Israeli Army Releases Findings of Probe Into Soldier's Death on Gaza Border

Yaniv Kubovich
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Protesters on the Palestinian side of the Gaza border on the day when Shmueli was shot, earlier this month.
Protesters on the Palestinian side of the Gaza border on the day when Shmueli was shot, earlier this month.Credit: Adel Hana / AP
Yaniv Kubovich

The Israeli military had known for years that the post at which an Israeli soldier was shot last month along the Gaza border fence had a limited field of vision, but had done nothing to address the matter, a military probe published Friday determined.

According to the investigation, soldiers had notified the Southern Command officers in March 2019 about the post at which Border Policeman Bar’el Hadaria Shmueli, 21, was shot by a Palestinian during riots on the fence. From the position, it is impossible to see what is occurring below. 

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A statement from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said that the Border Police unit stationed at the scene was adequately prepared for the clashes, but should have been positioned differently along the fence. 

Despite the well-trained and reinforced units at the scene, the statement says, “The forces should have been mobilized and spread out differently from the moment the violent masses arrived at the reinforced fence.”

Staff Sgt. Barel Hadaria Shmueli.Credit: Israel Police

Shmueli was critically wounded during Gaza border clashes on August 21, after hundreds of Palestinian rioters approached the border fence where Israeli soldiers and Border Police were deployed. One Palestinian shot his gun through a slit in the wall towards where Shmueli was stationed, critically wounding him. He succumbed to his wounds on Monday at Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva.

The statement also touched upon criticism the IDF received regarding its rules of engagement, which detractors say tied the hands of the soldiers at the scene. It found that “No deficiencies were found regarding orders, which were not changed at any point before the events or during them. The Chief of the General Staff has determined that the orders allowed for carrying out the operational mission,” and included no life-threatening risks.

According to the military, the combat soldiers employed “with significant fire in response to the riots.” The IDF also said that the military is prepared “for additional violent riots and possible terrorist activity in the coming days.”     

Shmueli’s family criticized the findings of the investigation, saying that they are “disappointed, hurt and frustrated” by them. A statement released through their lawyer, Ran Cohen Rochverger, says that “The family presented the commanders with difficult questions and did not receive adequate answers,” and that proper training for the commanders could have prevented the death of their son.

It also states that “The family does not accept the investigation – not the findings, not the conclusions and not the bottom line, which includes no intention of taking [disciplinary] measures against any commander.” The family also demanded that a military commission of inquiry be established to investigate the incident.

The military’s investigation shows that Palestinians began protesting along the fence at 4 P.M. that day. About 2,000 people arrived, and at this point, the IDF had the situation under control. At 5:20 P.M., about 200 Palestinians began to run towards the fence; soldiers were stationed on the other side. IDF snipers stationed by the fence identified a few people next to the border, but could only see their legs.

Palestinians rioted by the fence, including right underneath a whole in the wall intended for use by IDF combat soldiers. They remained there for 48 minutes, and the Israeli forces did not change their positions on the fence. According to the investigation, at this point, the commanders should have repositioned their soldiers to a post further away from the fence.

At 6 P.M., a Palestinian tried to seize Shmueli’s gun through a slit in the fence, and the Border Policeman fired seven bullets at the other side in response. Shmueli’s unit – the Border Police’s Mista’arvim – did not report this attempt to steal a gun to their chain of command. Afterwards, the unit’s squad commander fired a pistol through the slit in the border fence in order to prevent another attempt to steal a weapon, and seemed to hit one of the Palestinians.

At 6:15 P.M., there was another attempt to steal Shmueli’s gun through the slit, which was also unsuccessful. His commander fired once again through the slit. Moments later, at 6:16 P.M., a Palestinian shot a gun through the slit and hit Shmueli, who was critically wounded.

The IDF does not deny that there were operational failures that contributed to his death. Following the shooting, the IDF instructed soldiers stationed at the border to respond aggressively when Palestinians try to damage the fence or harm soldiers.

A video clip of the incident – which circulated among Palestinians – as well as the Shmueli family’s reaction, shocked the Israeli public. A social media campaign has been launched by Israeli soldiers and reservists attacking IDF policies and accusing officers of tying the hands of the soldier, thus risking their lives. 

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