The sister of a soldier critically wounded by gunfire on the Gaza border said on Tuesday that her brother’s injury should not be politicized, as her parents told a top military commander to resign over the shooting.
Barel Shmueli, a 21-year-old Border Police officer, was shot in the head during violence along the increasingly restive frontier over the weekend. An initial Israel Defense Forces probe found a series of missteps that resulted in Gazan rioters catching troops off guard and nearly overtaking them.
His parents have been highly critical of the government’s conduct, and, in a phone call with the father, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett mixed up Shmueli’s name, which he apologized for after a recording of the conversation was published on Monday.
Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu used the flub to slam Bennett, but later backed away from the criticism.
“Put the politics aside, this is not the focus we wanted, it’s inappropriate,” Hila Rahimi told Army Radio, adding that her brother “is a hero, a soldier who fought with his body for the country and is hovering between life and death.”
She also said that her mother spoke out of “anger or frustration” in an interview in which she criticized Bennett and said that she was more comforted by a call she received from Netanyahu.
“It’s true the conversation was out of place, maybe it was possible to do it otherwise. But that’s not what’s important, [which is] Barel again getting to his feet,” Rahimi said.
Later Tuesday, Channel 12 aired a recording of Shmueli’s father chiding Netanyahu when the two spoke by phone.
“When will you reach the conclusion in this country that our soldiers are not [sitting] ducks?” Yossi told Netanyahu. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Likud… or Bennett who called me.”
Shmueli urged the government to take responsibility and formulate a clear policy on the use of live fire on the Gaza border.
“This is my only son and he’s critically injured. He underwent two surgeries today,” he said in the recording.
Shmueli urged politicians to “stop putting people by the security fence and make a decision on whether to shoot or not. Why isn’t there a clear decision?”
Earlier, the head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, visited Shmueli at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, with his parents calling on the top general to resign.
Toledano said that he took responsibility for what happened on the border as Southern Command chief, according to the Ynet news site.
“It can’t be possible that the rioters reached Barel, you needed to stop them way before. Take off the uniform,” a relative of Shmueli was quoted as saying by the Kan public broadcaster.
Shmueli remains hospitalized in critical condition. A prayer vigil for Shmueli’s recovery has been held nightly outside the hospital, with hundreds attending services on Monday night.
מאות צעירים מחוץ לבית החולים סורוקה באמירת סליחות לרפואתו של החייל בראל אחיה, עם ישראל. pic.twitter.com/vrUMoetA91
— אריאל אלחרר (@ariel_elharar_) August 23, 2021
Initial findings from the military’s investigation into the violence along the Gaza border 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, a sniper, was posted behind a concrete wall for protection, but the probe found that the barrier also allowed rioters to sneak up on the snipers, and one to get close enough to fire rounds at Shmueli.
The IDF has yet to complete a full probe of Saturday’s events, and is looking into all aspects of the day, from how troops were deployed along the border to the exact lead-up to the shooting, and how the forces responded to it, said the military official, adding that the IDF saw the incident as a grave violation of Israeli sovereignty.
The incident came as violence on the border has flared in recent days. On Monday, Israel jets carried out airstrike in the Strip in response to arson balloons launched earlier in the day.