For Britons, the parallels with Hillsborough are clear

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AnalysisMount Meron disaster

For Britons, the parallels with Hillsborough are clear

The same questions will be asked of the Israeli police after the tragedy at Mount Meron

Michael Daventry

Michael Daventry is foreign editor of Jewish News

There were huge crowds outside Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield ahead of the 1989 crush (Photo: PA)
There were huge crowds outside Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield ahead of the 1989 crush (Photo: PA)

The images from Israel’s worst tragedy in peacetime will be chillingly familiar to Britons old enough to remember Hillsborough.

So many aspects of that disaster — in which 96 people died at a football stadium crush in 1989 — appear to be playing out again at Mount Meron.

The immediate focus in the Galilee has been on helping the victims and recovering the bodies ahead of Shabbat.

It has been pandemonium: the crowds did not disperse for hours, clogging up mobile phone networks and preventing search-and-rescue teams for evacuating people who were trapped.

By Friday lunchtime, many families had still not been notified that their relatives had died.

Inevitably, questions are already being asked about why such a predictable event was so poorly planned.

After all, the Lag B’Omer celebration at Mount Meron is always a chaotic affair and always attracts tens of thousands of revellers.

There was plenty of talk this year about how it was set to be the biggest mass event since Israel emerged from coronavirus lockdown.

Yet it is clear that not enough people heeded the Israeli Health Ministry’s warning to stay away from this year’s celebrations because it could be a super-spreader event.

Many Israelis are already asking if this was a disaster just waiting to happen.

Shimon Lavie, the commander of Israel’s northern police district, said on Friday morning that he bore “full responsibility, for better or worse”, for the tragedy.

But, according to Haaretz, at least some senior police officers disagree. It has been said the event was impossible to control because it was too big, and that the notorious corridor surge was triggered by boisterous participants.

It was the same tale after Hillsborough, where police said — falsely — that drunkenness and hooliganism caused the stadium crush.

Journalists and judges agreed: the 96 deaths were ruled to be accidental, and police were absolved of blame.

The victims’ families battled for 25 years before that verdict was overturned and the police, not the fans, were deemed responsible.

Similar questions will now be asked about the tragedy at Mount Meron.

The victims’ families will be hoping they find their answers come much, much quicker.

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