The death of Rabbi Dan Mertzbach of Otniel due to IDF fire around 05:00 on Friday marks the second accidental death under the command of Brigadier General Hagai Mordechai.
Rabbi Mertzbach's vehicle was identified by an IDF situation room in Beit Hagai, which noted it was moving quickly towards an impromptu security check-point with only its emergency flashers on and no headlights.
IDF soldiers signaled the vehicle to stop, but were unheeded, leading one to fire eight rounds - killing Mertzbach and injuring two women in the car. According to reports the soldiers were in the middle of setting up the checkpoint, and there was no eye contact between Rabbi Mertzbach and the soldier who opened fire.
The soldier reportedly feared for his life as the vehicle raced toward him. Investigators are still investigating the incident, which occured in a place where soldiers have been injured and killed in the past. Their final evaluation of the incident is still pending.
Rabbi Mertzbach was a relative of Judah Ben-Joseph, who was also killed by the IDF fire in a similar incident in 2003. Ben Yosef and army officer Yoav Doron, were fired upon during an IDF ambush when they were mistaken for terrorists. That shooting occurred during Mordechai's tenure as brigade commander.
Today, Mordechai, the Brigadier General heading the Judea and Samaria Division, finds himself having to cope with a repeat of that tragedy on his watch. The previous shooting resulted in years of debriefing and civil suits for Mordechai and the IDF - and harmed relations with residents living in Mordechai's command zone.
After the 2003 incident, then IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, decided to cancel the appointment of Mordechai as commander of the Paratrooper Brigade. Mordechai's advancement was arrested for a number of years, but he continued to serve as the Hevron brigade commander where IDF commanders praised him for "significant achievements" in the sector.
Mordechai has served as the commander of the paratrooper brigades, battalion and commando units, the elite Egoz reconnaissance unit, the Hevron brigade, and the Pillar of Fire Formation.
His appointment as the commander of the Judea and Samaria Division has raised concerns among residents who fear he may continue the policies of his controversial predecessor, Brigadier General Nitzan Alon, whose tenure was marked by policies described as both discriminatory and partisan by the public he served.
Brig. Gen. Mordechai's handling of the tragic death of Rabbi Mertzbach, however, will prove critical in establishing the tone of his command – and the trust of the residents of Judea and Samaria.
Rabbi Mertzbach is survived by five children and 10 grandchildren.