Police requests for reinforcements before Meron Disaster went unanswered - report

"We need reinforcements...Where are all the officers who are lounging around? They need to come here!" pleaded officers over radio.

Israeli rescue forces and police near the scene of a stampede that killed dozens and wounded dozens over 100 during the celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021 (photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
Israeli rescue forces and police near the scene of a stampede that killed dozens and wounded dozens over 100 during the celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021
(photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)

Israel Police officers at the Mount Meron Lag Ba’omer festivities tragedy in April 2021 pleaded for reinforcements to help control heavy crowding at the site shortly before the disaster that killed 45 people, according to recordings revealed by KAN news on Monday night.

Half an hour before the disaster in which dozens of people were crushed as a throng of people crowded through a narrow exit corridor, police began to realize that the crowding at the site was getting out of hand and began asking for help to clear the area.

The disaster happened at the exit from the Toldot Aharon complex at Mount Meron, designated as point 41 by police.

At 14 minutes past midnight, shortly after the bonfire in the complex was lit, police warned that they needed reinforcements in order to close the entrance to the complex and to get people to exit the area. The request went unanswered.

“Start coming to 41, it’s starting to get very crowded here, there’s a gathering of people. Come quickly to 41, it’s starting to get crowded here. There’s pushing here. Start coming, there’s a lot of people,” said police over radio communications minutes later.

 Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene after a mass fatality scene during the celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021.  (credit: David Cohen/Flash90) Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene after a mass fatality scene during the celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (credit: David Cohen/Flash90)

While the communications were being listened to by Deputy Superintendent Shalom Avitan and the central police command center responsible for the event, the only action taken was to launch a quadcopter to observe the area, according to KAN.

About 20 minutes before the crush began, police officers at the Mirpeset Kohanim (priestly terrace) section which leads to point 41 also began noticing the overcrowding, stating over the radio “guys, quickly, to me, more officers to Mirpeset Kohanim, whoever can close the entrance from the direction of the graves, close it quickly.” After a repeated request by the officer, another officer responded by stating “whoever is reporting should explain what is happening and where to [go].”

“Guys there is crowding by me, Eliran is reporting, crazy crowding, close the entry to the direction of Madregot Kohanim [priestly steps]. Friends, close the entry and send me officers, [there is] insane crowding,” warned the officer. Despite the concerns, other officers responded by telling them that it was just because of the bonfire lighting and to “be strong,” advising that someone should be sent to try and direct traffic.

ABOUT THREE minutes before the disaster occurred, the central command center contacted the command center of the Amakim District with concerns about the situation. Officers at the scene warned that there was an incident at the site, pleading “we need reinforcements to 41. Where are all the officers who are lounging around? They need to come here!”

Around that time, officers at the Mirpeset Kohanim section succeeded in controlling the crowding in their area but noticed that the crowding was getting worse further on. “There is crazy congestion inside,” warned one officer, calling for other ones to come and help direct pedestrians.

The command center responded by asking officers to check if there had been a collapse or some kind of incident at the site, although the disaster was yet to happen and officers were needed in order to prevent a collapse.

“41 close [the entrance], people are passing, everyone is trampling each other,” warned an officer at the scene, stressing that people were continuing to enter and exit at the same time.

Despite the repeated pleas, the command center decided not to pass on the requests to commanders, and no reinforcements were sent, according to KAN.

Shortly afterward, the disaster occurred, with people falling on one another and dozens crushed beneath the crowd. “Command, people are being crushed in the throng inside. Send a team to 41,” called officers at the scene.

Police response after disaster was delayed amid confusion

Even after the incident took place, police were delayed in their response, expressing confusion about whether or not an incident had even occurred.

“Command center here, we’re trying to understand – was there an unusual incident with dozens of victims at point 41, yes or no?” asked the command center over the radio. Even 15 minutes later, police weren’t sure where exactly the disaster had occurred. “Where are you exactly? Where is the incident?” asked commanders over the radio.

The event at Mount Meron was Israel’s deadliest-ever civilian disaster. A state inquiry has been investigating the incident for over a year, with a number of officials, including prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and then public security minister Amir Ohana, set to be questioned on December 13.