Pal-Kal inventor gets 4 years in jail

Building method proved potentially lethal after 2001 Versailles Hall disaster.

versailles 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
versailles 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The developer of the Pal-Kal construction method, responsible for the deadly collapse of Jerusalem's Versailles banquet hall in 2001, was sentenced to four years in prison by the Jerusalem District Court on Thursday. Two engineers who designed the building were each sentenced to 22 months in jail, while a third received a six-month prison term. Twenty-three people were killed and 356 injured when the banquet hall collapsed during a wedding on May 24, 2001. It was the worst civilian disaster in Israel's history. Pal-Kal's developer, Eli Ron, and engineers Dan Shefer, Shimon Kaufman and Uri Pesach were convicted in December of the negligent deaths of the victims of the collapse, as well as negligent assault and injuring 356 people. Ron's lawyer, Micha Fetman, said that he would appeal the sentence to the Supreme Court. "This is a harsh and disproportional punishment, but it matches the attitude of the judge, who was against Eli Ron from day one. I hope the Supreme Court will be open to listening to our claims in the case," he said. Judge Moshe Gal wrote in his ruling that the Versailles disaster was "too hard to bear." "The carnage and the mass injuries destroyed entire families, whose world fell apart in a single moment," he wrote. Relatives of the Versailles victims said the sentences were too lenient. "It's as if they killed chickens, not people," said the groom's mother, Alice Dror, who was present when the sentences was read out. "Who will take responsibility for such a situation?" Her son Asi married Keren Yosef at the Versailles hall shortly before it collapsed. Keren spent six weeks in the hospital. "This was a needless disaster," said Avi Cohen, whose daughter Shonit was killed while working as a waitress at the banquet hall. "What message does this [sentence] send out?" he asked. The court had previously ruled that the Pal-Kal system was substandard and dangerous, and that Ron was negligent in distributing and selling it. The court also found that Ron had continued using the method despite warnings of intrinsic flaws. "A reasonable man... could and should have been aware of these flaws and the danger in the Pal-Kal system," Gal wrote his ruling. The two co-owners of the banquet hall were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison in November 2005 after being convicted on similar charges. Police and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology engineers found that a combination of shoddy construction, reckless renovation, building violations, and criminal negligence had led to the collapse. Pal-Kal is a cheap, lightweight construction method that uses metal plates and thin layers of cement. It was popular in the 1980s, but was banned by the Israel Standards Institute in 1996. Hundreds of buildings - including dozens of banquet halls, schools, and shopping centers - were built in Israel using the process. A 1998 Interior Ministry directive instructing all municipalities and local councils to check all buildings constructed using the method went mostly unheeded, including by the Jerusalem Municipality. A state commission of inquiry into the safety of public buildings, set up in the wake of the Versailles collapse, concluded in December 2003 that another Pal-Kal disaster was just a matter of time, since the government had largely failed to act on the issue.