The tragic death of Rabbi Daniel Mertzbach who was accidentally shot and killed by IDF soldiers at a checkpoint near Hevron has led the IDF to alter its rules of engagement on Israel's roads.
The IDF Central Command's inquest into the incident concluded the soldiers stationed at the checkpoint where Rabbi Mertzbach was killed had received an alert suggesting a suspicious vehicle was heading their way.
When Mertzbach failed to stop – because he and the two passengers with him mistook the soldier for a hitchhiker in the dawn light – the soldier proceeded to engage suspect arrest protocol.
Footage taken by the checkpoint's camera showed that – contrary to protocol – the soldier who opened fire was standing in the middle of the road, as opposed to the side, placing him in the path of Mertzbach's car.
In his testimony, the solider – who fired eight rounds into Rabbi Mertzbach's car – maintained that he felt he was in imminent danger. The soldier's version of the events was corroborated by his comrades. He was subsequently clipped by a passing truck during the incident.
In the aftermath, IDF commanders have instituted a new policy that forbids soldiers from opening fire on drivers unless the vehicle is clearly trying to run them down. Firing warning shots at the vehicles wheels and undercarriage is also forbidden.
The GOC Central Command has yet to decide whether to transfer the soldier to another post – which would impact his service in the Reserves.
The IDF Judge Advocate General has yet to decide on whether to take legal action against the solider as his statement that he feared for his life will be difficult to disprove.
Commanders did, however, transfer the soldier's commander from the field to administrative duty.
IDF commanders were emphatic that they did not blame Rabbi Mertzbach for the incident adding they were “ashamed” such a tragedy had taken place on their watch.“Such a thing must never happen,” they said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak designated Rabbi Mertzbach a "victim of terror" in order to allow his family to draw a stipend from the National Insurance Institute. Rabbi Mertzbach was survived by his wife, five children, and 10 grandchildren.
Defense officials say - overall - the observance of security protocols in the sector where Rabbi Mertzbach was killed is satisfactory. The Hevron sector is considered 'hazardous' for soldiers.
The last such incident was the 2003 slaying of Judah Ben-Yosef, who was mistaken for a terrorist. Ben Yosef was a relative of Rabbi Mertzbach.