Hundreds of thousands of Jewish worshippers were expected to ascend Mount Meron in the Upper Galilee on Monday night for the Lag B’Omer holiday, where new security measures are in place two years after 45 people died in a crowd crush.
To avoid overcrowding at the pilgrimage site of the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, no more than 50,000 people are supposed to be allowed on the mountain, with visitors permitted to stay for up to five hours.
However, as of 6 p.m., ushers were allowing early arrivals to enter without checking whether they have tickets, and others were bypassing official entry points to sneak onto the mountain.
Worshippers were required to purchase travel tickets from the Transportation Ministry. Private vehicles are not allowed at the site, with shuttle buses ferrying visitors to the main complex.
Only a single, communal bonfire will be allowed, which will be controlled by local authorities. In previous years, as is tradition for the holiday throughout Israel, many bonfires were lit at Meron.
The main complex has been expanded and more celebrations have been added in an effort to avoid overcrowding.
Thousands of ushers are going to be deployed to prevent bottlenecks like the one that caused the deadly stampede in 2021. Some 8,000 security personnel will be monitoring the town and the tomb site. The Israel Police said that helicopters, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and drones will patrol the area.
“It is still early to conclude but I see the professionalism, and I hope, pray and believe in you that this event will pass safely,” said National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on Wednesday after touring the site and speaking to police.
Druze security guard attacked
Security camera footage from Saturday showed seven Jews at Meron ahead of the pilgrimage viciously beating a security guard, who was later identified as Hamoud Sha’afi, 27, a Druze Israeli. Two suspects have been detained with more arrests expected.
“They heard us speaking Arabic between us and ran towards us and began beating us,” Sha’afi said. He is hospitalized at Ziv Medical Center in Tzfat where he underwent surgery for a broken arm.
“I have been working on weekends for a security company in Meron at the Rashbi [Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai] tomb for over two years,” he said. “I shouted to them that I was a Druze and I thought that maybe they would stop beating me, but they didn’t stop.”