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May 3, 2021 8:51 am
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Israel Debates Launch of State Inquest Into Meron Disaster

avatar by Israel Hayom / JNS.org

Candles are seen during a vigil for the people killed and injured in a stampede at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish festival on the slopes of Israel’s Mount Meron, in Jerusalem May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JNS.org – All eyes are on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and whether he will order a state commission of inquiry into the Lag B’Omer disaster that left 45 people dead and 150 injured.

By law, an inquest of this kind would require Justice Minister Benny Gantz‘s approval. Though Gantz, head of the Blue and White Party, on Sunday called for a state commission of inquiry to be formed, it remains unclear whether a provisional government can install such a panel.

In a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Gantz wrote, “Only a state commission of inquiry will include all aspects of the investigation into the disaster, as it has the broadest authority and the tools at its disposal to consolidate the necessary recommendations.

“Given the unusual circumstances of the event, and particularly in light of the possibility that government members will be subpoenaed by the commission, only a state commission of inquiry appointed by the president of the Supreme Court, with a judge at its helm, will ensure the independence of the investigation and the public’s trust.”

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According to Gantz, “The establishment of a commission will not bring the families their loved ones back or ease their pain, but it can prevent this kind of disaster in the future. There is an urgency to the speedy establishment of a commission, so that it can carry out an initial assessment when the information is available and without many other investigative activities of other officials.”

While the Israel Police’s Major Crimes Unit was set to launch an investigation shortly after the tragedy took place, no such action has been taken on that front following the decision to task the Police Internal Investigations Department with examining whether officers were liable for the disaster.

The department is set to collect testimony from officers in the Northern Police District, National Headquarters and Operations Division before a decision is made into whether a criminal investigation is warranted. The move could see Northern District Commander Maj. Gen. Shimon Lavie, Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai and other senior officers questioned under warning.

The Internal Investigations Department’s review will be headed by Sgt. Salman Ibrahim.

Over the weekend and continuing into Sunday, investigators from the Northern District and National Police Headquarters gathered evidence, including documentation and security camera footage from the scene. The mapping of materials will begin in the coming days, and should this raise suspicions of any kind, a criminal investigation will be opened into those involved.

In an interview on Sunday, former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner asserted that a state commission of inquiry “does not look for guilt; that’s ignorance. It examines, listens and recommends. Its recommendations do not need to be accepted, but they do carry great weight.”

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, meanwhile, has told close associates that he has no plans to step down over the tragedy.

“Responsibility is not akin to guilt,” he reportedly said.

On Friday, hours after the scope of the tragedy became clear, Lavie told reporters, “As district chief, I bear full responsibility, for better or worse. We are currently gathering information and evidence to get to the truth about what happened. I’m willing to face any investigation.”

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