Meron stampede: Comptroller will launch special probe of Lag Ba'omer tragedy

“It was a disaster which could have been prevented. Now it is incumbent upon us to evaluate and investigate to prevent another incident like this.”

Medics and rescue workers attend to the Lag Baomer event in Mount Meron, northern Israel, where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance, at Mount Meron, Israel Apr (photo credit: REUTERS)
Medics and rescue workers attend to the Lag Baomer event in Mount Meron, northern Israel, where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance, at Mount Meron, Israel Apr
(photo credit: REUTERS)
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman on Monday announced that he will launch a special investigation of Friday’s Mount Meron disaster in which 45 people were killed and more than 150 were injured.
“This was a disaster that could have been prevented. Now it is incumbent upon us to evaluate and probe how to prevent another incident like this,” Engelman said at a news conference.
He added that if a state commission of inquiry is established, he would reevaluate the need for his office's probe.
Englman continued: “to the extent that there is personal responsibility [by an individual or individuals for the disaster] this will be stated unambiguously with specific treatment of those connected to the issue.”
  
Alternate Prime Minister and Justice Minister Benny Gantz and former senior police officers and various NGOs have called for a state commission of inquiry that is appointed by the Supreme Court and is usually headed by a justice but it is unclear whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will allow such a commission to be formed, or whether he would allow a probe any meaningful authority, given that he and some of his coalition partners, including Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Housing Minister Minister Yaakov Litzman and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana could face censure.
The comptroller said that his report would focus on three main issues including the conduct and actions of the political decision-makers, the police and the work of rescuers.
He added that there would be an overview of how the grave site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron that is visited by tens of thousands of pilgrims each year on Lag Ba'omer, is managed.
Within this section, he said he would report to what extent the government and various authorities followed up on deficiencies noted in  comptroller reports issued in 2008 and 2011.
The third section would be forward-looking and how to best manage future events at holy sites. Engelman said it would address both Lag Ba’omer at Mount Meron and other similar, mass pilgrimage events at other holy places.
Any criminal findings would be referred to the Attorney-General, he said.
The Police Investigations Department is already probing the incident from its perspective.