Israeli Defense Forces soldiers shot and killed a West Bank rabbi who failed to stop at an emergency roadblock early Friday morning in the West Bank, mistaking his car for the suspicious vehicle the roadblock was created to stop. Rabbi Dan Mertzbach of the West Bank settlement of Otniel, was laid to rest Friday afternoon at Jerusalem's Mount of Olives cemetery.
On Sunday, the IDF Central Command and the Military Police will continue to investigate the incident , which took place at 5:30 A.M. on Friday. Initial findings suggest the shooting occurred after IDF soldiers erected a makeshift checkpoint between Yatta and Hebron, in response to a report by a guard from the nearby settlement of Beit Hagai of a suspicious truck traveling in the area with no headlights.
While the soldiers were erecting the roadblock, Mertzbach drove past without stopping, despite being signaled to do so by the soldiers' flashlights. One of the soldiers opened fire, killing Mertzbach and wounding his two passengers. One sustained minor injuries, the other was admitted to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, with moderate injuries. After the car rolled to a stop, a truck driven by a Palestinian man hit the soldier who shot at Mertzbach's car, injuring him slightly.
The soldier implicated in the shooting is highly experienced and just a few months from completing his military service. The area where the incident took place is particularly sensitive: Two weeks ago, soldiers from the battalion apprehended a Hamas militant with incendiary bottles he planned to use against the soldiers, and IDF forces throughout the West Bank are on high alert against abduction attempts.
Officers from the Central Command called the incident "tragic" and said that several factors contributed to it, including poor visibility, the alert over the suspicious truck, the fact that the roadblock was not fully in place at the time and the high speed at which Mertzbach's vehicle was traveling.
Rabbi Dan Mertzbach, 55, was born in France and immigrated to Israel at age 10. His parents died in a traffic accident when he was young. After his marriage Mertzbach became a member of the group that established Otniel, 27 years ago. He was an architect, primarily designing public buildings, but also a practicing rabbi. He established a beit midrash, a religious study hall, near his home and was among the founders of the yeshivat hesder, whose students combine religious study with military service, in Otniel.
In recent years Mertzbach prayed regularly on Friday mornings at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a 20-minute drive from his home. This time he gave a ride to two women from the community, one of them a widow whose husband was shot and killed by terrorists in the area.
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