More than 600 ultra-Orthodox worshipers had packed into the synagogue — which television footage showed had exposed concrete, rebar, wooden panels and other signs of infrastructure weaknesses — in the West Bank settlement of Givat Zeev. Sunday’s prayers started the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, a spring harvest festival that also recalls the story of receiving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.
The dead included a 12-year-old boy and a 40-year-old man, according to emergency rescue services. At least 167 were injured, including five in serious condition and 10 in moderate condition, according to the Magen David Adom emergency rescue services.
Local officials said that specific instructions had been given last week prohibiting Shavuot prayers in the building. It did not have an occupancy permit, according to official documents reported in Israeli media, which later said that neither the local police nor the local council enforced the closure on the synagogue.
The incident echoed a catastrophe that similarly raised questions of official negligence and bureaucratic chaos last month, when at Mount Meron in northern Israel 45 ultra-Orthodox Jewish worshipers, including many children and teenagers, were killed in a stampede at a pilgrimage site that was overcrowded with visitors for the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer. It was the largest loss of civilian life in the country’s history.
The Mount Meron event came after warnings from officials over the course of a decade that the site did not have the capacity to accommodate the tens of thousands of visitors it received each year. Officials allowed the mass event to go forward, despite the coronavirus restrictions that were still in place in all other parts of the country.
“We were called again to another event where there was negligence and a lack of responsibility,” Jerusalem district police chief Doron Turgeman told reporters on Sunday night. “There will be arrests.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “praying” for the casualties of the Givat Zeev incident.