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Family of fallen Border Police officer urges commission of inquiry into death

Relatives demand ‘rigorous, objective and independent investigation’ after Barel Hadaria Shmueli was killed by Palestinian gunman on Gaza border

The funeral of Border Police officer Barel Hadaria Shmueli at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery on August 30, 2021. (Police spokesperson)
The funeral of Border Police officer Barel Hadaria Shmueli at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery on August 30, 2021. (Police spokesperson)

The family of Barel Hadaria Shmueli, the Border Police officer who died on Monday of wounds he suffered during a violent riot along the Gaza border 10 days ago, has demanded a military commission of inquiry into his death.

An attorney for the family sent a letter to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, which blasts the army for the events that led to Shmueli’s death, including his initial medical treatment.

“The family demands that a rigorous, objective and independent investigation be carried out and that all necessary conclusions be drawn — including with regard to the senior command — and that significant and drastic measures be taken,” reads the letter. “The correct way to carry out this objective investigation is a military commission of inquiry.”

Shmueli, 21, was laid to rest at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in Tel Aviv on Monday night.

He was wounded last Saturday night as Gaza rioters at a Hamas-run rally surged toward the security fence. In videos from the scene, rioters could be seen attempting to destroy and then snatch a soldier’s gun as it poked through a hole in the concrete wall. One man could then be seen running up to the wall, taking out a gun that had been tucked in his waistband and firing three shots through the hole at point-blank range. One of the rounds struck Shmueli in the head.

His family members have been sharply and vocally critical of the government and IDF officials in the days since he was wounded. In the letter to Kohavi, they asked how the scenario that led to Shmueli being shot could have been allowed to happen.

“How were hundreds of Palestinians, who were violently rioting, allowed not just to cross the perimeter line but to arrive right up to the fence?” the letter asked. “Why did snipers not fire at the main instigators when they were still far away from the fence to prevent them from getting there? How were those hundreds of violent and threatening rioters allowed to remain for such a long period of time so close to the fence?”

Border Police officer Barel Shmueli who was critically wounded in a shooting on the Gaza border, on August 21, 2021. He died of his injuries on August 30. (Border Police)

The letter also addressed the military’s decision to transfer Shmueli to Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center in an ambulance, not a helicopter, which took 51 minutes from the time of the shooting. A military official said this was deemed the faster option.

“There are also questions concerning the preparedness of the initial medical treatment and the readiness of the medical forces, as well as the evacuation of Barel after he was wounded,” wrote the family in the letter.

“The family has yet to receive answers to the pressing questions that have arisen,” the letter read, “while officials who meet with them tell them to wait until the end of the investigation, and they are forced to stay informed through the media over the probes that have been carried out and its findings and conclusions.”

Initial findings from the military’s investigation into the incident indicated that the troops were unprepared for the sudden rush of rioters toward the security fence. The soldiers stationed on the border did not immediately open fire at the masses that suddenly attacked the fence, out of concern that they might hit civilians who were in the area, a military official said.

Rioters ran up to the border so quickly that Shmueli and the other soldiers with him apparently did not know how close they were until they reached the concrete wall being used for cover, despite the ample reconnaissance equipment on the border, including drones and powerful surveillance cameras, an official said.

The section of concrete wall where the attack happened was specifically built following a series of regular riots along the Gaza border in 2018. However, it only works as a proper defensive position when rioters are a good distance away, as snipers can fire at potential threats through the small opening, while being protected from enemy sniper fire and other attacks.

Palestinian protesters at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza City, on August 21, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

If rioters get close to the wall, however, the Israeli soldiers on the other side effectively lose all visibility and are left open to attack, as appears to have occurred last Saturday, according to the military’s initial findings.

An attorney for the family told 103FM Radio on Tuesday morning that Shmueli had not received adequate instructions from his superiors on how to best handle the violent border riot.

“We have learned from Barel’s friends that the instructions were vague at best,” said attorney Ran Cohen Rochberger. “There was an instruction to contain the incident and avoid unnecessary harm.”

Rochberger said the family will not accept “the passing of responsibility to a low-ranking officer… we’re not looking for culprits but we are demanding an investigation across all ranks. It’s clear that the failure here was multi-systemic… not just in the Border Police but in all of the IDF.”

At Shmueli’s funeral on Monday night, his mother, Nitza Shmueli, reiterated her sharp criticism of the government for the scenario that led to her son’s death.

“They said they didn’t know that the terrorist was hiding a gun in his underwear. I am calling out to the entire world, the government of Israel, the IDF, the Israel Police, the Border Police — I want someone to tell me — when does a terrorist come with baklavas, with sweets? Tell me when, when?!” she screamed.

“After a day, they closed the hole,” Nitza said of the gap in the concrete wall along the border with Gaza that the gunman fired through.

She called Prime Minister Naftali Bennett “a waste for the State of Israel,” as the crowd booed at the mention of his name. And she once again lambasted him for mixing up the name of Barel with that of his father, Yossi, when he called the family last week. “It was thanks to this warrior that [Bennett] was able to vacation several days earlier in the north!”

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