UPDATE: A quiet night in southern Israel.
On this Shabbat, all of us in Israel mourn for Rabbi Daniel Martzbach who was tragically killed yesterday by the IDF. An architect by profession, Martzbach served as the rabbi of the Otniel, Eshkolot, Shima, Omarim, and Tena communities near Hevron.
The story of his accidental shooting by IDF forces remains fraught with confusion this morning–but exemplifies the daily stress that Jewish community members and members of the IDF must live with.
The basic facts are these:
Just before sunrise yesterday, Rabbi Dan Martzbach was driving his silver Peugeot from his home in Otniel toward Hevron on Route 60 in order to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs–as he always did on Friday mornings. In his car were two passengers, Mazel Ben-Ami and her best friend Carmela Trabelsi. Ben Ami’s husband, who had been the Rabbi’s best friend, was killed eleven years ago on the same road by Palestinian terrorists.
Near the Ha’ari junction in the south Hevron area–where several IDF soldiers were killed by terrorists last year–an IDF soldier fired 8 bullets into the car. Ben Ami was hit in the shoulder and chest, Trebelsi was hit in the hip and knee. Rabbi Martzbach was hit in the head and in the neck and died while being transported to Jerusalem by helicopter. He was buried yesterday afternoon on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem surrounded by his family and thousands of other mourners.
That is about all we know for sure.
In the IDF’s first account yesterday, it reported that at 5 am Friday morning, a soldier at the entrance to Beit Hagai had noticed a suspicious white Skoda car traveling at a slow speed toward Hevron flashing its lights. That soldier subsequently radioed ahead and several IDF soldiers set up a checkpoint to intercept the car. The oncoming car refused to stop, ran over one of the soldiers, and then the other soldier fired into the car–which then slowly rolled to a halt about 400 meters away. The IDF soldiers surmised that the reason the driver had not stopped was that he had gone to sleep at the wheel.
In the second IDF account yesterday there was no checkpoint; the IDF soldiers were standing in the road waving their flashlights; the car didn’t stop; one soldier fired into the car after it had passed; and then, when that soldier subsequently went to inspect the car, he was run over by a Palestinian truck driver traveling in the opposite direction.
In the third IDF account yesterday the checkpoint was back; the car was traveling at high speed; it passed the checkpoint but it was too dark for the soldiers to see inside. One of the soldiers fired into the car after it had passed. The soldier was then hit accidentally by a Palestinian truck driver who continued driving.
Finally, there is Mazel Ben-Ami’s account which your humble servant believes is the most accurate: as they approached south Hevron, they saw a checkpoint, but at that moment, one of the soldiers at the checkpoint fired two shots in the air (the IDF specifically teaches residents of Judea and Samaria that they will never fire shots in the air and to assume if a soldier does–that he is a terrorist disguised as a soldier); the Rabbi sped up to escape, and the soldier (instead of firing at the tires of the car as is the normal procedure) fired directly into the car. Meanwhile, despite being wounded and convinced that they had been fired on by soldiers who were terrorists in disguise, Ben Ami called the police on her cellphone.
What we will probably learn from the videotape of the event (the Ha’ari Junction is under constant video surveillance) is that the IDF soldiers, either because they were inexperienced or incompetent or simply afraid, did not follow standard procedure either in trying to stop the Rabbi’s car or in firing at the car after it had passed.
By the way, the white Skoda and the Palestinian truck driver have yet to be found.
Martzbach was eulogized by one his sons in Otniel yesterday afternoon:
“My father so loved the people of Israel and Eretz Israel. He loved all Jews, and always strove for unity, making the efforts himself if need be, even with those he did not agree with.” He then added: “Dad, you were always the first to race to do everything holy. Today, when I saw the car in which you were killed, I saw the blood – the warm blood not just of my father, but the father of everyone here.”
Otniel spokesman Yehuda Glick said Rabbi Mertzbach was “the soul of the community”, adding that Rabbi Mertzbach planned Otniel’s synagogue, built its beit midrash (study hall) and brought in many rabbis to teach there. He said many people in the community wept for a father who took many of them under his wing.
Late last night, the Rabbi’s family expressed sorrow for the soldier who fired the shots: “He will have to live with what happened for the rest of his life.” And Mazel Ben Ami reported that when the soldier realized what he had done, he was in a state of shock saying over and over “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Rabbi Martzbach is survived by his wife, five children, and 10 grandchildren. His legacy will live on, but Israel lost a hero yesterday.