The April stampede killed 45 people at a Jewish shrine long considered dangerous by authorities.
Israel’s new government has approved an official investigation into a stampede in April that left 45 dead and dozens injured at a Jewish pilgrimage site long considered dangerously overcrowded by authorities.
Despite being the country’s worst civil disaster, a large-scale investigation into the Death of Mount Meron fell behind under the previous government amid feuds between its ultra-Orthodox Jewish politicians and the opposition.
“The responsibility to learn the lessons and prevent the next disaster is on our shoulders,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday at his first cabinet meeting.
“A commission cannot bring back those who perished, but the government can do everything to prevent unnecessary loss of life in the future. “
A cabinet statement said the investigation’s findings would help protect further mass events in Israel, which has sites sacred to Islam and Christianity as well as Judaism.
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered on April 30 at the Galilee hillside tomb of 2nd century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for the annual Lag BaOmer festival which includes all night prayers, chanting mystics and dances.
The numbers this year were lower than in previous years, but still above those allowed by COVID-19 restrictions.
Some Israelis have questioned whether the former government of Benjamin Netanyahu and the police were reluctant to further limit crowd size due to pressure from influential ultra-Orthodox leaders.
During the ceremony, part of the crowd rushed into a narrow tunnel and the 45 men and boys were suffocated or trampled.
Police are already investigating and the Israeli government watchdog, which years ago ruled the Mount Meron site dangerous, has announced its own investigation, although it cannot initiate criminal proceedings.
Netanyahu had promised a full investigation, but his cabinet, which included ultra-Orthodox Jewish ministers, never took any formal action and major hostilities between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza erupted less than two weeks later.
Bennett is religious himself, but his broad coalition does not include any ultra-Orthodox parties. In his remarks to cabinet, he said Meron attracts Jews “from all walks of life,” an allusion to faiths other than the ultra-Orthodox.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who has argued for the investigation, said its findings would carry “heavy weight” and could not be ignored.
The commission of inquiry, headed by a judge, will have a budget of six million shekels ($ 1.8 million), the government said.