Dozens killed in Lag B'Omer stampede; HRC report released: Israel Update

April 30, 2021

At least 45 people were killed, and hundreds more injured, after a stampede broke out Thursday night, as massive crowds were gathering at the Mount Meron religious bonfire-lighting ceremony for the holiday of Lag B'Omer. A full investigation into the cause of the tragedy has been initiated by Israeli police, but preliminary accounts suggest that some of the attendees slipped on the stairs, which then created a "human avalanche" that crushed members of the crowd. Approximately 90,000 worshipers had packed the Mount Meron slope—in defiance of COVID-19 warnings by health officials. It was the largest public gathering since Israel started lifting coronavirus restrictions on the public a few weeks ago. Following this “heavy disaster,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Sunday would be “a day of national mourning.”


Human Rights Watch accused Israel of committing crimes against humanity in a 213-page report published Tuesday. The report, titled "A Threshold Crossed," accuses Israel of "apartheid and persecution" as defined by international conventions and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It claims the Israeli government perpetuates structural oppression to "maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians." In response, Israel's Foreign Ministry released a statement that called the report a "propaganda pamphlet" and accused Human Rights Watch of a long-standing, anti-Israel agenda.


Israeli political parties Yamina, Yesh Atid, and New Hope held intensive talks on Thursday in an attempt to form an alternative coalition before next Tuesday, which is when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's mandate is set to expire. The three parties reportedly made progress in the meeting, though major gaps still remain between the differing factions. The parties remain hopeful that they will reach an agreement by the Tuesday deadline. Meanwhile, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett are each reportedly working to secure for themselves the next presidential mandate to form the government if Netanyahu fails to do so.


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday night that the Palestinian national elections—which would have been the first held in 15 years—would be delayed indefinitely. Appearing before a conference of senior Palestinian officials, Abbas announced that the vote will be postponed until Israel agrees to allow East Jerusalem Palestinians to participate. The Palestinians had been scheduled to vote for the Palestinian Legislative Council on May 22, with a presidential election set to follow on July 31. The decision was widely interpreted to mean that no elections will be held in the foreseeable future. Many Palestinians had hoped the elections would bring a new class of young leaders to the forefront of Palestinian politics.


Terrorists in Gaza fired rockets toward Israel for the third night in a row—on Sunday and early Monday—with the Iron Dome system intercepting two of the five projectiles. Palestinian terror groups have said that the rocket attacks were in response to ongoing unrest in Jerusalem, where Arab residents have demonstrated for several days against imposed Ramadan restrictions. In total, over 40 rockets were launched into Israel last weekend.


The safety, health, and well-being of all community members is a priority for the Jewish Federation. Like many of you, we are closely monitoring the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic. This page is consistently updated to help you stay informed about efforts to support our community during this time. Click here for detailed information about COVID-19 vaccinations.


Shabbat Shalom, 


Jackie Congedo, Director, JCRC


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