Prime Minister Naftali Bennett apologized on Monday for mixing up the name of a critically wounded soldier when he called to check on the family.
The parents of 21-year-old Border Police officer Barel Hadaria Shmueli, who remains hospitalized in serious condition after he was shot in the head during violence along the Gaza border on Saturday, have heavily criticized the government’s behavior.
On Monday afternoon, Israeli rapper The Shadow published an audio clip of the conversation between Bennett and Yossi Shmueli, the injured soldier’s father. In the conversation, an emotional Yossi questions Bennett over the decision of IDF authorities to station soldiers close to the Gaza border and berates the prime minister as a “coward.”
Bennett can then be heard asking where “Yossi” is hospitalized, and Yossi, Barel’s father, corrects him: “It’s Barel, his name is Barel.”
After the audio was published, Bennett issued a public apology to the Shmueli family.
“I called Yossi, Barel’s father, yesterday, out of honest concern for Barel’s family and in order to offer strength to his parents at such a difficult point in their lives,” said Bennett. “Yossi expressed natural anger and frustration to me.”
Bennett added that the confusion between the names “was an honest mistake, and I apologize for that from the bottom of my heart. There are no words to describe the pain and difficulty his family is going through.” Bennett said he once again wishes to send strength and support to the Shmueli family, “and regret for offending them.”
Barel’s mother, Nitza Shmueli, blasted the prime minister in comments to the 103 FM Radio on Monday morning.
“My son is fighting for his life, his blood, his breath, for nothing,” she said. “The country isn’t worth it, and I’m not getting any answers. A 12-year-old terrorist shoots him point blank, and all this knowing that our fighters were not allowed to shoot and respond. Why did they send my son? Why? I want an answer.”
Shmueli was wounded 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.
Nitza said Monday morning that her son was still in critical condition and fighting for his life.
“He is not well. We need a lot of prayers, I’m asking and begging people to pray that our Barel will get back on his feet, will return to his family, to life,” she said.
The Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba said Monday morning that Shmueli was still in serious condition, unconscious and intubated, after undergoing a series of surgeries on Sunday.
Nitza slammed Bennett and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi for not visiting her son in the hospital.
“Mr. Bennett called at 10:30 at night and asked Barel’s father, ‘How is Yossi? How is he feeling?'” she recounted. “[His father] answered him: ‘His name is Barel.'”
“Oh, sorry. How is he doing?” Bennett then asked, according to Nitza. “The prime minister has to call and ask how he’s doing? Where are you? Where? Where is the chief of staff?!”
Nitza told the radio station that she was much more comforted by a call she received later that night from opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, who is currently vacationing in the United States.
“Benjamin Netanyahu called at midnight, with questions and well wishes. He cried on the phone — he cried,” she recalled. “He knew every detail, asked about his surgeries. Mr. Bennett didn’t even know his name, asked which hospital he was in. What an embarrassment.”
Bennett said the incident at the Gaza border on Saturday is currently being investigated, “and lessons will be learned and the findings will be presented to me soon.” The prime minister reiterated comments he made on Sunday in response to the shooting: “We will settle the score with anyone who harms our fighters and civilians.”
Initial findings from the military’s investigation into the violence on Saturday 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.
Shmueli’s father criticized the military on Sunday for the “error” that allowed rioters to get so close to the fence and open fire on him.
“I ask only that he lives, no more than that,” he said. “Let all the people of Israel pray for his recovery.”
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.