Terrifying video has emerged from a stampede of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews celebrating the Jewish holiday Lag B’Omer on Mount Meron. Forty-five people are dead and at least 150 more are injured after the crushing stampede.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the stampede “a terrible disaster,” and said “everyone is praying for the recovery of the injured.” The footage documenting the aftermath of the incident shows medics rushing to aid those trampled, carrying bodies away, and giving CPR to children. The video depicts a highly chaotic scene.
Investigators are trying to understand what happened during the religious festival early Friday when an estimated 100,000 people gathered on Mount Meron to honor Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The second-century sage is buried at the base of the mountain, and it is an Israeli tradition for large amounts of ultra-orthodox Jews to attend the Lag B’Omer ceremony.
At around 1:00 local time, hordes of people poured out of a section that was not designed to support so many people. Reports claim that attendees slipped on a stone leading into a narrow passageway. They flooded onto a metal-floored slop, which caused an uncontrollable stampede – people falling like dominos on top of one another.
Chaim Vertheimer, one of the 150 injured, said that the metal slope was slippery due to spilled water and grape juice. The Israel stampede video revealed hundreds of empty bottles open and lying on the floor.
While the immense crowd toppled over each other, Mr. Vertheimer recalled a “sudden pressure at this point and people stopped, but more people kept coming down. People were not breathing. I remember hundreds of people screaming ‘I can’t breathe’.”
The bodies of the deceased were taken to a single location to be identified and families of those victims are being notified, spokesman Motti Bukchin said. The bodies are expected to be buried at sundown of the Jewish Sabbath.
Zaki Heller, a spokesman for Magen David Adom, a rescue service present after the disasters said that “no one had ever dreamed” this could happen. “In one moment, we went from a happy event to an immense tragedy.”
Magen David Adom, Israeli’s national EMS team tweeted an update early morning Friday. It explains that the injuries are confirmed to be a result of a stampede and that MDA EMTs are providing medical treatment to about 50 injured people, 20 of whom are in critical condition.
The 100,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews had been dancing during the ceremony, crammed together in tight spaces within the compound. Prior to the Israel stampede, attendees were elated to finally celebrate one again in mass numbers – something Covid-19 restrictions prohibited during last year’s holiday. Attendees moved to the music in unison, clapping, laughing, and praying.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people took part in the religious celebration. Last year, that crowd was extremely limited and over 300 people were arrested for ignoring coronavirus restrictions. This year, 100,000 people rushed to honor the late rabbi, and many of the rescue workers on the scene attributed the sheer volume of people for the stampede and resulting tragedy.
According to reports, the site around the rabbi’s tomb was divided into sections, separating the men from the women. The Israel stampede occurred in a men’s section when over a thousand went into a narrow passageway. Once the events unfurled and police arrived on the scene, fear and chaos forced thousands of attendees to the exits.
In the footage of the terrifying aftermath, police are shown blocking people from fleeing the scene, trying to understand what happened and whether there was continued danger. The officers could have been attempting to prevent another stampede as attendees fled, spilling into the exits and other areas of the compound.
According to The New York Times, some believe poor planning and possible negligence are the ultimate reason for the tragedy, and authorities are investigating why so many people were crowded together while coronavirus infections continue to surge. The compound has also been warned to be too small for the tradition, and even in past years, authorities warned of possible danger.
As the Israeli nation mourns for the dead, representatives from allied countries send their support and prayers. Jake Sullivan, the White House national security advisor tweeted his support, saying that “our hearts go out to the people of Israel tonight following the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron.”