Pilgrims clash with Israeli police after being denied entry to Mount Meron

A police officer was suspended after pushing an elderly Orthodox man at the site


Rabbi Avraham Kreuzer, who was pushed by a border police officer during the Lag B'Omer celebrations in Meron, poses for a picture outside a synagogue in Jerusalem, May 27, 2024 (Credit: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox pilgrims clashed with Israeli police after being barred entry to the tomb compound of second-century Jewish scholar and rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in northern Israel out of concern they would not be safely sheltered in the event of a Hezbollah attack.

Israeli security officials ordered the site in Mount Meron in the Galilee, which usually attracts some 100,000 people for pilgrimage during the holiday of Lag B’Omer, to be closed to the general public this year.

After hundreds of pilgrims who converge annually on the tomb were told they could not enter the site on Saturday night, many attempted to circumvent police barricades and vandalise the surrounding area, according to Hebrew-language media.

Clips shared online showed ultra-Orthodox visitors throwing chairs and other objects at police, and at times running in an attempt to bypass police barriers.

Israel Police said in a statement that “at a certain stage, violent riots began, including throwing objects at police officers, as well as resisting by force the police officers’ instructions to disperse from the location.”

Clashes resumed on Sunday, with the police issuing a statement that morning: “Thousands of people arrived at the area of the tomb compound, in the process violating the order of the Home Front Command and the law, confronting police and causing damage to the structures put in place for their protection,

“Nineteen police officers were taken for medical treatment after iron rods, glass and various objects were thrown at them.” The statement added “so far, over 1,000 unauthorised people have been removed from the site and thousands more have been blocked on the roads leading to it.”

A Border Police soldier who was filmed throwing an elderly Chasidic man to the ground, leaving him motionless, was removed from duty, Israel Police said, as the matter was being investigated.

Another clip seen online showed a security officer slapping a man on the face before shooting his gun out to fire in the air.

Police said the security measures were “intended for the security and peace of the public,

“Since the start of the war, dozens of rockets have fallen in the direction of Mount Meron and many of them have fallen on places that, over the years, have usually had thousands of people.”

A law limiting the number of people allowed at the Meron shrine at any given time to 30, was passed last week.

The massive crowds that descend on Mount Meron annually have been a concern for authorities for several years. In 2021, 45 people were killed in a crush as they walked across the walkway at the shrine during Lag B’Omer.

Hezbollah has been conducting attacks on Israeli communities and military posts along Israel’s northern border on a near-daily basis since October. Many attacks have been directed towards Mount Meron, which houses a military air traffic control base on its peak. Skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 Israeli civilian deaths, as well as the deaths of 14 IDF soldiers and reservists.

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