‘People were screaming: I can’t breathe, can’t breathe’
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‘People were screaming: I can’t breathe, can’t breathe’

Survivors recount the horror of the Mount Meron crush as Israel prepares for a day of national mourning

Michael Daventry is foreign editor of Jewish News

An strictly-Orthodox youth inspects leftover personal items at Mount Meron after the stampede (Photo:Ilia Yefimovich/dpa/Alamy Live News)
An strictly-Orthodox youth inspects leftover personal items at Mount Meron after the stampede (Photo:Ilia Yefimovich/dpa/Alamy Live News)

Israel has declared a nationwide day of mourning for Sunday in memory of at least 45 people who died during Lag B’Omer celebrations in Mount Meron.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israeli flags would be lowered to half-mast at buildings and bases across the country, and at embassies abroad.

“Let us all unite with the grief of the families and in prayer for the peace of the wounded,” he tweeted.

“Blessed be the memory of those who perished.”

Most of those killed in the stampede were trampled to death. Children are understood to be among those who died.

Those who survived spoke of their horror at the chaos as throngs of people fell upon each other.

“People were screaming, ‘I can’t breathe, can’t breathe,’” one witness named Arik told Haaretz.

“This boy started yelling, ‘Dad, I can’t breathe.’ One person threw up on me and was choking.

“One person was lying on my leg and I yelled at him to move, but he was totally unconscious.”

Another witness, Ba’al Haness, told the Times of Israel how he remained conscious even as the bodies began to pile on top of him.

“I saw all the bodies. I saw bodies on me, under me,” he said. “I thought I was going to die.”

Buried among the bodies, he prayed for what he thought were his final moments. Eventually, the police reached him and pulled people out from on top of him.

As relatives of the dead hurried to complete burials before the onset of Shabbat, police began the onerous task of gathering forensic evidence around the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the second-century sage who hundreds of thousands come to visit each year.

As messages of messages of sympathy poured in from leaders around the world — including the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas — Israelis responded to a call from the emergency services by lining up to donate blood.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the site on Friday (Photo: Twitter)

Others were asking whether poor planning or negligence contributed to the disaster.

Visiting the scene of the disaster on Friday, Netanyahu promised a “thorough, serious and in-depth investigation to ensure that such a disaster is not repeated.”

As he made the remarks, the prime minister was jeered by a group of Chasidic Jews who were still at the site.

Yet another group continued dancing and singing to celebrate Lag B’Omer, even after the scale of the disaster became apparent.

President Reuven Rivlin lit 45 candles on Friday afternoon in memory of each of the victims. Not all had been identified, but they included 16-year-old Eliahu Cohen and Shragee Gestetner, a Chasidic rabbi who was visiting from Montreal.

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