Opinion: The horrible disaster on Mount Meron demonstrates how the state opts to not involve itself in the sector’s ‘business’ in exchange for political peace from leaders who prefer to leave us poor and ignorant
The disaster in the Lag BaOmer festivities on Mount Meron — during which 45 perished and over 150 injured — is cutting proof of politicians and state institutions’ dereliction of duty.
In every single interview since the disaster, the officials who were behind the planning of the event reiterated that despite their repeated warnings, they received instructions from the upper echelons to press on with the celebrations.
After all, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s signatures were both on the event’s permits — black on white.
As an ultra-Orthodox Jew myself, I have to ask — in what other annual mass festival does the state allow an audience of hundreds of thousands of people to gather in a place that is ill-prepared to safely house mere hundreds?
The Lag BaOmer festival is in no way the only mass gathering in Israel. We have soccer games, Independence Day celebrations and the Pride Parade. All of which sometimes attract tens of thousands of participants.
Mass events are not only important for the country’s morale, but they also foster a sense of identity and belonging in the people of Israel, all of whom — whether they’re wrapped in the scarf of their favorite team or wearing a yarmulke — expect the government and those in charge of public safety to guarantee their wellbeing.
The Lag BaOmer celebrations have a special budget and an administration that plans the event a full year in advance. And yet, one glance at photos from the Mount Meron complex reveals a myriad of failures.
From rusted fences and improvised walkways to a dilapidated amphitheater connected to a decades-old winding and narrow access path.
The state chose to turn a blind eye and abandon the complex to various interest groups within the Haredi sector, who exert control over their public in exchange for supposedly fulfilling its needs.
That is why the state allowed dozens of impromptu huts and temporary structures to be built around the complex in various areas that were expropriated for the benefit of certain interest groups.
Neither the Interior Ministry nor the Tourism Ministry looked at the Meron site and thought about how to best adapt the area for the ever-evolving needs of the public.
For years, the complex and the road leading to it have been neglected. Not because of any architectural hurdles, mind you, but because certain parties in power exert their influence to change the way decisions are made.
That is why the state chose to not involve itself in the sector’s “business” in exchange for political peace.
The coronavirus pandemic — which absolutely ravaged Haredi society in Israel — has proven that the sector’s political leaders simply do not know how to act in the Haredi public’s favor. The disaster in Meron only acted to accentuate this fact.
Even on ordinary days, the ultra-Orthodox leadership does not always work for the good of its public. It is most convenient to keep us poor and ignorant. To foster the belief that the way of the ultra-Orthodox leadership is the only way to truly be Haredi.
After both the coronavirus pandemic and the Meron disaster, the time has come for the state to realize that it must treat us as equals and not engage in political wheeling and dealing at our expense jthe status quo.
At this dark hour, the thought of such changes may serve as some sort of solace for the time being.