Widespread chaos, panic, screaming, running, ambulances with wounded and lifeless bodies, old people stumbling trying to escape, children crying in search of their parents, sirens of police cars and helicopters.
The sights and sounds are ingrained in the mind of Carioca Daniel Rabinovitsch, 21, who was on Mount Meron in Galilee, northern Israel, when 45 people were trampled to death during a religious holiday that brought together 100,000 people. faithful Friday morning (30) in Israel, Thursday evening (29) in Brazil.
More than 150 injured are being treated in hospitals across the country and people are still missing. It is the civil event that has claimed the most deaths in the country since its creation in 1948.
“I could be one of the dead. I was at the place where the deaths had taken place half an hour earlier, ”said Rabinovitsch, a student in a“ yeshiva ”(rabbinical seminary) who traveled another three hours to Mount Meron to have fun with friends.
“It was the feeling of a terrorist attack, to run away if you can. I went to enjoy a party that turned into a nightmare. “
The incident took place at the height of the Lag Baomer holiday, one of the happiest on the Jewish calendar, when fires are usually lit, nature walks and celebrations with family members. The holiday also marks the day of the death of revered Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who lived in the 2nd century and is said to have been the first to teach Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah.
Traditionally, tens of thousands of additional religious Jews – often ultra-Orthodox, called “haredim” – often make a pilgrimage to the rabbi’s tomb on Mount Meron, to sing, dance, listen to the rabbis and ask for blessings.
This was what Daniel Rabinovitsch wanted to do on his first visit to the scene. At midnight, he walked into the courtyard of one of the most radical ultra-Orthodox sects, Toldot Aharon, and danced to traditional music with friends, but noticed the danger.
“The stands were more crowded than at the end of the World Cup. To be able to see something, I had to climb on one side and hang on to the structure, ”says Daniel, who emigrated to Israel three years ago.
At around 12:40 am, the Brazilian got hungry and decided to go to a place where food was being distributed. It was your chance. At 1:07 a.m., a large group of believers trying to leave the area got stuck in one of the exits. Some tripped and fell to the ground. Those behind did not notice and continued to press for the crowd to advance.
The result was 45 deaths – all religious aged 9 to 65 – trampled or suffocated. Most were Israeli, but one Argentine citizen, two from Canada and four from the United States also died.
The panic that followed was also witnessed by another carioca, Celso Cusnir, 58, who works for a bus company and was moved to take care of some of the logistics of transport on the night of the tragedy. Living in Israel for 30 years, he had never seen anything like it.
“It was a chronicle of the announced deaths. I had been to Meron as a visitor before and knew the place was very tight. But this time there were even more people, ”Celso said, recalling that the pilgrimage was Israel’s biggest holiday since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, the government called off the party for fear of infections. But, given that Israel is the world leader in immunization – around 60% of the population has already received two doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine – and the country has almost returned to normal, with minimal rates of contagion and of deaths, authorities, instead, turned a blind eye to the mass event, despite warnings from health officials.
The police even tried to control the crowd by placing a series of partitions at the entrances and exits of Mount Meron. Some say, however, that these measures only increased the flow of people, leading to an accident. Others blame the rabbis and visitors, who allegedly ignored police instructions on how many people might be there.
“They made a whole infrastructure on the shoulder of the road so that people did not pass by,” recalls Celso. “Suddenly, I see a lot of people invading the road, in the opposite direction of the grave. It was then that I heard a policeman say that there were already 14 dead. Then the numbers only increased ”.
Tragedy can even lead to an IPC in Parliament. The big question to be answered is who is responsible for the place.
Police say it is run by religious sects that ignore public power. And that the politicians do not want to get involved so as not to offend the “haredim”, 12% of the population of the country, and to be qualified as prejudices vis-a-vis the freedom of worship in force in the country.
In an interview with Israel’s 12th Channel Television, former police commander Shlomo Aharonishki said the site was a “black hole of accountability” and that police heaved a sigh of relief every year when the Lag Baomer collapsed. ended without incident.
But it was not always so. In 1911, for example, 11 people died on the spot during the feast. And every year, videos appear showing the push-push in the place.
Cusnir witnessed the massive escape attempt. At one point, he saw a Red Star of David ambulance bus with dead and injured inside trying to get past the crowded road. Then he witnessed the struggle for a place on the few buses that were there to evacuate people.
“I thought there would be another trampling on the crowded buses. I saw people cry, asking the drivers to take the lost children away.
The Meron tragedy made headlines around the world. Several leaders sent their condolences, including US President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Pope Francis.
Itamaraty issued a note stating that “the Brazilian government and people stand in solidarity with the family and friends of the victims, express their condolences to the government and people of Israel.”