The state inquiry into the deadly stampede at Mount Meron two years ago, on Tuesday issued legal warning letters to some witnesses who testified during the course of it. The letters apparently informed these individuals about the inquiry’s conclusion regarding the role they played in the disaster.
More than a year has passed since the first public discussion of the inquiry was held in August 2021. Since then, 43 discussions have been held and 141 witnesses have been questioned. Some may believe this signals the end of the inquiry, which was supposed to publish its findings by spring 2023. But this, my friends, is only the beginning.
The warning letters sent to 18 of the witnesses is the de-facto proclamation that these people are somehow at fault for events that led to the biggest civilian disaster in Israel's history, which claimed the lives of 45 people.
The inquiry will present their findings and conclusions to each of the 18 witnesses, and they will have to right for legal representation, calling of new witnesses, a chance to re-testify and cross-examine witnesses who testified against them during the inquiry.
If until now, every official involved in the disaster presented his or hers version to the inquiry committee under fairly sterile conditions and tried to shift the responsibility to someone else, now Israelis will have the privilege of witnessing live intriguing and embarrassing head-on confrontations between senior officials, some of whom are political allies, belonging to the same camp.
The next step of the inquiry will probably take several months or even years to complete, before the overall findings and recommendations could be published. Many estimate that each witness will take its time looking over the evidence and preparing their defense. Not to mention the consequent discussions and cross-examinations, which will take forever.
The inquiry was hopeful that they could present their findings by April 2023, though the interim report presented in November 2021 emphasized that the completion of the inquiry will take a long time. I appears another interim report is the best we can hope come spring 2023.
That report will also likely include a new recommendation for staging Lag B'Omer festivities at Mount Meron, seeing how their previous advise did little to improve the conditions for the worshippers who came to celebrate in 2022.
Interestingly, Aryeh Deri, who acted as Interior Minister at the time of the Meron disaster, was not issued a warning letter. This, despite numerous testimonies saying his office pressured police and health experts to try and approve the 2020 event without a crowd limit despite Israel at the time battling a severe coronavirus wave.
Deri managed to avoid a warning letter due to him not taking an official part in the planning and execution of the event at Meron, thus making it difficult to present him as someone who is liable for negligent conduct while in office.
This explains Deri’s confidence when he testified in front of the inquiry. Unlike other witnesses, Deri seemed to be at ease, like he didn’t think much of the questioning.
He even emphasized that he was there to assist the inquiry's committee to do its work and that he sees himself as part of it.
The words were perceived as authentic by the members of the committee, who praised him and complimented him on his appearance. They did not suspect him of engaging in a psychological exercise, which he was likely performing.