IDF probes tragic shooting that killed West Bank Rabbi

Soldier fires eight bullets after attempting to flag down vehicle; two other passengers injured in early Friday morning incident.

Rabbi Dan Mertzbach 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman Unit)
Rabbi Dan Mertzbach 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman Unit)
An IDF soldier accidentally killed a rabbi from the Otniel settlement on Friday.
The army is investigating the shooting, which took place in the early morning as Rabbi Dan Mertzbach, 55, and two women were driving from Otniel toward nearby Hebron on Road 60, most likely to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs. Mertzbach served as a rabbi for several surrounding communities.
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His funeral was held in Jerusalem on Friday. He is survived by his wife and five children.
IDF sources said that an investigation was immediately opened to determine what caused the soldier to open fire in what appeared to be a violation of the rules of engagement. The Military Police are also involved in a preliminary review of the case and has yet to decide if it will launch a criminal investigation.
“This is a grave incident. We are investigating to ensure that these kinds of things do not happen in the future,” a senior army source said.
The car was first spotted by soldiers near Beit Hagai, south of Hebron, around 5 a.m., driving suspiciously, an IDF source said. Four settlers were shot and killed in the area of Beit Hagai in 2010, prompting the army to be on high alert ever since.
After spotting the vehicle, the IDF position passed the information to a command post which then dispatched a nearby force to intercept the car.
The soldiers from the Lavi Battalion of the Kfir Brigade spotted the car on Route 60 between Beit Hagai and Kiryat Arba. They did not have time to deploy a checkpoint, and instead used flashlights to try to flag down the vehicle.
The car continued to drive fast. One of the soldiers fired eight bullets, hitting the driver and both passengers. The car swerved to the other side of the road and stopped.
Soldiers ran toward the car, and one of them was hit by a passing truck. He was lightly injured.
Mertzbach was severely injured and eventually pronounced dead at the scene. One of the female passengers was shot in the shoulder and one was shot in the thigh. They were evacuated to hospital.
There was no indication from the preliminary investigation that there had been any reason to believe the car had anything to do with terrorism, except for the fact that the driver was driving fast on a dark road very early in the morning.
The funeral procession for Mertzbach, attended by hundreds, set out from Otniel to the Mount of Olives Cemetery in Jerusalem, where he was buried.
The Defense Ministry informed the National Insurance Institute on Friday that Mertzbach would be recognized as the victim of a “terror event.”
The classification will allow the NII to provide welfare benefits to Mertzbach’s family.
The Defense Ministry generally only classifies incidents as terror events when terrorists have carried out an attack causing injury or death.
The soldier who shot at Mertzbach’s vehicle believed his life was in danger, an initial IDF investigation found.