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Blame game begins following the death of ten Israeli teenagers in flash floods

The school graduates perished while hiking near the Dead Sea last week

    Family and friends at the funeral of 18-year-old Maayan Barhom last Friday
    Family and friends at the funeral of 18-year-old Maayan Barhom last Friday (Photo: Flash90)

    Ten families across Israel sat shiva for their teenagers this week as a national outcry took hold over the circumstances of their deaths.

    “Great sorrow overwhelms the country,” said President Reuven Rivlin after a group of Israeli gap year students found themselves caught in a flash flood near the Dead Sea.

    Ten youngsters, all fresh out of high school, lost their lives.

    Even before all of the funerals had taken place, the head of the gap year academy Yuval Kahan was arrested along with another staffer. He has since resigned, after describing himself as “torn and broken”.

    Israel’s State Comptroller is opening an investigation into the incident.

    There were large vigils for the deceased in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Saturday night, with Israeli television screening  moving interviews with friends and relations of the deceased.

    Liri Uriel spoke about her boyfriend Tzur Elfi, 18, and his hopes and dreams. In the midst of the tragedy he got others to “climb on top of him until the flood overpowered him,” she said — and at his funeral he was eulogised as a hero.

    But most of the conversation in Israel has not been about heroism, but responsibility.

    People are asking why the hike went ahead when flood warnings were issued and students had misgivings.

    “It’s not logical that we should go to a place that is completely flooded,” wrote one girl in a text message  screened on Israeli TV.

    “It’s tempting fate. We’re going to die – I’m serious.”

    According to reports, a guide who took part in the trip also had reservations.

    A Channel 10 reporter quoted Danny Zamir, head of the umbrella organisation for pre-army preparatory programmes in Israel, as saying that the deaths stemmed from a failure of responsibility.

    The left-leaning daily Haaretz decried the “wanton decision by the heads of the Bnei Zion pre-military academy to endanger young lives by ignoring warnings.”

    In an editorial it claimed this was not an isolated event but “a symptom of a malignant national disease” — namely, a “trust me” culture that “leads many Israelis to cut corners even when it jeopardises their lives and others.”

    Haaretz and Israel Hayom, its ideological opponent, are rarely in agreement, but on this they did.

    “Whoever it was who approved the hike at the last minute, despite the flash flood warnings in the media, despite the teens’ gut instincts, is responsible for what happened,” columnist Ilan Gattegno wrote.

    He blamed authorities, and wider society for teaching youngsters “blind obedience” instead of empowering them to act on gut instincts.

    But there have been some calls for people to show restraint before pointing fingers.

    One educator, Elkana Bar Eitan, wrote: “As [someone] who was in similar situations in the past, I know there is a fine line between giving and taking responsibility simultaneously.”

    He continued: “Please suspend judgment. Please don’t rush to blame.

    “We can all be certain that the people involved are devastated enough. Let’s trust the authorities and wait for the outcome of the investigations.”

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