirements but many buildings had already been built with the method. Calls by the Interior Ministry to inspect such buildings were largely ignored.
"I can no longer enter into high buildings and can't be in a place where there is a large crowd," said Yosef, adding that she has lost touch with Keren and husband, Assaf, who fled the country following the disastrous wedding.
"If I'd gone to do a dangerous activity like Bungy jumping or sky diving then I would've been able to accept my injuries, but I was at a wedding. When you go into a wedding hall you give your trust to the owner; you believe that he will look after you and nothing bad will happen to you," said Yosef, who spent four years undergoing medical treatment, physiotherapy and occupational therapy before she could return to a fully functional life. "I have lost all my trust in humanity. We were at a wedding and this was not supposed to happen."