Israeli Public Security Minister Says He's Taking Responsibility After Mount Meron Stampede

Amir Ohana, Israel's public security minister, said he is taking responsibility after a stampede at a religious festival on Mount Meron Friday morning killed 45 people and injured over 150 others.

"I am responsible," Ohana wrote in statement posted to Facebook Saturday evening. "I was at Meron that night, I returned to Meron the following morning. The difference was like night and day. At night there was joy, dancing, singing, and prayer. In the day there were trucks full of the bodies of the deceased, tears, suffering, and indescribable sadness."

לאחר שנסיים לזהות ולטמון את מתינו, אתייצב גם אתייצב בפני המצלמות.

בינתיים — אלה דבריי:https://t.co/CiqtaQHgGp

— אמיר אוחנה (@AmirOhana) May 1, 2021

Sunday is set to be a national day of mourning for the victims after the celebration of the Lag B'Omer holiday turned deadly. Amid easing restrictions on large gatherings in Israel, the religious gathering started Thursday night and included up to 100,000 participants, according to The Times of Israel.

As people began to leave the massive festival in the early morning through a tunnel-like passage, people began to fall on a slippery ramp, causing others to trip, panic and result in the deadly stampede.

Israel
Israel's Public Security Minister Amir Ohana released a statement Saturday saying "I am responsible" after a stampede that killed 45 people. Above, an Ultra Orthodox Jewish man weeps at a cemetary in Benei Brak, during the funeral of one of the victims of a stampede, when tens of thousands of people were gathered to celebrate the festival of Lag Ba'omer at a site in Meron in northern Israel early on April 30, 2021. GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images

Now many people are calling for accountability and an investigation into the event. In his post, Ohana went on to praise the actions of police officers who responded to the deadly scene and "definitely prevented even greater loss of life"—although he did not mention that police officers also fall under his jurisdiction.

He added that he would cooperate with any pending investigations surrounding the disaster, and while he is responsible, "responsibility does not mean blame," citing that authorities beyond the police are to blame for the holiday's gruesome outcome.

He said that this year's events "could have happened any other year" because the same mass celebration takes place annually in observation of the holiday.

מאז הלילה פעלו כוחות הביטחון, החילוץ וההצלה של פיקוד העורף, פיקוד הצפון וחיל האוויר שכם אל שכם עם המשטרה וכל הכוחות בשטח בכדי להציל חיי אדם.
זו שעה קשה וליבנו עם המשפחות. יש לנו מחוייבות עליונה לחקור ולבדוק את הכשלים, להפיק לקחים ולהטמיעם כדי שאסון כזה לעולם לא יחזור.

— בני גנץ - Benny Gantz (@gantzbe) April 30, 2021

There are two investigations set to examine last week's events, The Times of Israel reported. One will be conducted by the Police Internal Investigations Department into police failings, and another by the police for itself into the failures of other authorities to prevent the disastrous events. The Times reported that neither of these investigations looks into the ministers of public security, interior, religious affairs and the prime minister, who each played a role in the authorization of the mass gathering.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has also expressed his supported for a third-party investigation, The Jerusalem Post reported. Gantz said in a tweet Friday: "We are wholly committed to investigating the failures, drawing the necessary conclusions and applying them going forward so that this type of tragedy never repeats itself."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Mount Meron Friday morning amid heckles and calls from officials for an investigation. He had promised last Monday that there would be no limit on the number of attendees at the Lag B'Omer events, the Post reported. Netanyahu's decision comes despite reports from watchdog groups that have warned the gathering of ultra-Orthodox Jews to celebrate Lag B'Omer could "endanger the public" due to overcrowded conditions, the AP reported.

@netanyahu @AmirOhana @ariyederi must all resign they did nothing to stop this madness from happening the rabbinical leaders with little common sense care nothing for public safety the numbers of attendees was 10 times what was allowed NO ONE STOPPED THEM https://t.co/hYNKFJxedS

— Jonathan Weiner (@JonathanWeine12) April 30, 2021

Ohana concluded his post with a call to fly flags at half mast on Sunday in remembrance of the lives lost to the stampede.

Despite some calls for his resignation, Ohana asserted in his post that causes for the event extend "far beyond the police."

Newsweek has reached out to the Ministry of Public Security for comment.