Head of pre-army academy held after death of 10 students

Seven funerals held Friday, three more Sunday after Tzafit canyon tragedy

Helicopters looking for survivors from the flood / Courtesy of Magen David Adom
Police on Friday arrested the head of the Bnei Zion pre-military academy and a tour guide on suspicion of negligent homicide, after 10 high school students drowned the previous day on a trip the institution arranged along the Tzafit canyon, west of the southern Dead Sea.
The two men are being questioned over their failure to heed flooding warnings and call off the hike, police said. The remands of principal Yuval Kahan and tour guide Aviv Bradichiv were extended by five days on Friday in Beersheba Magistrate’s Court. Justice Eitan Gonen said there were “contradictions in the versions of events” that the two had given.
The 10 students were killed after they were carried off by a surge in the stream as unseasonably strong rains hit the country on Thursday.
Hundreds of people came to a memorial vigil for the victims of the disaster that was held Saturday night at Tel Aviv’s Habima Square. The crowd included friends of the victims and current and former students at Bnei Zion.
Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen, a former Dimona mayor and high school principal who led many groups in the past to the site of the disaster, requested an emergency meeting of the Knesset Education Committee to ensure that lessons would be learned from the disaster. Committee chairman Ya’acov Margi (Shas) approved holding the meeting, in which MKs will question representatives of the Education Ministry, Defense Ministry and the pre-military academies.
“Whoever is responsible for this horrible tragedy will have to be held accountable,” Cohen said. “I was shocked to hear that pre-military academies do not require any authorization for their field trips. My heart goes out to the families of the victims who suffered a tremendous loss.”
The Education Ministry said it had not been informed of the trip. “The trip was not reported to us, was not known by our situation room and was not approved by us,” it said.
The ministry added that it was following developments with concern, was in constant contact with the relevant parties and would soon provide the necessary responses to educational institutions on the matter.
The Defense Ministry responded to that statement by saying that according to rules and regulations, the Education Ministry is the professional body responsible for approving the educational activities in pre-military preparatory programs.
“The Defense Ministry is not responsible for the curriculum, including trips,” the ministry said, adding that it “continues to monitor the severe disaster in the Arava with great concern. It is very unfortunate that, on such a day, not only does the responsible body not take responsibility, but it rather imposes it on another entity.”
It was the deadliest incident of several caused by unusually heavy rains over two days, which caused many normally dry river beds to swell into deadly torrents.
The floods also claimed the lives of two Beduin children who were washed away in separate torrents on Wednesday.
A Palestinian teenage girl drowned in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, medics said. A truck driver from Taiba is still missing after he was apparently swept away in another torrent within the Green Line, south of the Dead Sea, police said.
Tamara Zieve contributed to this report.