MERON TESTIMONY: “I Warned Police Of Risk Of Multi-Casualty Event 11 Days Before Lag B’omer”

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Police commandant Amnon Alkelai testifies to the state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster.

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The members of the state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster heard dramatic testimony on Thursday incriminating Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai of ignoring clear warnings of risks to the public and dismissing proposals to minimize the risk.

The speaker was Amnon Alkalai, the head of the operations division of Israel Police at the time of the Meron disaster, who claimed that Shabtai’s unwillingness to listen to his advice played a large role in the Meron disaster. He described how he warned Shabtai of the risks 11 days before Lag B’Omer but Shabtai refused to consider the solutions he suggested.

“I recommended limiting the number of participants but the commissioner completely ruled it out,” Alkalai said. “He said ‘either black or white’ – either the mountain is fully open or it’s closed completely. I thought it was a mistaken decision. I said that the main problem is the overcrowding and the risk of public harm, and if so, prepare for a multi-casualty event.”

Alkalai explained that he requested to limit the size of the crowd in the areas of the hadlakos and on Har Meron itself, to solve not only the risk of a coronavirus outbreak, but also the issue of the overcrowding at the site and the resulting security issues. He proposed a plan that would still allow people to come to Meron but at the same time, ensure their safety. “I proposed a plan to decrease the crowd and he made a decision of either zero or everyone.”

Alkalai said that after the discussion during which Shabtai made the decision not to restrict the crowd on Lag B’Omer he approached him afterward and “expressed my dissatisfaction with the decision in a very decisive way.”

“In mid-March, I requested to leave my position due to this, that I felt the decision-making progress was flawed, the manner in which decisions were made was incorrect as well as the commissioner’s authority to make decisions in a chain of operational and organizational events. I told the commissioner that I can’t fulfill my responsibility in this manner. There was a chain of events. At his request, I agreed to stay for another year. Throughout my years of service, I saw many incidents of flawed decision-making processes.”

The head of the commission, former Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, responded: “So I’ll put things bluntly – you are telling us that the commissioner’s decision during the discussion was a wrong decision.”

Alkalai replied: “Yes.”

Naor asked: “And was [the Meron disaster] the result of the fact that he didn’t heed your advice on April 19?”

Alkalai responded: “I don’t want to blame [the Meron disaster] on this decision but the nature of the incident was greatly influenced by the decision. If the police were determined to comply with regulations, I think the situation would be different.”

According to Alkalai, hours after that discussion, there was a twist in the plot, when Shabtai informed him that he had changed his mind and decided to implement restrictions on Lag B’Omer. He updated the Northern District Commander Shimon Lavie and coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash of the decision.

“But days before the incident, Ash informed me that there are no regulations because there’s no agreement between the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the police. I said it isn’t related to the police but the legal adviser to the police said that no body has the authority to implement restrictions at Meron. After a few hours, I received a message to join a ministerial meeting with Shabtai, during which he said: “If there’s a commission of inquiry, blame it on me that I didn’t limit the number of people.”

Alkalai added that he believes that the decision not to limit the crowd was due to political circumstances – and was not a professional decision. He claimed that the restrictions placed on Charedim outside Jerusalem on entering the city on Shushan Purim, as well as the clashes between the Chareidi sector and the police during the coronavirus era in general, caused a crisis between the police and the Chareidi public.

“As a result of the blockade on Shushan Purim, there was great anger from the public which was directed at its public representatives and the police. I suspect that this background influenced the decision-makers on Lag B’Omer,” he said.

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)


9 COMMENTS

  1. I shall depart from my usual anti-Israeli-police tirades (don’t worry, rabboisai, they will return next time) to complain for a moment regarding something I find very disturbing: We, the chareidi tzibbur in Artzeinu Hamehullalah, know that the sick Nazi Zionist police force (whoops, there we go again, sorry) situated in said praiseworthy land do not give a damn about us, our welfare, or our lives — like, not a D-A-M-N. So why the hell do we pretend that we could rely on these reaha’im to protect us at our events and the like? Why do we pretend? ENOUGH! We must be responsible for ourselves! I think dear Rabbi Hoffman posted an article (minus my delightful rhetoric) along these lines on YWN after the Karlin tragedy. He is so right. OUR LIVES ARE NOT HEFKER! Giving them into the hands of a filthy force which ACTUALLY HATES OUR FREAKING GUTS is just ridiculous, irresponsible, reckless, life-endangering, and wholly unforgiveable! This must change… where is Rechnitz, rabboisai?

