Keeping soldiers along Gaza border fence led to Shmueli's death - IDF

investigation into St.-Sgt. Barel Shmueli's death cleared the officers of wrongdoing.

 21-year-old St.-Sgt. Bar-el Shmueli from Beer Yaakov, shot by a Palestinian militant during Gaza border riots (photo credit: BORDER POLICE)
21-year-old St.-Sgt. Bar-el Shmueli from Beer Yaakov, shot by a Palestinian militant during Gaza border riots
(photo credit: BORDER POLICE)

The decision to keep troops along the border fence wall despite violent rioters being in close proximity was a professional error that led to the death of St.-Sgt. Barel Haderia Shmueli, the IDF investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death has found.

The investigation, which was shared with Shmueli’s family, found there had been a number of “errors” in how the military responded to the riot, including not moving troops to rear positions. It also said it cleared the commanders involved and once again disputed the claim that the military had been too restrictive with open-fire regulations.

Shmueli, a Border Police sniper, was shot in the head at point-blank range by a Hamas operative during riots along the border with the Gaza Strip near Nahal Oz in September. He spent nine days in the hospital before succumbing to his wounds.

“The IDF salutes the actions of the late St.-Sgt. Barel Haderia Shmueli, who fell during operational activity, the purpose of which was to repel violent rioters and protect the Nahal Oz area and the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said in a statement.

The initial investigation found that operational assessments and procedures that dealt with the riots “were carried out in a thorough and comprehensive manner,” and troops had been reinforced with additional fighters and snipers, including Shmueli.

 Barel Hadaria Shmueli (credit: Israel Cartoon Project) Barel Hadaria Shmueli (credit: Israel Cartoon Project)

Though the decision to place troops along the wall and to keep them there when violent demonstrators came in close proximity, instead of moving them to rear positions that had been prepared in advance, was a critical mistake and “professional error,” the IDF said.

“The decision to move and set up along the border according to plan, based on past experience and intelligence information, when the rioters were right next to it and its disadvantages outweighed its advantages, was a professional error in retrospect. The use of live, deadly weapons by the rioters next to the ‘Wall of Courage’ was not expected,” read the IDF’s summary of its investigation.

The probe, which was conducted by IDF Southern Command, said the officers had acted with “noteworthy coolness of spirit and self-control,” and the evacuation of Shmueli to a hospital in Beersheba was done in less than an hour.

The investigation also found that the open-fire regulations were not at fault. OC Gaza Division Brig.-Gen. Nimrod Aloni on Monday said 43 bullets were fired by troops during the riot.

Following Shmueli’s death, harsh criticism was leveled at the government and the military, with many claiming they had imposed restrictions on troops along the border.

Aloni on Monday told reporters the protocols for responding to riots have since been changed, and troops will now be stationed farther back in safer shooting positions where they can still control demonstrations. The old Karni crossing will also be demolished, according to recommendations of the investigation.

In response, the Shmueli family said the investigation “did not [tell us] anything new and was a way for the IDF to close this difficult and painful event through a casual statement about a mistake here and a mistake there. Our Barel, a Border Police fighter, was killed for no reason, and for the IDF this is just a mistake.”

The family said OC Northern Brigade Col. Yoav Bruner “did not act to evacuate the rioters, even after the clear attempts to steal weapons, and did not order the withdrawal of the troops. Only miraculously it ended in one death and not more. If it’s not a failure, then we do not know what is... Barel and the fighters had no means of dealing with the riot, leaving him exposed to injury and death so unnecessarily.

“Barel is gone and the commander of the Northern Brigade, the man in charge of the sector, received a promotion after the incident – and now, in the internal military investigation, gets a citation. It is a day that breaks our hearts,” the Shmueli family said.