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The Writing Was On The Wall
Some shockingly incriminating historical pieces of evidence have come to light regarding the cause of the Meron tragedy. (And to those who say that we shouldn't be pointing fingers or looking for someone to blame, I say: It is a terrible evasion of responsibility to avoid this opportunity to prevent this or similar things from happening in the future.)
Whether or not the police mistakenly closed off a particular walkway at Meron, it is abundantly, overwhelmingly clear that the entire setup was dangerous, and a mass tragedy could have happened anywhere, at any time. Even just within the Toldot Aharon area of the site, the official engineer’s report on the site had deemed it suitable for a maximum of 3,000 people, whereas around 20,000 people were estimated to have been there immediately prior to the disaster that occurred - almost seven times the permitted number. And so any discussion about the police closing off a particular path is not only irrelevant, it is a wrong-headed attempt to avoid the real issues. The entire Meron site was a disaster waiting to happen. People from charedi journalists to the State Comptroller's office had been warning about this for years.
So how did it happen that such a terribly dangerous situation was perpetuated for so long?
Some people - especially in the chareidi world - are blaming the police, or a national Israeli negligent attitude of "yihiye beseder."
But this is simply false. After all, there are plenty of other types of mass gatherings where there are very serious and careful protocols in place, and tragedies are therefore very unlikely to happen. If you tried to arrange an annual event for tens or hundreds of thousands of secular Israelis in some other small and totally unsuitable place, you'd just never get close to receiving police authorization. If you tried to put 20,000 people in a place that an engineer had deemed suitable for 3000 people, you just wouldn't be able to do it.
Today, there are voices in the charedi world crying out for the government to assert control over Meron. You can read an especially powerful article (in Hebrew) at this link. So why has this not happened, all these years, even though there were clear and present dangers?
There is one reason, and one reason only, why the safety standards and licensing requirements that are in place everywhere else in the country were not applied to Meron. There is one reason, and one reason only, why the government and the authorities were not able, and/or did not sufficiently desire, to assert proper control.
That reason is charedi opposition.
Back in 2008, the State Comptroller's office was already warning about the severe dangers of Meron. In both 2011 and 2013 there were attempts to remove Meron from the combination of religious authorities who were clearly not running it with sufficient professionalism, and assert government control.
The charedim who were running Meron went berserk. The Edah Charedis even threatened demonstrations around the world against the Israeli government. They fought it and fought it and in the end the Supreme Court had to intervene, and ruled that there should be some sort of compromise and sharing of authority over the site. Such a compromise was never worked out, and the control of Meron was left in disarray, with the lethal consequences that we saw last week.
The charedi battle against government control of Meron was not only fought in political meetings and the courts by charedi politicians and askanim. It was also fought by the rabbinic leaders of charedi society, as publicized in various pashkevilim posted on the walls around Israel. Several of these have come to light over the last few days, from the Badatz and from Brisk. But here is one of particular significance:
The signatories are the biggest names in the charedi rabbinic world. Rav Elyashiv. Rav Wosner. Rav Steinman. Rav Michel Lefkowitz. Rav Scheinberg. Rav Karelitz. Rav Shmuel Auerbach. Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Rav Yitzchak Scheiner. Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel. Rav Yaakov Hillel. Even HaRasha HaKadosh Eliezer Berland, serial sexual and financial predator, who was still part of the pantheon.
No doubt they were worried about Meron being turned into a tourist attraction, like the Western Wall, which would somehow desecrate the sanctity of the site. (And possibly they were encouraged to worry this way by various askanim, who had their own financial interests in benefiting from Meron.) As they wrote, Who can say what will happen if it is handed over to the government? And they therefore declared that it should be run "according to Daas Torah," as per the situation that we had last week, with no proper professional control of the site. After all, as we see again and again, that's how the charedi world does things. They don't need centralized government, and they don't need to run their society according to what engineers or epidemiologists or economists say.
This terrible tragedy, the worst civilian disaster in the history of the State of Israel, was not only predicted; the cause that would make it happen was clear. It was proudly and defiantly posted on the streets of Jerusalem, for all to see. The writing was, quite literally, on the wall.
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