The dance floor of a wedding hall in the Talpiyot
neighborhood of Yerushalayim collapsed last Thursday night
at around 10:45 p.m. sending 23 people to their deaths and
injuring hundreds. On Tuesday after Shavuos, five days after
the tragedy, over 100 people were still hospitalized eight
of them in serious condition.
Health Minister Nissim Dahan on Sunday asked Jerusalem Mayor
Ehud Olmert to allow families who had scheduled events in
the ill-fated Versailles Hall to relocate them to Sacher
Park or the Jerusalem International Convention Center at no
cost. Olmert agreed, according to the Health Ministry
Ten people were arrested by Jerusalem police over the
weekend in connection with the collapse of the Versailles
banquet hall. They include the four owners of the banquet
hall, Avi and Dudu Adi, Uri Nissim, and Ephraim Adiv; the
building and renovation contractor, Yaakov Adiv; the
engineer, Danny Sheffer; and the inventor of the flooring
method used in the hall, Eli Ron. The primary suspects in
the case are suspected of manslaughter and criminal
negligence for their actions which led to the fatal tragedy.
Some of the suspects are suspected of obstruction of
justice. After the accident they reportedly tried to remove
important documents from municipal records. Jerusalem police
are investigating the possibility of serious violations of
zoning and building laws since the opening of the building
in 1986, as well as in the subsequent renovations and
additions in the years since. Police are also investigating
reports that during renovation work at the site several
months ago, four support columns and walls were removed in
order to increase the amount of space in the hall.
Police and engineers say that a mix of shoddy construction,
reckless renovation, building violations, and criminal
negligence led to the Thursday night collapse of the
Versailles banquet hall during a large wedding, which was
the worst civilian disaster in Israel's history.
In the middle of the wedding, the floor of the top story of
the building suddenly gave way. It collapsed onto the floor
below, that almost immediately collapsed onto the ground
floor of the building. About 700 people were in the building
at the time of the accident.
One guest said that she was sitting at her table when it
suddenly disappeared. She and her daughter were left two
balatot (floor tiles, 60 centimeters -- two feet)
from a gaping hole. One man described how he held onto his
son as they fell down in two jolts.
The police and Home Front Command directed the search and
rescue efforts. Crews had practical experience, acquired in
the earthquake in Turkey and in several exercises held in
Israel to simulate such large scale disasters. The rescue
efforts continued until it was determined that everyone was
Over 100 ambulances came, as well as 14 intensive care
ambulances and five more elaborate mobile first aid
stations. The Yerushalayim hospitals all went on to
emergency status, and personnel came to work to provide
care. The municipality asked workers to go to the hospitals
to help out, and Ezer Mitzion also organized and sent its
volunteers to helped the overburdened hospital staffs.
Yerushalayim was in mourning on Friday, as there was a
levaya every fifteen minutes for several hours at the
Shamgar funeral center.
Monday night, an inner wall and the remainder of the third
floor ceiling of the banquet hall caved in, confirming
police and engineers' fears over such a likelihood during
the hazardous 48-hour search and rescue effort. No one was
injured in the latest collapse at the site, since the
remains of the building have been cordoned off by police
pending demolition by the municipality.
The building was built 15 years ago as an industrial
building, but it was later converted for use as a banquet
hall. In 1993, the municipality issued a 4-year temporary
permit for the change, but since 1997 the hall has been
functioning without a valid permit. It is not yet clear if
the Jerusalem Municipality demanded that the building
undergo engineering analysis before allowing the change of
In Israel, the standard for withstanding burdens is set
according to the designation of a building, according to
Renee Eisenstein, head of the Northern Branch for
Construction at the Standards Institute.
The floor of a building for use as a high-tech office needs
to be able to carry a load of 250 kilograms per square
meter, while a building used for residential purposes needs
to carry a load of 150 kilograms per square meter. A banquet
hall needs to be able to carry a load of 500 kilograms per
square meter. In addition to these standards, adds
Eisenstein, an extra 40 percent safety buffer, as well as 20
percent of the floor's own weight, is added to the standard
before construction is approved.
A request to change the designation is supposed to include
the calculations of an authorized engineer showing the
ability of the building to withstand the burdens imposed by
the new function, however in practice it is difficult if not
impossible to verify if all the assumptions of the engineer
are realistic or not.
Widespread illegal and unsupervised changes in the
designation of Israeli buildings could lead to more
catastrophes such as the one at the Versailles Hall last
Thursday according to some observers.
In general in Israel there are thousands of illegal
buildings. Most are comparatively small buildings in
outlying agricultural areas used for farming purposes.
However there are also some unlicensed structures used as
homes. In the Lod-Ramle region there said to be hundreds of
such illegal residential buildings. Many illegal buildings
are owned by Arabs. Local officials have declared the
buildings illegal, but have done nothing to demolish them,
partly because local police refuse to cooperate and offer
security protection. Demolishing an illegal home is
difficult since it involves displacing a family and the
workers can be attacked by irate family members.
Agriculture Ministry records list at least 8,000 illegal
buildings on moshavim. Illegal buildings are often built at
less expense than legal buildings since no one ensures that
they are built according to construction codes, and the
owners do not have to pay taxes on them since they do not
Hundreds of other buildings are used for purposes other than
those cited in their construction licenses. Getting a proper
permit can take months and requires the aid of various
experts. Sometimes the process can drag on for years.
A state commission of inquiry is expected to be appointed at
a special government meeting called by Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon for Tuesday to discuss the disaster, while the
Knesset is to hold a special session on the hall
The Pal-Kal flooring method used in the banquet hall's
flooring is a cheap, lightweight construction method popular
in the 1980s which uses metal plates and thin layers of
cement. It was banned by the Israel Standards Institute in
1996 because it does not meet safety standards.
Since the Thursday collapse of the hall, an investigation
has found that at least 500,000 meters (5,000,000 square
feet) of floor space in Israel were constructed with the Pal-
Kal method, including such prestigious buildings as the Bank
of Israel, the Hebrew Union College, the Caesar Hotel in
Tiveria, and Tel Aviv University's main library.