Likud ministers lash Gantz over Druze officer’s death in 2000

After the former IDF chief tells Druze activists he would seek to amend nation-state law, cabinet members accuse Gantz of ‘abandoning’ a soldier in the field

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz seen with members of the Druze community and activists outside his home in Rosh Ha'ayin, during a protest against the nation-state law, January 14, 2019. (Flash90)
Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz seen with members of the Druze community and activists outside his home in Rosh Ha'ayin, during a protest against the nation-state law, January 14, 2019. (Flash90)

Likud ministers joined the family of a Druze Border Police officer who bled to death awaiting an IDF rescue in the first week of the Second Intifada in October 2000 in lashing out Monday at Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz, blaming him for the death.

The aspersion came after Gantz, the former IDF chief who is now entering politics, spoke to Druze activists protesting the nation-state law, which they claim renders them second-class citizens even though they serve in the IDF, telling them that Israel should work to strengthen bonds with the Druze community and vowed to “do all I can to act to fix the law.”

After receiving initial criticism from multiple Likud lawmakers, Israel Resilience called the responses “hysterical” and said of the members of the ruling party, “they shot our Druze brothers in the back – we will heal [the wound].”

Following the Israel Resiliance response, Mahdi Yousef, the brother of fallen officer Madhat Yousef, castigated Gantz as a commander who “abandons a wounded soldier in the field.”

Madhat Yousef was a Border Police officer killed by a Palestinian sniper while defending the Joseph’s Tomb compound in Nablus during the outbreak of the Second Intifada in October 2000. Gantz commanded the IDF’s forces in the West Bank at the time.

“Gantz is making a joke of the Druze,” Mahdi Yousef charged in an interview with the pro-Likud daily Israel Hayom. “Someone who would abandon a single soldier might one day neglect an entire country. He doesn’t care about the country, only about his interests.”

Two Likud ministers also took a similar line, accusing Gantz of failing his soldier.

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara attends a press conference in the northern city of Safed, July 10, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan charged on Twitter that, “When Palestinian terrorists shot at the Border Police warrior Madhat Yousef, Judea and Samaria Division Commander Benny Gantz was one of the commanders who turned his back, and certainly didn’t do ‘all he could’ to save his life. Gantz’s statement is shameful!”

Likud’s most senior Druze member, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, made a similar claim.

“Honorable Mr. Gantz,” he wrote in a tweet on Monday, “the cloud surrounding the abandonment of Madhat Yousef, may his memory be blessed, and the responsibility for the collapse and humiliation of the [Israel-allied Christian-Lebanese] Southern Lebanese Army can’t be erased with a fake embrace and a populist and shameful attack on the nation-state law.”

Kara added: “As [Likud leaders] promised the heads of the Druze community, we will continue to advance the framework” of economic benefits for Druze towns and villages.

Madhat Yousef. (Courtesy)

Madhat Yousef was shot at 4 p.m. on October 1, 2000, and bled to death over the next four hours while IDF commanders declined to launch a rescue effort, relying instead on continued promises by the Palestinian Preventive Security Service that it would carry out the rescue.

The failure to rescue Yousef — his body was ultimately removed from the compound by Palestinian forces at 9:30 p.m. and handed over to the IDF — has drawn repeated criticism in the years since. An IDF inquiry after the incident found that commanders in the field had acted correctly, in keeping with their orders, but the experience nevertheless contributed to the IDF’s decision in the ensuing months to end the policy of reliance on security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

Benny Gantz was one of the commanders responsible for the events of that day. A brigadier general at the time, he commanded the West Bank forces from a command post less than kilometer from Joseph’s Tomb during the incident.

Over the years, the Yousef family has been outspokenly critical of the entire Israeli command structure during the incident. Family members and friends of Yousef publicly urged Labor party voters to reject Ehud Barak, the prime minister at the time of Yousef’s death, as party leader in Labor’s 2007 primary.

Gantz’s Israel Resilience party declined to respond to the criticism on Monday.

The Likud ministers’ criticism appeared to be part of the ruling party’s ongoing campaign effort to smear Gantz, seen as one of the only possible challengers to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, top Likud officials and campaign planners have begun piecing together a “Gantz file” focused on unearthing embarrassing stories from his 38-year military career. The file, and Likud’s expected anti-Gantz push planned for late in the campaign, will also attempt to pin the purported failure to decisively defeat Hamas in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge on the former army chief, as opposed to Netanyahu, who was prime minister at the time.

An IDF soldiers looks on as Jewish worshipers arrive at the Joseph’s Tomb holy site in the northern West Bank city of Nablus on September 26, 2018. (IDF)

The criticism of Gantz on Monday led some in the Druze community to rally to his defense.

Ex-IDF officer Anwar Sa’ar told the Kan public broadcaster that Gantz “prepared the entire army [in the West Bank] to prevent an incident at Joseph’s Tomb. But he faced an unequivocal order from the political echelon not to go in there.”

The most senior Druze member of the Labor party, MK Salah Sa’ad, also welcomed Gantz’s comments on the nation-state law.

“Benny Gantz demonstrated leadership in his statement, and showed full-throated support for the Druze and those who want equality in the state of Israel. There’s no doubt his rightful place is in the Labor party, and I hope he joins us soon.”

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