Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi, Head of Israeli Central Command and Colonel Guy Hazut, commander of the IDF’s Judea Brigade, came on Sunday to the home of Rabbi Dan Mertzbach from Otniel who was accidentally killed by an IDF soldier on Friday.
Mizrahi and Hazut, who came to offer condolences to the family currently sitting shiva for the rabbi, apologized for the incident and admitted that the military forces had erred.
“We are ashamed that such an event occurred,” the two said.
An initial investigation conducted by the Central Command has found that at about 4:30 a.m. on Friday morning, the guard of the community of Beit Haggai noticed a suspicious vehicle traveling in the area. According to one report, the guard asked the driver for identification but the driver did not notice him and continued driving.
The guard then contacted IDF headquarters and local soldiers put up a makeshift roadblock. Shortly after 5:00 a.m. they saw a Peugeot car headed toward the roadblock.
The soldiers claim that they called the vehicle to stop, but the passengers in the vehicle said they hadn’t heard any such call. One of the soldiers, who felt that he was in mortal danger, fired eight shots at the car.
The investigation also found that the soldier who fired the shots was hit seconds later by a passing truck driven by a Palestinian Authority Arab. According to the investigation, Rabbi Mertzbach had been driving with his lights on, despite reports in the media which claimed the opposite.
On Saturday, the Military Advocate General ordered an investigation and asked military police to question the soldier who killed Rabbi Mertzbach and wounded two other passengers.
Mizrahi and Hazut presented Mertzbach’s family with the IDF’s findings and said that the investigation shows that Rabbi Mertzbach was unable to see the soldier who eventually shot him dead.
Mizrahi emphasized that despite reports in the media, the IDF is not blaming Mertzbach for the incident.
“We have no complaints about the rabbi,” he said. “An incident like this must never happen".
Rabbi Mertzbach, 55, was laid to rest on the Mount of Olives on Friday afternoon. He is survived by a wife, five children and 10 grandchildren. A professional architect, he served as a rabbi for Tene Omarim, Shima and Eshkolot.