  2. It is sad that coming to live in Israel seems to have such adverse psychological effects on people. Every civilized society requires policing. The Israeli police do not hate the haredi population as such, they dislike those in the community who show that they have no respect for Israeli civil law. The Yidden of Boro Park understand that the police are there to uphold the law and are a vital and necessary part of modern life. Why do people like the deranged Yashar think that they can both spit on the police and use them when convenient?

  3. I shall depart from my usual anti-Israeli-police tirades (don’t worry, rabboisai, they will return next time) to complain for a moment regarding something I find very disturbing: We, the chareidi tzibbur in Artzeinu Hamehullalah, know that the sick Nazi Zionist police force (whoops, there we go again, sorry) situated in said praiseworthy land do not give a damn about us, our welfare, or our lives — like, not a D-A-M-N. So why the hell do we pretend that we could rely on these reaha’im to protect us at our events and the like? Why do we pretend? ENOUGH! We must be responsible for ourselves! I think dear Rabbi Hoffman posted an article (minus my delightful rhetoric) along these lines on YWN after the Karlin tragedy. He is so right. OUR LIVES ARE NOT HEFKER! Giving them into the hands of a filthy force which ACTUALLY HATES OUR FREAKING GUTS is just ridiculous, irresponsible, reckless, life-endangering, and wholly unforgiveable! This must change… where is Rechnitz, rabboisai?

  4. @Jerusalem_observer: 1) The police hate chareidim. 2) The police ADDITINALLY are a terrible controlling force that treats everybody across the Israeli spectrum of all religions and sects and levels of observance or lack thereof with extreme conceit and unforgivably cruel tactics. If you hang out here in the holy land, come to a hafgana (even a secular hafgana). If you live in Boro Park as you slightly imply, please watch the videos of Israeli hafganos and do so with an open eye. 3) I am really at a loss as to what your response to me was. Your point seems to be that police are necessary; I KNOW THAT, dearie. Did I not very clearly write that we require our own people to police, etc.? Having an evil force like the sick Israeli police do the policing is just plain dumb and leads to lack of trust which leads to death as discussed in the main article. 4) Have you ever wondered in your conceited little brain if maybe moving to the holy land opens the eyes of American Jews more than it, how did you put it, adversely affects them psychologically?

  5. 5) If we had the ability to create a police force founded on good morals, I would love to do so. Since, however, that is currently impossible, should I not use the mafia current force if I experience a break-in? Seriously…

  6. Do you think that I not only have to suffer from the mafia force but must additionally not use them when they would be helpful? In what universe is that fair? If hat bothers them, let them stop being a mafia!

  7. jerusalem, probably becuae daily interaction with the police here results in insults and much worse when one attempts to act toward them with metschlichkeit. Anyone Chareidi lives here knows that it is best to avoid the police when at all possible. We are like blacks in America in terms of our relationship with the police, only with the hatred stemming from different sources.

  8. To Mr. Yashar,
    Your way of doing things is getting us deeper and deeper into trouble.
    Maybe the next time before you write your next comment, maybe show the comment to your Rav and if he gives the green light to your comment, then I would be very happy to read it. Don’t forget that the generation of the flood did not have a Police force. The Mishna says that without Police, one person will swallow another person alive.

  9. @avraham: Firstly, thank you for your always respectful comments over the past few years. Now, I’m sorry, but I only just saw your comment. I don’t understand. Are you aware that every single chareidi Rav of even the most non-kanaieshe sectors will tell you unhesitatingly and unequivocally that reporting a fellow Yid to the Israeli police (except when the person is endangering others or you get a heater from a beis din) is mesirah. Research it. What I am telling you is completely true. As I’m sure you know, mesirah is one of the absolutely biggest issurim in the entire Torah. So, I have a lot to discuss with you, but I don’t even know if you plan on reading this (as I haven’t gotten it stamped by a Rav), and I don’t know if you’ll even see this comment in the first place as it’s a few days late. Therefore, I will suffice with this (just one of many points I’d like to mention: Do you really think that the Mishnah would want Yidden to have a police force that they could never report anything to? A police force to which they could report only goyim, etc., or life/death situations? Of course not! They would want a Yiddishe police force! And that, as I’m sure you read above, is what I am advocating! I certainly don’t want to get eaten alive!