Hundreds were on hand for the erev Shabbos levaya of Rabbi Dan Martzbach Z”L, who was killed earlier in the day, 14 Cheshvan, by an IDF soldier who though the vehicle was driven by a terrorist. The rav, 55, was on his way to neitz minyan in the Machpelah when his vehicle was identified as ‘suspicious’ by a sentry outpost in Otniel, and that sentry radioed to an IDF force on the main road to stop the car when it arrives.
The incident occurred close to 5:30am, and it is unclear why there were reports that the rav was driving without his headlights, for all witnesses insist this was not so. This has been confirmed by IDF investigators. Whatever the case, if the soldiers instructed the rav to stop and identify himself no one in the vehicle heard those instructions. It appears one soldier fired a single shot in the air, a warning shot, and then immediately fired eight rounds into the car, striking the rav in his head.
Two women seated in the rear were injured, identified as Carmella Tarbilis and Mazel Ben-Ami, whose husband was murdered in a terror attack on that very same road 11 years ago.
BEN-AMI FAMILY HIT AGAIN
(Dec 8, 2000 – Rina Didovsky HY”D, 39, a high school teacher on her way to work, and Eliyahu Ben-Ami HY”D, 41, the driver of the van, were killed when a car full of gunmen opened fire on the van near Kiryat Arba. They were both community residents).
Martzbach is survived by his wife Esther, three daughters and two sons, ages 22-30, and ten grandchildren. He came to Eretz Yisrael from France about 30 years ago, and was a founder of Otniel. An architect by profession, he was actively involved in the building of many homes, the main shul and the hesder yeshiva beis medrash.
The following is the information made available as the IDF investigation into the tragic incident is underway.
THE EVENTS LEADING TO THE TRAGIC OPEN-FIRE INCIDENT
At 5:30am, soldiers on Route 60 received a report from soldiers in Otniel of a suspicious vehicle, describing the silver Peugeot driven by the rav. They were in the process of setting up an impromptu checkpoint when the car arrived, which led them to signal the driver, Rabbi Martzbach to stop. It is pointed out that due to the early hour visibility was limited. (Unlike roadways in many cities, the road in this area is dimly lit or without streets lighting at all as is commonly the case in secluded area throughout Yehuda and Shomron).
The soldier who fired the fatal shots explained that he felt his life was in danger, compelling him to act as he did. He thought the vehicle was heading directly at them.
As the soldiers were running to the vehicle the soldier who fired the shots was hit by a truck driven by an Arab male. He sustained moderate injuries as a result and was transported to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital with injuries to his lower extremities. According to his attorney, an officer of the rank of colonel, who was interviewed Sunday afternoon November 13, 2011 on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, the soldier acted in total compliance with regulations and the tragic outcome is the result of the unacceptable situation that exists in areas of Yehuda and Shomron, the dangers to soldiers and their need defend themselves against constant terror.
A daughter of Ben-Ami, Iska told Channel 10 News “My mother thought that perhaps the soldiers who opened fire were actually terrorists, since there have been such terror attacks perpetrated in the past, as was the case in Adura in 2002.
My mother told me “I saw my death before my eyes. A moment after the shots were fired, I saw the soldiers running towards me saying ‘ma’am, I am sorry, I am sorry, I got the wrong information!’”
Military officials are also saying with confidence that the rabbi did not nod of while driving, which was a possibilities suspected shortly following the fatal incident, as investigators were trying to understand why the rabbi did not adhere to the soldiers’ instructions.
NO ONE ORDERED SOLDIER TO FIRE
Investigators add that the commander of the soldier who fired was present at the time, and he did not give an open-fire order. Investigators add the area of the tragedy has been the site of other attacks, and the same force was targeted in a firebomb attack at the same location about two weeks ago.
A MAN OF TOTAL CHESSED
Otniel residents state the rav was simply “all chessed” and his life was about giving of himself. They add that a month ago he hung up flyers around the yishuv quoting a letter from the Bal Shem Tov which the latter wrote to his students before his death encouraging his talmidim to avoid conflict and get along with one another. “I wrote this today because during the night, my Rebi Mori came to me and informed me this is my last erev Shabbos for me” the letter stated. Residents are now referring back to that flyer, calling it the rav’s last will and testament.
Another resident simply held up the rav’s notes for the shiur he was planning to give this Shabbos, Parshas Vayeira, addressing Kiddush Hashem and sacrificing oneself for Torah.
Friends of the soldier who fired explain he is not a rookie, but a veteran combat soldier. They add that he is in a room next to the injured women in Hadassah Hospital, and while he wants to speak with them, to explain and ask forgiveness, he simply does not know how to approach them. They explain he is broken and simply without a clue as how he will be able to carry on from here.
Friends of the soldier explain “It was wild. There was no time to look. Only after one of the injured women got out of the car did we realize the error”.
The women on the other hand told reporters that they are not angry at the soldier, and because they are familiar with security realities where they live, they understand how he easily could have believed this was a terror attack about to happen. “We understand that mistakes happen. After all, we are all only human” they stated.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Yehuda and Shomron Division Commander Brigadier-General Chaggai Mordechai, responsible for all of Yehuda and Shomron, in 2003 was a brigade commander and gave the open-fire order to an IAF helicopter gunship which killed two people.
On March 13, 2003, a Golani Brigade force operating in the area, setting an ambush for terrorists, detected two ‘suspicious images’ near P’nei Chever, a nearby community. Tragically, in a logistical blunder, those preparing the area for the operation neglected to report that there are plainclothes security personnel operating in the area, and these were the two ‘suspicious images’. The chopper opened fire and as a result. Yehuda Ben-Yosef ob”m and Lt. Yoav Doron ob”m were killed, their vehicle riddled with hundreds of bullets. Ben-Yosef had been discharged from the Golani Brigade a week earlier and the two were working in the area to earn extra money.
Yehuda Ben-Yosef’s brother is married to a daughter of Rav Martzbach. Brig.-Gen. Mordechai was at the latter’s levaya on erev Shabbos. He had an unpleasant encounter with Baruch Ben-Yosef, the father of Yehuda, who has since fought against Mordechai receiving additional promotions after that mistaken fatal incident. Baruch shouted “you are responsible for murder. What are you doing here?”
Ben-Yosef, a bereaved father, continues to question why Mordechai was only punished administratively, with a blemish to his record, when he feels he should have paid a much heavier price for the death of his son and Yoav Doron. Ben-Yosef took his case to the High Court, and lost. Ben-Yosef (the dad), an attorney, has since filed a NIS 48 million civil suit against Mordechai and the IDF. A district court rejected it because of the statute of limitations. That ruling was appealed to the High Court of Justice, which is scheduled to address the appeal on Monday, 17 Cheshvan.
Ben-Yosef holds Mordechai responsible for the latest event as well, blaming him for Martzbach’s death, but military officials state the senior commander was not at all involved, adding it is a most unfortunately sequence of events, “or a case of bad luck”.
Mordechai was a commander of the elite Egoz and the paratroop brigade’s elite sayaret unit, and is viewed as an exemplary officer.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)