Tragedy at Festival in Israel

At least 45 people have died and more than 150 have been injured in a disaster at a huge gathering of ultra-Orthodox Jews participating in a festival in northern Israel on Thursday night. Lag B’Omer is an annual event that takes place at the tomb of a sage from the Second Century named Shimon Bar Yochai. It takes place on Mount Meron in the Upper Galilee region.

A spokesman for the Israeli emergency service Magen David Adom (MDA) said that severe overcrowding led to the tragedy. The theatre-like area set up in front of Bar Yochai’s tomb is accessed through a narrow, inclined metal walkway.

One man in the huge crowd moving along the walkway slipped and fell, causing others to fall over him and those alongside to find themselves in a desperate struggle to warn the massive throng coming along behind.

 

Clearing up after the tragedyClearing up after the tragedy

 

MDA said that 38 people died at the scene and the Ziv hospital later reported that six of the injured had died, leading the Health Ministry to confirm the early death toll as 44, including some children. Another one has died since then.

That makes this event one of the worst tragedies to hit Israel in peacetime, with a death toll similar to that in the 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire.

Witnesses described the panic as the crush began to develop. One told the BBC:

“It was crowded and there [was] ... no place to move.
People started to fall on the ground.”

Another member of the crowd, Shlomo Katz, said:

“All of a sudden we saw paramedics running by. One after the other started
coming out ... Then we understood that something is going on here.”

Yanki Farber is a reporter for the Orthodox Jewish website Behadrei Haredim. He said:

“Over 1,000 people together tried to go down a very, very small place,
very narrow road and they just fell on top of each other.”

A camera caught the moments when the first person fell and others alongside started to try to protect him but were defeated by the sheer pressure of those coming behind.

Screen clip from tweeted videoScreenshot of a video taken at the time.

 

This highlights how dangerous it can be to have large numbers of people moving together in a confined space. It is tragic that a celebration turned into such horror.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured and the bereaved.