IDF Investigating Mistaken Shooting of West Bank Rabbi

The soldier responsible, himself injured at the scene when hit by a passing truck, was released from the hospital on Sunday and will be questioned Monday.

On Monday, the Israel Defense Forces will resume its investigation of the incident in which a soldier mistakenly shot and killed Rabbi Dan Mertzbach of Otniel as he was driving to Hebron early Friday morning.

Two women traveling in Mertzbach's car were also wounded in the incident.

Dan Mertzbach - Eli Hershkovic - 14112011
Eli Hershkovic

The soldier responsible was himself injured at the scene when he was hit by a passing truck. He was released from the hospital on Sunday and will be questioned Monday.

OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi paid a condolence call on the Mertzbach family on Sunday and presented them with the results of the preliminary investigation. He was accompanied by the head of the IDF's Judea Brigade, Col. Guy Hazut.

Mizrahi told the family that no conclusions could be drawn about what had happened since the investigation had yet to be completed. He admitted, however, that the incident had been a "tragic mistake" that had occurred because the troops in the area had been on high alert against attacks or kidnapping attempts in the area, and because Mertzbach, who was very aware of the numerous previous attacks in the area, had probably been reluctant to stop in the dark under unclear circumstances.

The preliminary probe shows that the Kfir Brigade soldier tried to get the car to stop by waving a flashlight that was connected to his rifle, but that the rabbi continued driving with his brights on, which made identifying the vehicle difficult. Of the eight bullets fired, one hit the radiator at the front of the car, while the other seven hit the car's side.

On Sunday the Central Command denied reports that the army had already concluded that the incident was a "serious failure," noting that the shooting soldier's judgment still had to be evaluated. At this point, command sources said, there was no evidence that the force involved had violated any accepted procedures.

Meanwhile on Sunday, the army conducted a exercise in which a soldier was "kidnapped" from a roadblock in the Jordan Valley and taken by vehicle to Nablus. The exercise reflects the gravity the defense establishment accords the repeated threats by extremist groups to capture another soldier and repeat the "success" of the prisoner-exchange deal that returned Gilad Shalit.

The exercise was part of a General Staff inspection of the Jordan Valley Brigade's performance. Col. Shlomi Feier, head of the General Staff's Control Department, said it was the first exercise of its kind ordered by the General Staff in recent years. Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was present.

The exercise checked how reports of the kidnapping were relayed to nearby units, and how fast paratrooper units and Shaldag teams in the area responded. The "Hannibal procedure," which requires shooting at the kidnapping vehicle even if it means putting the captured soldier's life at risk, was also implemented.