Public Safety Is a Boring Job, but the Meron Tragedy Proves That It Is a Necessary One

Pick
June 15 2021
About Eli

Eli Spitzer is a Mosaic columnist and the headmaster of a hasidic boys’ school in London. He blogs and hosts a podcast at elispitzer.com.

On the Jewish holiday of Lag ba-Omer, many devout Israelis, and Ḥasidim especially, make a pilgrimage to the Mount Meron in the Galilee, the traditional location of the tomb of Shimon bar Yoḥai, a 2nd-century sage associated with the holiday. While in 2020 the celebrations were sharply circumscribed due to the coronavirus, this year Lag ba-Omer—which itself celebrates the end of a plague—fell on April 30, just as many virus-related restrictions were being lifted. The joyous occasion was marred, however, by a disaster in an overcrowded compound, leading to the deaths of 45 men and boys from trampling and asphyxiation. The incident has raised concerns over safety at Meron, and in ḥaredi communities more generally. Just yesterday, Israel’s new government advanced an investigation into how the accident occurred.

Eli Spitzer reflects on what lessons his fellow Ḥaredim can learn from the tragedy:

I . . . hope that a full and honest inquiry will reveal the truth and, if necessary, result in the appropriate sanctions. . . . What I want to contribute here, however, is a very basic observation, which others have made, but bears repetition if only to ensure that it does not get drowned out amidst the din of the blame game: we [Ḥaredim], as a community, aren’t very good at health and safety.

I could point to countless examples of how this manifests itself in our daily life, from fire alarms without batteries to school vans without seatbelts and buildings without fire exits. . . . It is, I think, superfluous, to speculate too much about why Ḥaredim take a lackadaisical attitude to health and safety regulations, for while some things are mysterious, apathy and thoughtlessness aren’t among them. [In Britain], the phrase “elf and safety” has long been used to denote a certain type of annoying party-pooper spoiling everyone’s fun and costing money by pointing out the lack of a fire evacuation route. Inside the ḥaredi world, there has been a long-term shortage of people willing to take on the party-pooper role and scarcely more are [apt] to listen.

The precise number of accidents and injuries you are willing to tolerate to have a more relaxed and enjoyable life is a question that few wish to answer explicitly. I think all of us can agree, however, that accidents of this kind are unequivocally over the line of unacceptability. It’s past time to recalibrate.

So, in response to this tragedy there is no alternative to, or at the very least no replacement for, listening more to the officials with their risk assessments and insistence on compliance. . . . Health and safety is boring; it’s annoying, it’s expensive; but you can’t live without it, sometimes literally.

Read more at Eli Spitzer

More about: Haredim, Lag ba'Omer

Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship